South Korean writer/director Kim Ki-duk has been a critically acclaimed filmmaker for almost as long as he’s been a controversial one. From his debut in 1996 with Crocodile to 2008’s Dream he made fifteen films of varying quality and similar themes usually populated by violent loners searching for love and acceptance in the worst ways possible. Their journeys often included both inward and outward-facing acts of brutality, and they rarely spared the fairer sex from the abuse. It’s that last bit that led to Kim being labeled on more than one occasion as an unrepentant misogynist. For a director averaging more than a film a year his subsequent three year absence from cinema following Dream left many people, both fans and detractors, wondering as to the reason. Had he quit the movies due to their poor reception in his home country? Had he finally run out of rage, emotion or ideas? Had he moved to Hollywood to pursue a gig on the next Hunger Games sequel? It turns out to be none of the above. Kim returned to theaters this year with a documentary of sorts called Arirang. (He also returned to Cannes and left with the Un Certain Regard award.) Written, directed, produced, edited, lit, shot and catered by Kim, and featuring nobody but Kim, the film acts as an explanation of his sabbatical and a look into his mind, heart and occasionally tortured soul. Exactly how much of it is the truth though may be up for debate…


Cannes Awards 2011

Wouldn’t you bloody well know it. Before the festival was tarnished by the Von Trier/Nazi scandal, all anyone seemed interested in talking about was the way Terrence Malick‘s latest had split the audiences in attendance almost straight down the middle. Not only that, The Tree of Life also inspired a rejuvenated debate over the nature of film, and the sometimes opposing ideals of entertainment and art. I ended my review stating that your reception of the film would depend entirely on what you valued more in your film-making experience, and it seems we now know that the Jury values the art of something over its entertainment value. Neither approach is necessarily right or wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the film was already chosen before even the first minutes of footage rolled. Held up to the light, The Tree of Life looks exactly like a Cannes film, something eccentric enough, with grand enough aspirations and some sort of importance that extends beyond what we can actually see. And that troubles me somewhat: should a film win because it fits the artistic manifesto of the festival, or should it win on quality? Robert DeNiro‘s comment after the decision answers precisely that: It seemed to have the size, the importance, the tension to fit the prize. Not, “it was fantastic,” not “it moved me,” but it fit the bill.

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published: 01.25.2015
published: 01.25.2015
published: 01.25.2015

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