Directed by Kim Hee-jung
Official Selection, 2015 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
Official Selection, 2015 Jeonju International Film Festival
At first, SNOW PATHS seems like any other story about despair. But with Bergman-like tension and crisp filmmaking, SNOW PATHS unexpectedly shifts into something remarkable, a film that cuts through the Korean cinematic clutter with crystalline simplicity and a truly unconventional subject.
In the dead of winter, a stark convent is Jeong-woo’s last ditch effort to escape his alcoholism under the sisterhood’s strict oversight. But Jeong-woo is a weary rehab pro with the lizard brain of addiction – methodically hiding alcohol inside toilets, and pilfering soju from convenience stores. We are watching a rational man possessed, someone smart enough to run the numbers but unable to escape them, and completely aware he is enslaved to an all-consuming fate.
In a series of alarming events, the divine-like Sister Maria is the lone figure who finally gives Jeong-woo pause, with a love as transcendent as it is jarring and an incandescent presence that belies dark inner battles. Maria is a nun unlike any we have seen on screen, and in a revelatory performance by Park So-dam (The Silenced) she is simply unforgettable.
One of this year’s discoveries, SNOW PATHS builds scene-by-scene the accumulating stakes of a man grafted to spiritual desolation yet faced with spiritual excess, and not necessarily of the benevolent kind. Filmmaker Kim Hee-jung has built a taut world, one screwed tight by Korean masculinity, spiritualism, colonialism, and uncontainable drives burrowed deep in the snowy planes of the film. SNOW PATHS defies easy explanation but will linger for days, the way witnessing a miracle might linger – as a mystery with a new truth somewhere at its center. –Christina Ree