The sisters are abandoned by their poverty- stricken mother to face their new role as burdensome children in the hands of their alcoholic Big Aunt. Brushed aside and ignored, Jin and Bin’s days are filled with the hope of salvation. Their goal lies within an unwavering, yet futile, faith in their mother’s promise: to return when their plastic piggy bank is full of coins.
The incredible naturalness of the two children surpasses expectations in such young cast members, and it is precisely this authentic innocence that underlines the success of So Young Kim’s second film. Yet to develop an understanding of their position as ‘actors’, the two girls convey their characters’ unfaltering faith in their twice-failing carers with silent expressions and contemplative glances so organic they would put an Oscar-winning actor to shame. Director So Young Kim utilises this to the full, with the use of almost continuous close-up shots of the girls’ faces, expressions and eye movements, keeping the viewer within the small, intimate world of the child’s perspective.
Ever-changing shots of clouds or the sun moving through the sky punctuate the spaces between scenes, providing ‘breathing spaces’ and expanding the view back into the wider sphere of the adult world. United once again with our roles as pitying, age- experienced onlookers, we are then able to comprehend the significance of the tragic, merciless death of the helpless grasshoppers, barbecued beyond use by a mesmerised Bin.
Quietly poetic, Treeless Mountain triumphs in its portrayal of childhood acceptance of ineluctable circumstances and of majestic beauty in resistance to the defeat of hope.