The House of Us
t.l. La nostra casa
South Korea, 2019, 92’, Korean
Directed by: Yoon Ga-eun
Script: Yoon Ga-eun
Photography (color): Kim Ji-hyun
Art Direction: Ahn Ji-hye
Editing: Park Se-young
Music: Yeon Ri-mok
Producers: Kim Ji-hye, Kim Se-hoon
Cast: Kim Na-yeon (Hana), Kim Si-ah (Yoo-mi), Joo Ye-rim (Yoo-jin), Ahn Ji-ho (Chan), Choi Jeong-in (mother/Soo-jin), Lee Ju-won (father/Min-ho)
Date of First Release in Territory: August 22nd, 2019
Premiere status: Italian Premiere
It’s perhaps a natural human instinct to try to shield children from knowledge of life’s cruelties and injustices. Parents may try to filter the information that reaches children’s ears, or even lie to them to avoid delivering painful truths. But it’s also true that children usually figure out the reality of a situation pretty quickly on their own. If parents are reluctant to discuss things out loud, that may just mean that the kids are on their own when it comes to processing and dealing with the issue.
Films about children often follow a similar pattern. It’s rare to find a movie that acknowledges that even so-called normal childhoods are often punctuated with moments of deep anxiety or uncertainty. In this sense, the works of director Yoon Ga-eun are a welcome departure. The House of Us is a film about three girls. Hana, 12 years old, watches her parents’ constant fighting and senses that their marriage might not last much longer. Desperate to avoid a separation, she hits upon an idea of a family trip with the hope that it might bring all of them closer together. But her older brother scoffs at the idea, and given everyone’s busy schedule, her plan won’t be easy to carry off.
One day by chance she gets to know two younger girls, Yoo-mi and Yoo-jin, who live in the same neighborhood. Clearly from a lower income class, the two girls are alone on most days, with their parents working in another city. Having relocated so often that no place they’ve lived in ever really feels like home, they find out from their landlord that this time too, another move is imminent. Seeing how upset the girls are, Hana convinces them to try out a plan that will let them stay in their current home.
The title of the film (in Korean, it is simply “Our House”) reflects how both stories are about children trying to keep their homes together. At the same time, it’s about the newly formed relationship between the three girls, and how Hana comes to play the role of an older sister to them. The House of Us is not all gloom and hardship – a big part of it is about kids having fun together – but at the same time, director Yoon Ga-eun never romanticizes the girls’ situation or offers false solutions.
Director Yoon’s debut feature The World of Us was also told from the perspective of child protagonists, and it received widespread praise for its subtle performances and honest portrayal of what growing up is like. Fans of that work will enjoy spotting parallels in this film, including the way it opens and closes with long closeups on the face of the protagonist listening to those around her. Each of the main characters in The World of Us also appear briefly in the new film in cameo roles.
Actress Kim Na-yeon appears in her first major film role as Hana, whereas Kim Si-ah who portrays Yoo-mi has appeared in numerous films including Miss Baek (2018), Ashfall (2019) and The Closet (2020). It’s a bit ironic that Kim Si-ah’s performance gives the impression of being less “polished” than her co-star’s, but it is also tremendously effective, suggesting a strong natural talent that should make her worth watching in the years to come.
The natural question to ask after watching this film is whether Yoon Ga-eun will direct a third feature in order to complete a trilogy. One certainly hopes so – in these two films she has refined a style and approach all her own, and there's no question she brings something new and distinctive to contemporary Korean cinema.
Even before shooting her feature debut, Yoon Ga-eun had made a name for herself as a director with a particular talent for capturing the world of children. A history major who went on to study film at the Korea National University of Arts, Yoon first attracted attention for her short film Guest (2011) which won the Grand Prix at the 34th Clermont Ferrand Short Film Festival. Two years later Sprout (2013) screened in the Berlin Film Festival’s Generation Kplus section and won a Crystal Bear for Best Short Film. Her feature film debut The World of Us (2015) screened widely at festivals including at the 17th FEFF.
2015 – The World of Us
2019 – The House of Us