Canadian-Korean filmmaker Albert Shin’s In Her Place is first and foremost an intimate character study, revolving around three female characters locked into an arrangement beset by compassion. Shot and set mainly in rural South Korean farmland, it follows the lives of a mother (Kil Hae-Yeon) and her young pregnant daughter (Ahn Ji-Hye), who agree to let a wealthy couple from the city (Yoon Da-Kyung, Kim Kyung-Ik) adopt the unborn child. As part of the deal, the wife chooses to live on the farm until the child is delivered, and in the process sets off a chain of events overwrought with tension – eventually leading to a deeper relationship built on mutual concern.
Shin’s second feature (following 2009’s Point Traverse) demonstrates his skill as a director, as he chooses to keep on-screen action at a somber pace in order to get beneath the surface of his characters and their own dealings with despair. Each member of the core trio attempts to use the situation as an opportunity to make a major difference in their life, as seen through how the primary focus oscillates from one perspective to another. It is in this aspect that Shin’s approach warrants attention, as he presents a unique, nuanced, yet captivating foray into such an unconventional situation, shaped by deviation from the typical family unit.
While the setting remains congruent throughout these changes in perspective, the rendering of the farm submersing the viewer in its atmosphere, and adds greatly to the scenario. The desolation and utter disparity comes across as bleak, while also suggesting the promise of better things to come. It recalls the pastoral malaise of recent films like Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm, minus the stylistic flourishes meant to heighten the dramatic landscape. Shin is first and foremost concerned with the emotional trappings that lay dormant, which find universal semblance in the desire for a life free of burden.
As an outstanding piece of dual-national cinema, In Her Place is an enthralling, intensely moving drama, about the pain one is willing to endure in the pursuit of a better outcome. Despite encapsulating a tragic take on overcoming adversity, the film is a welcome respite from the typical melodrama, taking on a multi-faceted angle not commonly reciprocated. While tenuous at points, it is always brilliant, and makes Shin a director to look out for across Canada and Korea’s filmmaking landscape.
In Her Place opens at the Carlton Theatre in Toronto on February 13th.