Two children face a broken future in a short, but affecting drama.
Why do mum and dad get to decide everything?”
Divorce is often one of the most tumultuous times in the life of a child. The slow breaking apart of a family dynamic, and one you’ve known since birth, as well as all the incoming changes makes for a stressful and confusing period for someone who doesn’t understand the complexities of adult relationships. Worst of all is that, when it’s all done with, you’ll only be living with one parent. This is the future facing 10-year-old Su-min (Moon Seung-ah) and her older brother Jin-ho (Choi Joon-wo), whose parents are going through a divorce. Unsure of how to handle custody, the parents give the children a choice: both live with their mother, or split and have one live with one parent.
Before I get into praise, I want to address the biggest problem I had with this film. I think this idea to separate the two children is a terrible one, and letting them make the decision seems extremely unfair. It’s a big burden for any parent, sure, but an even bigger one for the child, and while I appreciate a family that is open about their troubles (and children who understand what it means), bringing their kids so deep into it is putting a level of stress on them that they are wholly unprepared to deal with. But that’s really the point: the kids are trapped and we can’t help but feel for them. This isn’t their fight, but they’re in the middle of it regardless.
Almost every shot in the film is on Su-min, whose point of view is the central focus of the entire story. More so than even her brother, she is lost in a world of adult politics she can’t remotely grasp. But she isn’t entirely green, as she understands more than her parents give her credit for, which results in her running away. And I have to give a lot of credit to Moon who is able to grasp and portray these very complex emotions while the camera has her square in the frame almost all the time. I don’t want to say she carries the film – the other family members do a great job too – but her performance is key to making the film as believable and touching as it is.
Directors Lee Ji-hyoung and Kim Sol pepper the film with shots of the main characters sharing various meals, using them in a subversive manner by showing characters attempting to bond and connect – even if it’s just for show – but not doing a very good job. It’s not like the dad is bad at being a father, but his natural awkwardness and uncertainty is very prevalent in the scene when he’s eating with Su-min and doing a bad job at connecting with her. It’s through these scenes we see the most that the parents are so wrapped up in their own bullshit to see how it’s affecting their children. And though the situations are uncomfortable, that the filmmakers (in their debut film, no less) are able to bring all of this out without it feeling too heavy is a testament to their skill.
However, one of Scattered Night’s biggest flaws might be that it never really lightens the mood. Even the celebratory scenes such as Su-min’s birthday are painted on a canvas of sadness. I understand that the story is set during a turbulent time, and one where happiness can be scarce to come by, but there is little breathing room between scenes of characters looking melancholy and speaking in disheartened tones. Cheerful moments where the family grows would help the story immensely, and make the sadder moments pop more. Because it’s clear that the family does love each other, and they’re willing to spend the time to make things better, but the scenes are few and far apart.
Ultimately, Scattered Night is a pretty good film that really doesn’t overstay its welcome, clocking in at only 80 minutes. It knows what kind of story it wants to tell, and never stuffs the story with too much unnecessary filler and by keeping the action focused almost entirely on one character, we see better able to understand what she’s going through and why she acts the way she does turning Scattered Night into more of a character piece, and one that is supported by an excellent lead. It’s not the most cheerful time, but its camerawork, acting and sharp story keep things interesting and crushing all at the same time.
Verdict: Never quite reaches the powerhouse level it wants to, Scattered Night nevertheless is a great debut from two talented directors.
Overall entertainment: 7.5/10
Dialogue: Why so much third person?
New Stone Age: Settling
Old Stone Age: Raw food
Scattered Night (2019)
Also known as:
Directors: Lee Ji-hyoung, Kim Sol
Writers: Lee Ji-hyoung
Moon-Seung-ah – Su-min
Choi Jun-woo – Jin-ho