Korean film a simple, beautiful meditation
“Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” – I love the title alone of this Korean film. It says so much – the passing of time and seasons, the roundness of the life cycle and, with the extra “spring” tacked on the end, a sense of both rebirth and eternity. Even that ellipsis adds something – the pauses that interrupt the smooth cyclical flow.
The film, directed by Kim Ki-duk, fills all of the promise of that wonderful title and then some. The title “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” – god, it’s fun just to type the name – is a quiet meditation on the flow of seasons and delivers all the cinematographic beauty of nature in its various moods. And as well as any film I can think of, it captures the roundness of human nature, the full course of a life.All of “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” is set in one tight location, a floating Buddhist monastery on a small lake in the mountains of Korea. There are just eight characters, half of whom barely speak – and the ones who do, don’t say much. Yet the film never feels small, not in emotion, space, story or in what it has to reveal. In fact, “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” is huge, wrestling with the big issues of acceptance, atonement and compassion. To call “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” a small gem of a film is to understate its power.
The story is told in five vignettes, each set in a different season. At the center of each is an archetypal, nameless young monk, guided by a wise master from boyhood into old age. Each vignette could almost be a short film unto itself, so clear and universal are the ideas conveyed. But making the film even richer is how the vignettes relate to one another. You could never anticipate the jumps the story takes, and the viewer is in for quite a few jarring moments. The first segment – a fablelike tale about a 5-year-old boy learning a lesson in compassion – does not prepare one at all for the worldly invasions to come.”Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” conveys a set of simple values that seem foreign to mainstream America. Take food, for instance. As I watched the film, I wondered what exactly these two people, the young monk and the aged master, ate. Director Ki-duk seems to have anticipated this concern; there is a brief scene in which the master returns to the monastery – from a nearby village, presumably – with a package. As he sits and eats the contents, the camera lingers on his face and finds not exactly enjoyment of the meal, but a deeper, more encompassing satisfaction – a satisfaction that the world meets our needs. That focus on simplicity is echoed in the way the boy and man sleep side by side, how they gather wild herbs from the mountains and in the warnings the man gives the boy about the “world of man” outside their own little universe.
“Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring” will be shown on Sunday and Monday at 8:30 p.m. at the Paepcke Auditorium.
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