Treeless Mountain

Not since Jacques Doillon’s enchanting 1996 drama ‘Ponette’ have the collective, small-scale traumas and vertiginous learning curve that come with a childhood on the lam been captured with such psychological diligence and hardscrabble poetics as in this autumnal, toddler’s-eye heartbreaker. Drawing on memories of her own painful upbringing in the deprived outskirts of Seoul, writer-director Kim So-yeong delivers a miraculously poised and precise film examining a key stage in the upbringing of mop-topped sisters Jin (Kim Hee-yeon) and Bin (Kim Song-hee).  

When loving but emotionally damaged ‘Mom’ packs them off to live with their callous, self-serving aunt, the two girls find themselves in a dire predicament. Deprived of parental affection and behavioural boundaries, they’re left largely to their own devices (masterminding a miniature barbecued grasshopper business, of course) as their aunt drinks away her meagre income, showing little interest in the emotional needs of her surrogate brood. But matters improve when they’re marched off to their grandparents’ farm and finally locate a kindred spirit in their sagacious Grandmother, whose inconspicuous fondness for the pair comes across as a defiant act of cross-generational empowerment.

Via the disconcertingly unaffected performances of the two pint-sized leads, the film subtly and credibly charts the ways young children cultivate a sense of family, friendship, economy, age and geography through physical interactions with people and surroundings. Conversely, Kim’s film also offers a stark analysis of the human potential for random cruelty that recalls nothing less than Bresson’s ‘Mouchette’, albeit with a denouement that holds a glimmer of optimism for the future.

Release details

Rated: PG
Release date: Friday January 8 2010
Duration: 89 mins

Cast and crew

Director: So Yong Kim
Cast: Kim Hee-yeon
Kim Song-hee
Lee Soo-ah
Kim Mi-hyang

Average User Rating

5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Andy Barrow

A beautifully-observed film about two neglected children, who, abandoned in short order by their father, mother and aunt, finally find someone to care for them, their grandmother, a poor farmer's wife, whose kindness they return at the close of the film. A moving and unsentimental gem.

Andy Barrow

A beautifully-observed film about two neglected children, who, abandoned in short order by their father, mother and aunt, finally find someone to care for them, their grandmother, a poor farmer's wife, whose kindness they return at the close of the film. A moving and unsentimental gem.

Peter Ludbrook

A wonderful film. The two little girls give extraordinary performances. The direction is direct and unflashy and the rest of the cast inhabit their roles to great effect. It's one of those quiet films where slowly the film grips you. The ending is gently positive, moving yet never cloying. Highly recommended.

Peter Ludbrook

A wonderful film. The two little girls give extraordinary performances. The direction is direct and unflashy and the rest of the cast inhabit their roles to great effect. It's one of those quiet films where slowly the film grips you. The ending is gently positive, moving yet never cloying. Highly recommended.