Looking Out from inside the Horror Chamber
It's one of the most shocking films at Venice this year, and it comes out of Korea, like one of the frontrunners, Pieta
by Kim Ki-duk
. This one is called The Weight
, though, and is directed by Jeon Kyu-hwan
; it made its bow at Venice Days and walked away with the Queer Lion
, the prize for the best film with a homosexual theme.
Yet The Weight is a film that goes way beyond the issue of gender. Unsuspecting audiences will find it comes complete with a checklist of unsettling human deviancies, framed to aesthetic perfection by a master. The action unfolds in a morgue, where Jung works and lives as well; a hunchback, he shuns society and hides his deformity by keeping company with corpses or other outcasts like himself. He has arthritis, tuberculosis, and he is an orphan, surrounded by other extreme cases like his brother, a woman trapped in a man's body. Blood, morbid necrophilia (but not gratuitous), deformities on show, the desperation the bodies exemplify: The Weight is not an easy ride for audiences. The director calls it "a fable for adults that reflects on reality. I found this the best way to recount the hardships of the times we live in."
The claustrophobic, "corpse-like" setting calls to mind Pablo Larrain's Post Mortem, but Jeon Kyu-hwan says he's never even seen it, while he is visibly flattered by frequent comparisions between The Weight and The Hunchback of Notre Dame, hinging, naturally, on the deformity of their main characters. At a formal level, the filmmaker - who also has a "Town Trilogy" to his credit - admits he owes much to Wong Kar-wai.
"By means of a cast of characters physically and existentially challenged in various ways, who cross paths at the morgue," the director says, "I wanted to show the burden of human beings' existences in the form of a ‘grotesque fantasy'. By describing these people with all their traumas and repressed desires through the sad yet poetic story of the hunchback," he goes on, "I hoped that the film would be carried by a new kind of cinematic energy, never seen before."
And thanks to the marvelous precision of its directing, photography and editing, The Weight perfectly conveys the seemingly nichilistic dilemma of a world of freaks and outcasts. "In the end, however," the director reminds us, "men can turn into butterflies: an image of hope after the tragic stories of so many human beings, who can aspire to being reborn accompanied by a lighter karma."