Revivre is director Im Kwon-Taek’s 102nd film. Think about that. Really, really think about what that means. Even if most of his early films were essentially throwaways created to entertain the unwashed masses, this man has still said “That’s a wrap” (or something like it) more than one hundred times. But since the turn of the century, he has only directed six. I imagine he’s exhausted. He’d have to be, really, to make a film like Revivre.
It’s a film about about exhaustion, about being stuck in a rut, about trying to find something to hold on to, about failing, about accepting failure, and then about dying. It’s soul-crushing, and you will leave the theater particularly aware of your own mortality, but that means it’s effective. That’s what a film about a man whose wife is dying of brain cancer is supposed to do. There is no happy ending. There can be hope, perhaps, but even that must be tempered.
It’s a realistic film, or it feels like one. Sometimes “real” and “bleak” are interchangeable, which probably says something not-so-great about the way we perceive cinematic storytelling. You don’t really root for Mr. Oh, because he’s not really a great guy. His wife is dying, and he’s pining after a sexy new employee. But it’s more complicated than that, because life is more complicated than that. He may pine for her, but he still cares for his wife. Or he takes cares of her, at any rate, evidenced by long sequences (often done in a single take) that are particularly heart-breaking. And it works. It could have failed so many times, but it doesn’t. It doesn’t, because it comes from a man who understands exhaustion and failure and acceptance.
When the credits roll, and you’re staring in the face of your impending death, in some small way you’ll understand too.
Director: Im Kwon-Taek
Country: South Korea