Violent redemption wins ‘Hosanna’ a Bear at Berlin
His film “Hosanna” (2014) picked up the Golden Bear for the best short film at the Berlin International Film Festival in mid-February.
It was the second time a Korean short film had won the award since “Night Fishing,” directed by Park Chan-wook of “Old Boy” and his brother, media artist Park Chan-kyoung, grabbed the prize in 2011.
“When one of the judges called me to the stage my jaw dropped,” Na, 32, told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily.
He said he stammered when he gave thanks to his staff, family and friends on receiving the award.
“I thank God, who made this beautiful and chaotic world,” Na announced while on the podium.
“I can’t remember how I attended the press conference and the live radio program right after the award ceremony,” the director said. “It was like a daydream. I’m still puzzled and find it hard to believe this is not really a dream.”
“Hosanna” was chosen as the top film out of 27 quality international contenders. Its plot focuses on the fundamental definition of redemption through the story of a small town engulfed by madness because a young boy keeps bringing people back from the dead.
The short is Na’s graduate piece from his studies at the Korea National University of Arts.
The director, who made about seven short films while at the school, was spotlighted when he received the Special Jury Award at the Jeonju International Film Festival for “Hosanna.”
The 25-minute feature brings up pointed questions such as, “Why does God try to save us?” and “Is redemption feasible?”
“I think the jury was curious,” Na said.
“The story of the film, the rough editing and its bizarre structure, which just starts and suddenly ends, might have seemed unique to them.”
The film starts with a frog being crushed to death by a car. The sound of the creature’s internal organs bursting is vivid, instantly introducing the film’s violent and grotesque nature.
The title of the movie means the request for God’s redemption in Hebrew, which becomes ironic considering attempts at absolution in the village end up in the unendurable suffering of its people.
Na said he faced complaints from European viewers, who called the movie cruel. Debates over its brutality sparked at press conferences after screenings.
“My intention in the film was to casually show dreadful sights,” Na said.
“If the viewers felt uncomfortable, I met my goal. I even regret that I could not make the scenes of the film more cruel.”
He added, “Humans only face the true abyss of despair in the most extreme situation, but we find hope and create the future from there.”
Q. How did you conceive the movie?
A. I wanted to illustrate Jesus Christ in an utterly human way. It was a topic that has obsessed me since I was a child. In fact, my father has been a pastor for 20 years.
My family had daily worship sessions and my father gave a sermon. While participating in the worship, I felt a strange sense of incompatibility between my position in the divine service and the scenes that my family members created.
It finally became unendurable and I quit going to church. I was a child who gave my parents a hard time in physical and emotional ways.
What made you feel a sense of incompatibility?
The questions I came to have such as, “Are we able to be redeemed? If so, what is the reason that we have to be saved?” I felt that the responsibility to be saved or the providence were violent. I was tired of it.
But the film is not limited by the religious category. The world is getting worse. I wanted to ask people to make sure that the world is heading in the right direction.
What did your father say after he watched the movie?
He supported me because he liked the point that the film deals with the idea of redemption seriously. In fact, the film was shot at my father’s church in Pangyo [Gyeonggi].
But my uncle, who is also a pastor, and some of my other relatives expressed concerns about me after they watched the movie.
The face of the main character - the boy and the symbol of God - terrifies viewers since he seems he doesn’t feel anything. Was that intentional?
I picked him as the title role when he was 15 years old because I loved his impassive face, which seemed to have a touch of misery.
I kept telling him not to “act” and I asked him to refrain from making any facial expressions. I told him that he didn’t need to understand the boy’s emotions.
I wanted the audience to hate the boy who never expresses the reason why people should live during the movie.
God is pitiful. I wonder how God would be capable of dealing with the contradictions inside himself.
I heard you once attended theology college. How did you convert to making films?
I have been interested in movies since I watched David Lynch’s “Eraserhead” during my middle school years.
I watched the movie hundreds of times while dreaming of having my own world where a contorted philosophy and unique view can live vividly. I made my first film at age 16 with five or six friends. It was about pseudo religion.
After quitting theology college, I finally entered the Korea National University of Arts in 2005. The first time I experienced making real movies was when I had to hold a boom microphone in a live recording team.
Every budding director has a long way to go, so I thought I had to learn about techniques. While I was at college for 10 years, including the leave I took for the mandatory military service, I joined the live recording staff of several movies. My graduate work, “Hosanna,” which took a year to edit, opened a new world for me. I am now writing a feature-length script and am aiming to film it in May.
What kind of movie do you want to make?
I don’t want to limit myself in one theme. If you ask me what kind of movie I want to shoot, the only answer would be a fun movie. But I will retain my attitude about seeing the world directly. I don’t like films with lots of editing. My mentor is the director Michael Haneke. I love the world that he has created and his conventions.
BY KIM HYO-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]