By: Henry J. Fromage (Three Beers) –
My Love, Don’t Cross That River was a bombshell in Korea last year, a low-key documentary that struck enough of a chord to become its highest-grossing independent film ever.
No, it’s not a Korean Clerks, although that would be fascinating.
This documentary is an expanded television profile of an elderly couple who’ve been together since the times in which it was acceptable to betroth a 14 year old to a 19 year old. 75 years later, their love is as strong as ever, but when you’re a 89 and a 98 year old (I know the math doesn’t work- they’re not worried about it, either), you can’t bank on adding too many years to that total.
The elderly couple at the center of the film, Byeong-man and Kye-yeol are purely a joy to spend 90 minutes with. They clearly love each other to a degree couples with even half of their duration can likely understand, and they harken from such a very different time that makes it fascinating to observe them navigating this one. There’s also valuable secondary insight into rural Korean life, especially a form of it that seems largely unchanged from half a century ago, and family dynamics (spoiler alert- holidays with the family are stressful no matter where you’re from).
The film also gains an incredibly poignant dimension as the inevitable occurs and one of them starts to fail rapidly. How these two, who have seen so much and lived so long together, handle the unavoidable specter of death will bring tears to not a few viewers’ eyes.
Finally, this is nicely shot for what is essentially a TV documentary, especially its mood-setting closeups of nature and everyday objects.
Unfortunately, right from the get-go much of this is very clearly staged, from the traditional matching outfits (awful clean for everyday wear- I certainly never saw the like in my two years there except for weddings and other special occasions) to many P.O.V. scenes that make you wonder just how the cameraman got there if it wasn’t staged. Who lets a cameraman hang out and watch you sleep? Guess he’ll turn out the lights when he’s done?
That sort of transparent documentary trickery unfortunately makes the ending tough to process- how much longer than was probably ethical did the filmmaking crew decide to stick around when it was clear one of the couple was at death’s door, and how many poignant images and callbacks both early and late had an endgame in mind?
This all culminates in a litany of sadly cheesy choices made at the finale, like a “disappearing” fade out between a shot of the person living and an empty chair that even the CW would be embarrassed by. For a ending that should be heart-wrenching, it gives any audience not caught hook, line, and sinker a strange removal from the grief on the screen. It’s hard to suspend your disbelief for a documentary when it introduced that disbelief itself.
Yep, that’s an identical snowman you saw on that grave.
My Love, Don’t Cross That River boasts some innately lovable and tragic subjects, but loads its dice so transparently it almost ruins your natural empathy for them.
My Love, Don’t Cross That River (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever the old couple is just precious beyond words
Take a Drink: whenever they’re sporting matching outfits
Take a Drink: for coughing
Take a Drink: for awesome-looking meals
Do a Shot: when it’s time to see what that title’s all about