My Love Don’t Cross That River is the kind of documentary so authentic and effortless that you forget it’s a documentary and it elevates to the purest kind of cinema. It’s the kind of film that tells you it is going to break your heart, and then slowly breaks it while at the same time inflating it with joy. South Korean filmmaker Jin Mo-young spent 15 months filming the life and times of Jo (98) and Kang (89), a couple with 76 years of marriage under their belts matching belts. Though time has drawn many lines in their skin, they still express a childlike sense of play, of gratitude and unblemished kindness in their modest rural lives. They sing to each other, dress in matching traditional outfits, cook rustic meals, get into snowball fights and face the tides of time. What I connected to so strongly is this inner quality that is shown, not told. I also felt lulled into the films sense of place, created through its observance of the everyday by a resting camera.
Jin Mo-young first saw the couple featured on a television program about elderly couples, and was so inspired he decided to focus on them for a follow-up companion piece, which blossomed into a feature-length film project as Jo and Kang faced a major turning point. Incidentally My Love become the highest grossing independent film in South Korean history, earning 30 times its budget.
As a selection for the NYAFF the tender and spare My Love represents new territory. For myself, it isn’t just a good film, it’s a great film and an important one. I say “important” because its focused and unglamorous view of Jo and Kang allows for the subsequent expression of sincerity, human kindness, patience and play to shine as ultimate virtues. It is testament to the internal persistence of our youth, and a reminder of the fragility of the body. The inertia of Jo and Kang’s love carried them through ¾ of a century holding hands. As one of them crosses that river, will that be the equal or opposite force that draws the other to their final bow. This is what I pondered after the credits closed and my tears dried.