Film Review: Retour à Séoul

Film Review: Retour à Séoul
What is the emotional fallout for mom, dad, and child when the child must be given away? This question is at the heart of the powerful Retour à Séoul, the Davy Chou-directed film which got lots of buzz at Cannes. (The film’s English title is All the People I’ll Never Be). This French-Korean film, premiering in the “Un Certain Regard” category, was quickly snapped up and acquired by Sony Pictures Classics and MUBI before its premiere at Cannes. And it’s easy to see why it’s a hot title; this emotional tour de force has legs. “She doesn’t look French,” a group of 20-somethings in Seoul whisper about their new French-speaking Korean friend, Freddie, who has just arrived from Paris. Freddie (short for “Frédérique”) is 25, and she was adopted as an infant by a couple in Paris. On seemingly a whim, she decides to travel to her birth country, South Korea, when her flight to Japan is canceled. Retour à Séoul. Freddie with her friends. Courtesy of Film du Solange She has two weeks in Seoul, which she reckons should be enough time to find her parents and meet them. Unfortunately, she encounters roadblocks at the adoption agency. They ask her why she didn’t bring her adoption file from Paris and if her adoptive parents there can send the required forms to her. The woman at the adoption agency shares with Freddie the name she was given at birth: She is called Yeon-Hee. Retour à Séoul. Freddie searching for her parents. Courtesy of Film du Solange When Freddie speaks with her French mom by video call in Paris, her mom says sadly, “We always talked about going to Korea together.” This movie is full of sadness and heartbreak, so make sure you pack your tissues with you see it. The adoption agency can connect Freddie with her birth father, who has two other biological daughters. In a sweet and awkward moment, he takes her shopping and buys her a pair of shoes, which she later throws away. Freddie’s’ father drinks too much. He can’t emotionally handle Freddie’s return and becomes obsessive about her – sending message after message, calling endlessly, and even showing up at her accommodations drunk. He tells her over a meal in his home that he will help her find a Korean man to marry and that she should stay in Korea.

Lead photo credit : Retour à Séoul, courtesy of Film du Solange

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Anne McCarthy is a contributing writer to BBC News, Teen Vogue, The Telegraph, Dance Magazine, and more. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Westminster and is the Editor in Chief of Fat Tire Tours’ travel blog. She lives in New York City.