TIFF Movie Review – The Girl from the South (2012)

The Girl from the South, 2012.

Directed by José Luis García.

Starring Lim Su-kyung, Alejandro, and José Luis García.


While attending a communist sponsored youth conference held in North Korea, a member of the Argentinian delegation encounters a South Korean activist who captures the attention of the media and all those in attendance with her message of reunification.

Little did José Luis García realize when he substituted for his brother at the USSR sponsored World Youth and Student festival held in North Korea that the experience would be life-altering. At first those attending the 1989 event are swept away with the spectacular party atmosphere provided by their hosts; however, as discussions take place among them the cold reality creeps in that they are merely be amused by the powers that be.

From the air of futility blooms the sole member of the South Korean delegation who gains the nickname “The Flower of Reunification” as she captivates all those around her; among the admirers was Garcia who happened to be a member of the group representing Argentina at the time. Utilizing archival footage he shot of the occasion, the filmmaker documents a playful and passionate Lim Su-kyung who through her humour and conviction reveals the absurd paranoia that exists between Koreans from both sides of the border.
Despite the threat of those attempting to cross the border being shot, Lim Su-kyung returns to her homeland only to be whisked away to prison. At this point José Luis García loses track of the activist and commences a journey which results in him reuniting with her 20 years later with the help of South Korean friend who serves as his translator. The older version of Lim Su-kyung, who serves as a lecturer at her university alma mater, has been worn down by all of the public attention and personal tragedies such as the death of her son.

North and South Korea are as much a character as the people gracing the big screen. The presence of José Luis García is mainly felt through the camera lens and a narrative voice over, although, he does make a rather comical appearance when Lim Su-kyung wants him to speak to her face to face at a table but proceeds to have him sit further and further away. The scene represents an inherent flaw in the documentary as despite being present Su-kyung is never quite emotionally available for the filmmaker.

Granted the black fades serve as transitions between the segments but they also make the story seem episodic rather than part of a cohesive whole. As much as the side excursions help put the physical settings in a proper context their travelogue nature makes them come across as filler. A surprising twist is when the subject of the documentary visits Argentina in an effort to bring some closure to her life. What gives the sluggish and somewhat meandering project a heart and soul is the genuine fascination Garcia has for the girl from the south.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★

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