Film Review: Home From Home

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Berlin International Film Festival -- Panorama

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BERLIN -- Kimchi and bratwurst prove an unlikely but irresistible combination in "Home From Home," a terrific portrait of three senior couples -- the women Korean, the men German -- living in a "German village" at the southern tip of South Korea. Wry studies of cultural differences are dime a dozen in the documentary field, so it's tough to stand out from the pack. But that is exactly what sophomore director Sung-Hyung Cho, herself Korea-born and Germany-based, has accomplished.

This empathetic, beautifully shot movie would enhance the lineup of any film festival, with audience awards inevitably to follow, and is a natural for small-screen nonfiction treatment. While not the most obvious commercial prospect on paper -- the bland English-language title isn't exactly a lure -- "Home" tells a fascinating story with such skill and emotional impact that it emphatically deserves consideration for art house distribution in many territories.

During the 1950s and '60s, Germany invited thousands of guest workers to help with its reconstruction. Most were manual laborers from Turkey, but there were numerous skilled or semi-skilled gastarbeiters from farther afield, including nurses from South Korea. "Home" introduces us to Woo-Za, Young-Sook and Chun-Ja, who lived for decades in Germany, married locals and raised children there. Homesick during their twilight years, they are lured back to South Korea by the construction of a "German village" in the fishing town of Namhae -- though their husbands Ludwig, Armin and Willi remain the area's only born-and-bred Germans.

The women are the picture's emotional core, relating often-traumatic life stories, but the men provide the humor: Ludwig and Armin are stereotypically German in their attitudes, to an oft-hilarious degree; Willi, who is older but more adventurous, makes greater efforts to integrate. The latter quickly emerges as a documentarian's dream: an inveterate, effortless show-stealer whose wordless reactions to exotic surroundings are worth the price of admission by themselves.

But there's much else to enjoy as Cho ("Full Metal Village") exercises impressive control of her material. She has a nice, unfussy eye for composition -- aided by crystal-clear digital-video camerawork by Ralph Netzer, Axel Schneppat and Stefan Grandinetti -- and is such a nifty editor that 97 minutes fly past. By film's end, no great formal or artistic ground might have been broken, but nonetheless we have been informed, educated, surprised, entertained and moved.

Production: Flying Moon
Director-editor: Sung-Hyung Cho
Producers: Helge Albers, Roshanak Behesht Nedjad
Directors of photography: Ralph Netzer, Axel Schneppat, Stefan Grandinetti
Sales agent: Flying Moon, Berlin
No rating, 97 minutes