Coming to America, Coming of Age

Teenager faces new country, new love in In Between Days

In Between Days is instantly compelling. Dwarfed inside a fur-rimmed parka, a young girl trumps through snow with a rubbery crunch, her silhouette framed by a wintry cityscape gone soft in twilight. The image freezes on a tableau of the skyline, and a timorous voice begins to murmur: "Now, I'm going to school here," reads the subtitled Korean. "I've made lots of friends, Dad. My friends are white, black, Chinese, and Japanese too. Isn't that amazing? And Mom's working hard too. So don't worry about us."

"Here" is the unnamed North American metropolis where Aimie (Jiseon Kim), an introspective teenager, has recently emigrated from Korea, and there's plenty of reason to worry. Her mother (Bokja Kim), a conscientious if not especially warm woman, does indeed work hard, but only at two things: fixating on her daughter's education, and searching to replace the patriarch who left them. As for Aimie's friends, she appears to have exactly one, a handsome and listless boy named Tran (Taegu Andy Kang).

Interspersed throughout the narrative, Aimie's video postcards to her absent father communicate an existence shaped by tender vacancies and bittersweet prevarications. Written and directed by So Yong Kim, a multimedia artist making her remarkable feature debut, In Between Days is the story of Aimie's faltering relationship to Tran, and of the melancholy stasis of a life neither here nor there, arrested in a state of threshold uncertainty. In other words, an intensely specific film about the universal yearnings of adolescence, here rendered doubly resonant through a fluent synthesis with the immigrant experience.

"Yesterday away from you, it froze me deep inside," sings Robert Smith on the song giving In Between Days its title. Kim understands "you" as everything remote from her young protagonist—home, family, culture, confidence, romantic love, sexual maturity. At the heart of her story, the jittery affair between Aimie and Tran, she studies the distances between people and the efforts they make to bridge them; the relationship advances and recedes with pitch-perfect sensitivity to the dodges, slights, and clumsy mixed messages of courtship.

Discovered behind the counter of a Korean café in New Jersey, Jiseon Kim gives one of those impossibly authentic non-professional performances that come out of nowhere. Her director cites the Dardenne brothers as a major influence, and has followed the example of their handheld, shallow-space hyperrealism, latching onto her lead with empathetic tenacity. Kim's plump round face couches a quicksilver expressiveness, making an endlessly interesting subject for the other Kim's camera. Wondrously harmonized, they share more than a name.

 
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