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The opening shot of the dramatically titled My Love, Don’t Cross That River presents a woman crying in a tranquil, snowy setting. The cause of her tears becomes obvious as this sensitive slice-of-life documentary unfolds.
Jo Byong-man and Kang Gye-yeul have known each other since they were teenagers and have been married for more than seventy years. Director Jin Mo-young eschews standard documentary techniques of old footage and talking heads in favor of watching the couple in the moment. At the beginning of the film, Byong-man and Gye-yeul play like children, picking flowers, singing, and joking.
The couple, in matching traditional Korean outfits, is hugely endearing, and Jin subtly captures changes in the relationship as Byong-man becomes increasingly feeble. The director doesn’t explicitly tell us how much time passes; the universal challenges of losing a loved one fit into a fleet 86 minutes in a way that feels unforced. The approach to death is neither sentimental nor contrived, and such frank depictions of it are so rare in film (both fiction and documentary) that the level of intimacy here is almost shocking — losing a loved one is hard enough without it being filmed.
Some moments have a clarity that may have felt forced or overly sentimental if this weren’t a documentary: One of the couple’s two dogs dies, and the other becomes pregnant and gives birth to adorable puppies, all while Byong-man approaches death. By focusing on the small details of Byong-man and Gye-yeul’s life — from their humble, secluded home to their touches and glances — the film paints a sweet yet tragic portrait.
My Love, Don’t Cross That River
Directed by Jin Mo-young
Opens June 17, Angelika Film Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas