Review: Back to Back

Written and directed by Jooyeon Lee, filmed during lockdown, a performance film about care centred around a phone conversation between a cleaning agency employee and a woman trying to empty a locked fridge. When the two women meet-up they engage in a strange dance through the streets of Seoul, locked together back-to-back in a movement of mutual support and dependence. Starring: Seungmin Chu and Un Lee.

The film’s opening scene uses a simple but very effective shot of following parallel alongside its wandering character. The slow movement plus the location and night-time setting, alongside the tone of the actor’s voice quickly builds an atmosphere of loneliness and melancholy. It feels very natural and the mundanity of the conversation blended with the great cinematography (by Kyungjin Kim) creates something that effortlessly draws you in. It moves much in the same way throughout and the performance element adds in another layer of intrigue.

Whether that element works for you may not be entirely certain, the move is slightly jarring but not so much as to throw off the existing atmosphere. It’s an interesting idea to very physically explore the idea of dependence and support. The way it moves comes across as between a blending and a conflict, leaving you to debate whether they work together or against one another. In turn that feels like a great visual metaphor for the need versus humble reticence for help that most people experience.

It then moves into a very intense scene which amplifies a desperation. It’s an unexpected turn and yet it feeds perfectly into the tone that’s already been established. It’s almost fascinating, drawing you in further, not necessarily by what’s being said but the implication and deepening of the atmosphere.

Back to Back draws upon the everyday to create something unusual yet highly relatable. The performance element is one that’s strange to witness initially but begins a trail of thought into its larger metaphor of care and a need for help. The direction and cinematography make great use of the locations and night-time setting to build an intriguing and compelling atmosphere.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of Open City Documentary Festival

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