One of the films at the 37th Hawaii International Film Festival (presented by Halekulani) this year was Shin Su-won’s Glass Garden. It is a South Korean mystery/drama film about a brilliant scientist/researcher who feels connected to nature so deeply that she feels she can communicate with it. Admittedly, as the story progresses, things can get a little confusing as it jumps back and forth between fantasy and reality. We are constantly left wondering if the main character has just gone mad or if her work can actually be done and she’s onto something potentially groundbreaking. What made it tricky was that sometimes there’d be evidence to prove she was right but most of the time every odd was stacked against her and she came off as crazy. In addition, it was cool how her experiment was connected to everything she believed in and her life.
Glass Garden had beautiful cinematography and a beautiful mise-en-scene throughout the film. There was an interesting and clever technique of using different shots, angles, and effects to convey how characters were feeling at different times. For instance, when someone wasn’t feeling the camera angle would change to their point of view and then it would go out of focus. These effects were very effective. What was most impressive to me though, was that the forest looks so beautiful in the film that you would thing they added effects, but Shin Su-won shared with us that there was only the one tree (the big, main one) that had effects added to it. Which means yes, there is a beautiful forest out there that exists in real life.
If you are super into nature, then this is definitely a film worth checking out. The story plot line was fairly complex, deep, insightful and unpredictable. There was no way of knowing how it would end. The director was very careful about creating an original storyline with nothing similar to any other work and nothing cliche, which she shared with us in a Q&A panel after the film. It had the potential to end on a happy note with everything going right but instead it took a more practical approach, which is great for people who hate cliches, but I’m one of the few who don’t mind them. Aside from that, it still had deep points and touched on social/ecological issues.
One underlying message was about climate change. It conveys the effects of pollution, for example, when the main character is talking about the river in the forest that she used to fish out of but now she can’t because the pollution has made it toxic. Also, the line “Things that are pure contaminate easily” was repeated. At first, when her instructor said it to her I think he was referring to her. Later on, when it was used again, I believe it was referring to the sample in the petri dish. So it kept coming back up and each time it’s meaning changed slightly.
All of these elements worked very well together to create the beautiful, mysterious, dramatic and deep film, Glass Garden.