Ten-year-old ballerina Hyun-ah is in London on a stop on her ballet tour. She is accompanied by Yun, her South Korean mother, for an important engagement, one that may make her professional future.
But Hyun-ah begins to rebel in her small way against the constant pressure and lack of understanding. At first, her rebellion happens through passive refusal, but eventually, it leads to a larger confrontation and a growing schism between parent and child.
Writer-director Minha Kim’s dreamy, atmospheric dramatic short examines the consequences and pressures of familial sacrifice between generations, using remarkable visual acuity and narrative economy to construct a portrait of parent-child alienation.
Shot on 35mm, the film has a gorgeous, grainlike haze and drift to its visuals and rhythm, ambling from one crystalline image to another. The softness evokes the suppleness of childhood memory, capturing the young protagonist’s impressions of her journey: the way shadows dance on the way, the beautiful distortions of city lights through a window. The abstract, poetic approach fractures time and space in the way that childhood memory organizes experience: not through strict chronology or cause-and-effect, but through sensation and emotion.
But the visual beauty overlays an emotional tension and sadness, one that comes from Hyun-ah’s central dilemma. Her familial unit is one where everyone sacrifices something to be successful, but despite it all, no one is happy. Under immense pressure to succeed, it inevitably causes tension in the family. Actors Minhee Yeo and Sarah Sol Kim, who play young daughter and mother, respectively, capture this conflict in a sensitive, emotionally perceptive way, in performances full of subtlety and precision.
In a subtle way, the story also contextualizes this familial dynamic as not just psychological but sociological. The mother character may seem harsh and punitive, but she exists in a value system where the father is the sole provider and unavailable physically and emotionally, the mother exists only to care for and ensure the future of her child and the pressure to be successful at all costs is enormous. Those costs become clear as the young daughter — who speaks very little in the film — attempts to make herself heard in a world where no one really sees her for who she is.
“A Perfect Turn” is a film about a kid, but even with its gentle, poetic flow of images that evokes a childlike subjectivity, it’s not a children’s film, focused as it is on a family’s dysfunction and its effect on Hyun-ah. Beautiful, melancholy and quiet, it is a tremendously sad film, but one that is valuable in raising questions on just what success is — especially when it fails to bring any happiness.