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Review: Merlin - Directed by Min Soo Park

The film opens with a brilliant scene: in the heart of a snowy landscape, there is a single tree. After a while, a happy person appears dancing from behind the tree. Where is this place and who is that person? The captivating beauty of the opening scene does not allow these questions to arise at first, but as soon as the narrator’s voice is heard, the viewers step into reality and look for the connection of this scene with the opening one. The scenes that follow further question the nature of this initial scene. Is this part of someone's dream? Are these the embodiment of what ideal happiness and bliss means for someone?

As the short advances, it gradually becomes clear that the director, Min Soo Park, is creating a fluid, mental atmosphere where the audience is constantly thrown from one time to another and from one place to the other, an atmosphere where the fluidity of the elements and the fusion of moments are supposed to result in a kind of timelessness. Moreover, what is achieved through the character’s inner voice relating the narration along with scattered fragments of his world which, put together, form a whole is far more eloquent and articulate than what could have been arrived at through a classical linear narrative.

Although Merlin is based on the life of a Swiss artist named Lukas Krähenbühl and portrays him as the main character of the narration, it also has some features of a documentary (including scenes in which Lukas looks directly at the camera). However, from the heart of the facts, the filmmaker successfully manages to maintain a personal yet cinematic tone that keeps the film on the border of reality and fiction. Many of the film's moments are somewhere in between, and the narrow line between fantasy and reality, and the private and public spheres, is erased so that the result goes beyond a mere documentary. Scenes that show Lukas with his client are moments from the private sphere that, combined with Lukas' presence in nature or in his studio, give a complete picture of his world. Lukas's quest for happiness takes on meaning only here and in the heart of this unique world, and it is in this world where the filmmaker depicts his protagonist as he is, unmasked, that his main message is deeply understood: face your true self.

Director Min Soo Park

Embedded at the heart of this meticulously crafted system of images, are highly abstract moments. With Lukas’s help, Min Soo Park has reconstructed these moments of anger, sadness, loneliness and fear effectively translating them into images that are used to render a compelling fictional and cinematic journey into the protagonist’s inner transformations, and reinforced by placing Lukas himself at their core, and thus benefiting hugely from the power of his body language as well. It should also be mentioned that Soo Park’s reconstruction of his protagonist’s personal behavior through reasonable and spectacular images is how he has avoided the usual methods of documentation where one has to sit in front of the camera and convey concepts and abstract ideas only through words. What is lost in this commonly used method is the deep connection of the viewer with the message. But Min Soo Park uses the reconstructions to create strikingly impressive scenes in order to breathe life into what the protagonist has undergone. Visually, many of these images are not merely transient embellishments, but the driving forces behind the narrative. For instance, one can consider the scene which shows Lukas walking in the snow, and see how the filmmaker further adds meaning to the film, in addition to what Lukas's words and thoughts have already communicated, by closing the frame, and the precise arrangement of natural elements in the frame.

The film returns to its starting point at the end, but with the difference that now the original scene has acquired a different meaning. The message lying behind what seemed to be a dream, and behind the cheerful dancing shadow is now fully revealed.

The film has depicted its main character in the prison of anger, in the peace of the solitude by the fire, and in many other moments: in his most physical form, unmasked, engaged in completely earthly affairs (drinking tea, or caressing a woman), and also in his mental moments that are completely abstract (when he is tossing and turning restlessly in the darkness of depression and then falls to the ground helplessly). He is even pictured somewhere between the two, unwinding with the help of the warming power of fire. Although the duration of the film is five minutes, one feels one has known him for years: a man who has honestly described his world, and shared his doubts, pains, and inner joys.

Merlin can be regarded a brilliantly successful attempt at exploring and experimenting with narrative methods beyond documentaries and stories. It tries to achieve the deepest possible connection with its audience in the shortest possible duration of time by blending reality and fantasy, and removing conventional boundaries. The film's success in this field, on the one hand, raises the audience’s expectations from the filmmaker's next projects, and on the other hand, promises greater, more determined attempts. The images of the film can be viewed on their own even without the sound tape, highly powerful images that exude a compellingly absorbing charm that leaves the viewers no choice but to watch, poetic images with square frames, each like a painting with its own characteristics. In addition, using the least number of elements that are arranged in the most effective manner, they partake of minimalism as well.

As we look forward to the next portraits by Min Soo Park, and his larger, wider, and more ambitious projects, we can watch Merlin many times and learn from the hero who liberates himself from his inner prison and lives like a free bird, realizing living happily is a difficult task, and in order to achieve it, one has to face the mirror, the mirror that is best symbolized in the scenes where Lukas stares directly at the camera.


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