Fantastic Fest: ‘Moebius’ Has Balls to Spare

By  · Published on September 23rd, 2013

by Michael Treveloni

Silence is golden, unless you’re Kim Ki-duk. For Kim it is just another void to stuff to its breaking point with all things emotionally jarring. Outside of natural ambiance and some sparse music, Moebius is devoid of any audible dialog. Instead it relies on the power of performances and the intensity of a wickedly sharp and revolting story. This time around the South Korean director sets his sights on family dysfunction, and make no bones about it, he has a killer eye and won’t blink.

Moebius’ vulture like focus hovers around a family already stretched to its tensile limit. Mom drinks, Dad dabbles in less than secret infidelity, and their son (Seo Young-joo) is a meek, silent witness to their ensuing battles. When mom’s jealously boils over, the knives literally come out, inflicting visceral and devastating wounds to the ones she loves. Unable to cope with the maelstrom she removes herself from the turmoil, leaving the fragments of her family to sift through the ruins to salvage what they can.

Sporting a unique and horrible injury, the son has to learn to live and adapt to his handicap. His wound is one that is particularly heinous, especially for a horny teenager. Picking up girls is rough enough for a young man lacking confidence, lacking a particular other tool makes things all the more unbearable. Acting as a dim beacon, his father (Jo Jae-hyeon) falls head-long into a psycho-sexual abyss with hope that he can find and bring pleasure back into his boy’s life. It’s some quality father / son bonding time complete with coached ejaculations and self mutilation. Tonally it plays like a more serious cousin to Todd Solondz’ Happiness. That isn’t meant as a criticism to either film, they share a universe and if you’re into it then you’re into it.

Kim exquisitely litters the screen with layers of guilt, sympathy and envy. Sticky (and icky) territory is crossed as the son lusts after his father’s former sexual partner. An earlier rejection drove her to seek compassion, though finding it in the progeny of the one who abandoned her is more than happenstance, it’s a cynically karmic reciprocation of confused companionship. She doesn’t understand that the boy’s injury is a direct result of her tryst, and that the damage she is to suffer is intensified by her own actions. At the same time the father’s struggles strangely echo his wife’s. When jealousy hits him it does so harder than he could ever have imagined. The concentric execution of the story bleeds in such a way that it is both heartbreaking and fascinating. Redemptive stabbings and miscued erections are par for the course and while shocking, they manage to tighten the dynamics of all involved.

Kim delivers a deliriously lucid film that plays with human drama the way children burn ants with magnifying glasses. To watch it without wincing would be incredibly hard. When it is violent it is brutal, though it is the psychological damage inflicted that causes the biggest squirms. Amazingly, it can also be darkly funny. To find laughs in a tale cramped with genital mutilation, rape and incest says a lot about Kim’s deft direction and eye for what to exploit. Through the carnage it is also apparent he respects his characters, even if they are doing ludicrous things. They aren’t being mocked, they are being studied and treated with the utmost care. There is honesty in their actions and as unusual as their motivations are, to sympathize with them isn’t a foreign feeling. Couple that with zero dialog in the film’s running time and the end prize is a grotesquely rewarding experience.

The Upside: There isn’t much out there like it; the performances are startling and honest and pull you along even if you don’t want to see what happens next

The Downside: It is pretty unsettling; it’s not squeamish in any of its subject matter and doesn’t really care what you think.

On the Side: Kim Ki-Duk’s film Pietà explores some similar paternal territory to creepy effect.

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