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Treeless Mountain (2009)

tomatometer

86

Average Rating: 7.4/10
Reviews Counted: 56
Fresh: 48 | Rotten: 8

Intermittently wondrous and harsh, this sensitive drama about two abandoned sisters gives time and space to the intimate and beautiful moments of childhood.

81

Average Rating: 7.5/10
Critic Reviews: 16
Fresh: 13 | Rotten: 3

Intermittently wondrous and harsh, this sensitive drama about two abandoned sisters gives time and space to the intimate and beautiful moments of childhood.

audience

72

liked it
Average Rating: 3.7/5
User Ratings: 1,671

My Rating

Movie Info

A portrait of a young girl coming to terms with loss and abandonment, Six-year-old Jin and her younger sister Bin live on the edge of disaster, but they are not aware of it. In the small apartment where they reside with their single mother, the menacing sounds of the outer world disturb their precarious cocoon. One day, their mother packs all their belongings. For Jin, the days of going to school are over. Mommy is gone, leaving her and Bin in a hostile home with their alcoholic Big Aunt and a

PG,

Art House & International, Drama

Sep 15, 2009

Oscilloscope Pictures

Watch It Now

Cast

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All Critics (56) | Top Critics (16) | Fresh (48) | Rotten (8) | DVD (1)

[The Film] offers a stark analysis of the human potential for random cruelty that recalls nothing less than Bresson's 'Mouchette', albeit with a denouement that holds a glimmer of optimism for the future.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Time Out
Time Out
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Somewhere in between all the emptiness -- the film's laconic chapters are separated by repeated static shots of clouds and sky -- a beautiful little point is made.

July 23, 2009 Full Review Source: Washington Post
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

In modest, lovingly observed ways, the director gives her characters -- and, one hazards, herself -- the gentlest gift of sweet possibility.

July 17, 2009 Full Review Source: Denver Post
Denver Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

So Yong Kim has a real gift for putting children at ease before the camera, and her two very young actresses (who are not sisters off-screen) reward her with performances of heartbreaking realism.

June 26, 2009 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Treeless Mountain casts a sad, pellucid spell. It looks at life from three feet off the ground and meets the hardening gaze of its 6-year-old protagonist head on.

June 18, 2009 Full Review Source: Boston Globe
Boston Globe
Top Critic IconTop Critic

So Yong Kim has made another minimalist masterpiece, a quiet movie of sharply observed details and two girls who will break your heart.

May 15, 2009 Full Review Source: Houston Chronicle
Houston Chronicle
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Treeless Mountain, in its crisp simplicity, resembles a good poem, with many layers lurking beneath the organized, metered surface.

June 11, 2014 Full Review Source: Stop Smiling
Stop Smiling

Cinematographer Anne Misawa shoots from a low angle the wonderful, subtly expressive faces of the siblings, the older melancholic, the younger endearingly clownish.

July 6, 2010 Full Review Source: Boston Phoenix
Boston Phoenix

There is no profound drama here, however, so you might end up resenting the film while it drags from you the emotional responses that the sight of anxious little children inevitably triggers.

January 15, 2010 Full Review Source: Sunday Times (UK)
Sunday Times (UK)

So Yong eschews drama for a quiet sensitivity which suggests the young can get over almost anything adults put upon them simply with native wit and resource.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: This is London
This is London

Gentle and observational, this slice-of-life from Korea has only the thinnest frame of a plot as it follows two young girls on a dramatic journey. But it's so vague that audiences will find it hard to latch onto.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Shadows on the Wall
Shadows on the Wall

Wonderful performances from the two young leads and a gently heart-breaking narrative arc make this a slow winner.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine
Empire Magazine

A touching, gentle examination of the giddy rush and sickening sense of dislocation that comes with being left on your own when you're young.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Times [UK]
Times [UK]

Not an easy watch, but worth sticking with.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Guardian
Guardian

Like breath on the window of a late-night bus, Treeless Mountain is a work of diaphanous and fugitive beauty.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegraph

It's a familiar subject, well handled and performed.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Observer [UK]
Observer [UK]

A beautiful, meditative and deeply humanistic coming-of-age tale dealing with abandonment, resilience and perseverance in the face of apparent futility.

January 8, 2010
Little White Lies

A film of small gestures closely observed, it's surprisingly unsentimental, despite its heart-tugging qualities.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Total Film
Total Film

Avoiding sentiment and whimsicality, the director coaxes exquisite performances from her dauntless leads as they bemusedly try to make sense of the grown-ups' aberrant behaviour.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Radio Times
Radio Times

The writer-director So Yong Kim, drawing on events from her childhood, directs so unobtrusively you may forget the camera is there, but you won't forget its evocation of a child's yearning for a missed parent.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Independent
Independent

Packed with moments that are both heartwarming and heartbreaking.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: ViewLondon
ViewLondon

The film's desire to avoid enforcing a story arc on the girls - who remain in a state of constant bemusement through out - makes it difficult to engage with the film as a whole.

January 8, 2010 Full Review Source: Scotsman

A series of plotless, episodic incidents that slowly build to understated emotional crescendos.

November 12, 2009 Full Review Source: The Simon
The Simon

..the film is tender, touching and charming, a portrait of quiet resilience and sisterly devotion...

September 20, 2009 Full Review Source: Seanax.com
Seanax.com

Interesting if occasionally limiting.

August 7, 2009 Full Review Source: Creative Loafing
Creative Loafing

Audience Reviews for Treeless Mountain

Draws a lotta comparisons with "Where the Wild Things Are" except much more grim and less chaotic. "Treeless Mountain"'s a super slow burn, and I mean, REAL slow. I'm okay with pacing that is patient but when there are very little developments over the course of an hour, it becomes an issue. However, just like "Where the Wild Things Are" its an outstandingly realistic portrayal of children during times of emotional trauma.

The acting's incredibly believable. Half way through, I thought to myself, "Are these kids really acting? Did the filmmakers raise these two kids to undergo the same exact nurture as they are throughout the course of the film and just shoot snippets of their real life?" Hee Yeon Kim, the older sister, does a phenomenal job ...and she's only 6. Take some notes Hayden Christiansen. Because these are very young children, there's hardly any dialogue spoken to express their emotions but yet, we see the utter pain of betrayal and loneliness in Hee Yeon Kim's eyes; your heart'll brighten up when you see her crack a smile from the simplistic joys of life; you'll see her gaze harden up against the world to not get hurt again -- all through her transparent eyes of innocence. So obviously, the film rightfully focuses almost 90% of the camerawork on face-shots of these two children -- this is no exaggeration. The children may be in a setting where there's a lot of movement, people talking about important issues, and people working and fighting that is rightfully a life-changing element for these children, but the camera ceases to ease its focus off of these two children. And during all of this, we see symbolism left and right, neatly tying this in a neat package.

For these reasons, "Treeless Mountain" works wonderfully, but it all comes crashing down due to its extremely poor pacing and the lack of true interest throughout the course of the narrative. Don't get me wrong -- by the end of the movie, the narrative had a strong, rigid grip on me, but between the heartbreaking introduction and the ending, it was a sharp character study with EXTREMELY minimal advances in the storytelling department. There IS substance, but not enough plot elements to keep this movie engaging throughout. It's sort of like "Tree of Life": It captures many of the candid and unexpected moments of everyday childhood and so, handpicking out each individual scene doesn't help explain the narrative at ALL. But how the movie works is when the viewer looks at a single scene through the collection of knowledge accumulated by the viewer's observation of previous scenes which showcased these children's everyday behavior. It's clever and helps the viewers dig into the emotional turmoil of these hearts, but it results in an uninteresting, almost repetitive narrative. I'm not saying I want an explosion every two seconds -- I'm saying that some of these scenes involve these kids, at one moment, drawing something in their notebook, and the other moment, them hand-washing their clothing; it makes it a rather, somewhat, repetitive film. Also, there seems to be a lacking quality in this film that's apparently found in many other movies, but I can't seem to put my finger on it. What do I mean? It's a good movie, but with such a premise like this with such raw emotions spewing from its excellent cast, it could've been a masterpiece but there's a lacking in its execution -- I'm just not sure how to pinpoint it.

"Treeless Mountain" does a lot of things right, but it's perhaps too quiet, too simplistic, and too linear. With such an avid execution of children and their approaches to their struggles, there is surprisingly much more to be desired for. Maybe this film wasn't for me. Even as I type out this review, I see there are many more things to appreciate about "Treeless Mountain", but there needs to be a little more "oomph" in the package -- and I'm not just talking about the pacing; I'm talking about the entire film itself. "Treeless Mountain" is one of those movies where watching the movie is an okay experience, but afterwards, you're able to talk about it and remember it for days. Hey, 3 stars is good in my book and is still recommended a viewing, yet it's definitely an acquired taste.
April 6, 2012
Albert Kim

Super Reviewer

Jin's (Hee Yeon Kim) and Bin's (Kim Song Hee) acting looked so natural that made me think whether they were aware of the camera in front of them. I wouldn't say this was awesome. The story was good. Acting was great (as I've mentioned that already). But it was slow. Made it looked longer than usual. There was a hint of boring-ness in it. I kinda liked it. But wouldn't watch it again.
September 16, 2010
3niR
Dead Angel

Super Reviewer

[font=Century Gothic]In "Treeless Mountain," even as a young girl, Jin(Hee Yeon Kim) has to decide between playing with her friends after school or making it back home in time to pick up her younger sister Bin(Song Hee Kim) from the babysitter before being reprimanded for being late. Their mother(Soo Ah Lee) is out for most of the day and she is about to take a more prolonged absence from their lives, leaving her daughters in the care of her sister-in-law(Mi Hyang Kim). She promises them she will return by the time they fill up their piggy bank. On the safe side, the girls stake out the bus stop they last see her at.[/font]
[font=Century Gothic][/font]
[font=Century Gothic]Even though the plot may seem familiar, "Treeless Mountain" is a sweet and touching movie. However, it runs out of steam some time before its abrupt ending. Shot from an angle meant to recreate a child's view of the world, the movie contrasts the children's needs and wants versus the adults' lives. It is unclear what the mother's quest involves exactly except for a man who might be the girls' father. What the aunt assumes is that it will not take that long, for she is originally understanding, but soon loses whatever patience she once had as time moves on and they become more of a burden for her.[/font]
May 4, 2009
Harlequin68
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

A film about adult concerns (like The Spirit of The Beehive), seen through the filter of childhood, and with similarly outstanding and naturalistic performances from the children involved. Even though at tmes it feels like a documentary - the girls are that good - Its a U certificate so you know nothing terrible is going to happen. But as a grownup, you can see the peril (and resourcefulness) and vulnerability of their position as they try to make sense of their world and take control until an adult steps up to the mark. Not at all twee and quite beautiful.



Grasshoppers, yum.
September 20, 2010
lesleyanorton
Lesley N

Super Reviewer

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