Shot over a period of many months, the sad, sweet South Korean documentary My Love, Don’t Cross That River follows an elderly husband and wife, Byoungman Jo and Gyeyeul Kang, as they navigate, together, the inevitable leave-taking that must come between lovers of an advanced age.
Married for 70-some years, they announce that he’s 98 at one point, and she’s 89, although the lack of narration and onscreen titles makes it unclear exactly what time period the film covers.
There is no doubt, however, about where the film is heading, since it opens with a scene of mourning.
It almost immediately flashes back a year or so to scenes of the couple — who may be the most adorable lovebirds, of any age, ever shown on screen — going about their daily lives: cleaning house, celebrating New Year’s with their children and grandchildren, playfully splashing water at each other and engaging in other gentle horseplay, and falling asleep holding each other’s hands, as they always do.
It is hard not to smile at their tender and undeniably loving relationship. But a persistent cough bodes ill, and we see one of them grow weaker and sicker as the film progresses.
Director Moyoung Jin seems to have had extraordinary access to the couple, which we see at doctor’s visits and during such intimate moments as bathtime. Nothing seems staged, although the frequently matching fancy outfits they wear sometimes appear chosen for the camera, rather than for an afternoon of gathering kindling.
The vérité style of filmmaking is slow and sometimes monotonous, making it all the more surprising that you will probably find yourself bawling your eyes out — without ever knowing how you got to that state — at the film’s profoundly, heartbreakingly somber conclusion.
In Korean with English subtitles
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My Love, Don’t Cross That River
☆☆☆☆ (out of five)
Director: Moyoung Jin
Cast: Byoungman Jo, Gyeyeul Kang
Rated: Unrated (brief nudity, thematic material related to mortality)
Running time: 86 min.