Cannes: July Jung talks to us about A Girl at My Door, identity and Lee Chang-dong

July Jung‘s directorial debut, A Girl at My Door, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival as part of Un Certain Regard. I was lucky enough to speak to her about the film after the screening.

She shared her thoughts on working with producer Lee Chang-dong, on the portrayal of justice in Korean films and the themes that A Girl at My Door covers, but she began by talking about how it felt to be chosen for Un Certain Regard.

July Jung: This is my first feature film, so I’d never even imagined that my film would be invited to the Cannes Film Festival, so I’m a little bit out of my… I almost don’t realise what’s happening.

I was very lucky to have Lee Chang-dong as a producer. And I had the same cinematographer who worked on Poetry actually. I admire Lee Chang-dong as a director. The universe of Lee Chang-dong is transmitted to mine. As a producer and as a professor as well, he transmits a lot of things, like how to see the human beings. I agree with a lot about what he thinks. He had a lot of influence on my film.

As a producer he gave me a lot of advice, as it was my first feature film. He advised a lot about the rhythm of the film. How we can maintain the rhythm. I had a lot of help from him.

He helped a lot especially in the editing stage. When I shot I wanted to be very subtle and delicate with every scene. When I edited I then understood that the most important element was the rhythm. Lee Chang-dong was the one who gave me this advice.

There are a lot of Korean movies that talk about child abuse but concerning the sexual identities especially for women, there’s not many people that talk about this subject [in Korea]. I don’t think these are difficult things to discuss, there’s just not many films that talk about this. I chose these two subjects because I want these things to make my characters, who have problems.

There are a lot of Korean films being made every year. In the West you probably see more of the ones that talk about justice. There is a tendency perhaps though to end movies with justice. The characters in my film are very peaceful but there is a lot of violence inside.

I think if you have feelings [of frustration regarding the central character not defending herself] it is because of the investigation at the end of the film. I wanted to show that this is not the first time this has happened to her. This unfair situation. So she knows how it works. This is just her life. So that’s why she couldn’t just answer… She could easily say, ‘I’m not homosexual’. She could say that, but she didn’t want to deny her identity. So she just could not express herself. That’s what I wanted to transmit in this scene.

These themes [child abuse, homosexuality, mental illness, alcoholism] are very, very big themes… but concentrating on these themes was not my goal in this film. Everything was conditioned to underline the loneliness of my characters. The child is abused. She is lonely because of that. And a character is lonely because of her homosexuality. That is a condition that I wanted to use to create the loneliness. Two girls, two lonely girls get together and overcome their loneliness together. That’s what I wanted to do.

At the beginning I had this character of Doo-hee and the only thing I knew at the beginning was that Doo-hee was going to make a very big decision. She is going to choose something very important in her life. That was the start of the script. This character existed. And then how can you get to know this character.

So I invented another one, Young-nam. With her we are going to follow her to meet this girl. So we are going to discover the same things with Young-nam, we are going to meet Doo-hee with Young-nam. The writing was not that easy but I didn’t suffer. The location is my home town so I had a lot of characters that were very familiar, in these kind of villages. These kind of people, I knew them very well. It was exciting to write down the things I knew very well, so I didn’t find the writing hard.

At the end of shooting I had a lot of footage and I had to choose. I suffered in the edit.

Thanks again to July for taking the time to talk to me. A Girl at My Door does not yet have a confirmed US or UK release date.