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Movie Review: Life Track at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008

Life Track is one of those rare films that resonates and affect viewers with barely a lick of dialogue. There are no long speeches, there’s no lyrical dialogue, and there’s no verbal explanations or attempts to force emotion through talking. It’s a beautifully conceived film that proves the theory that less can sometimes be more.

An armless man who lives a life of solitude and has developed extraordinary coping structures for his disability is forced to interact more with the rest of the world when an injured woman takes refuge on his land.

One of the elements that sets this apart from other films is the lack of a musical score. I remember hearing someone in the film industry say that without music you don’t have emotion. This film, as well as other such recent films as No Country for Old Men, Cache (Hidden), and Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, proves that theory wrong. It’s the very fact there isn’t music that makes it so affecting and powerful, along with the lack of dialogue, and in my opinion it wouldn’t have had the same wonderful effect if it did.

It’s amazing how director Jin Guang-Ho made this film work with no music and very little dialogue. I would say close to 95% of the film is free of any dialogue whatsoever (from the characters, that is, as there is some news reporting from the television, etc) and instead we have the characters' facial expressions and physical movements to tell the story. So often films rely on verbal exposition to tell what’s going on, whether that is the characters themselves or a voice-over narrator (which can often seem like a cop-out to fill in blanks); it is just very rare that we get a film with this little dialogue in it. And it shows that as a technique it can work out great for the film and, again, if there had been dialogue I don’t think it would have had the same effect.

Another unusual technique employed in the film is that most of it is made up of extended, sometimes minutes-long lingering shots of a certain action by a character. A prime example is towards the beginning of the film the main character is walking out of his house and proceeds to walk along a pathway away from where the camera is. The shot stays on him walking as he gets smaller and smaller for what must have been at least ninety seconds. There are many sections of the film like that and I know it sounds annoying but, trust me, it works.

I don’t recognise the name of the director from any film I have seen before but from this one alone I can tell he has some serious talent. The way tension is built up through dialogue-less scenes with no music and just the character’s actions to carry it is really astounding. I was literally holding my breath at certain scenes; the lingering shots keep your attention rather than the naturally expected effect of boredom. And I can’t remember the last time a movie flew by as quickly as this one did; it hardly seemed like a half hour by the time the credits came up, never mind the one hundred minutes it actually is.

Although the back stories of the two main characters are never really gone into in any great detail, especially the male character, the film is constructed in such a way that it allows you to form your own opinion about what their stories might be instead of feeling annoyed that we didn’t get them explained to us in the film. I just love films like this that realise that the audience aren't complete idiots.

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