Having been nominated in three separate categories at Cannes Film Festival last year, it’s easy to see why July Jung’s directorial debut has been so well-received, as a nuanced, socially perceptive drama that won’t fail to move and compel its audience, while a breathtaking lead performance from Cloud Atlas’ Doona Bae will ensure you remain invested from the start, right through to the bitter end.

Bae plays Young-nam, who is transferred to a small, coastal village to take charge of their law enforcement – all because of her sexual orientation. Her new job is made increasingly more difficult too, thanks to the local nuisance Yong-ha (Sae-Byeok Song) who continues to cause disturbances in the area. But when it transpires that he’s been violently abusing his daughter, Do-hee (Sae-ron Kim), Young-nam takes it upon herself to offer a home and protection to the young girl, though her new guest’s erratic, tempestuous behaviour causes a few problems she wasn’t quite able to envisage, while the girl’s tyrannical father remains fervently on their case.

Young-nam makes for an elusive figure, with a back story that is left mostly untold. Often this can be detrimental to proceedings, disallowing the opportunity to engage with the protagonist on an emotional level – but thanks to Bae’s magnetic performance, that is never once the case. We remain invested throughout, never feeling detached from the character in spite of the fact she refuses to let anybody in. Her relationship with Do-hee provides the film with its emotional core, as a layered dynamic with maternal tendencies, as you soon realise that Young-nam needs the young girl as much as the young girl needs her. It’s one of several themes that Jung is balancing in this title, while never feeling convoluted nor melodramatic, which is no easy task.

Other themes that help to inform and dictate this narrative, are Young-nam’s gender and sexual orientation. The fact she’s a woman in what is seemingly a man’s profession – and suffering the implications of that, is a vital component and contributing factor in painting a broader picture and providing some context to this story, such as the fact she’s gay too. It’s an essential plot device and a complete necessity for this particular story, but the narrative doesn’t revolve around it, it’s just who she is. Films do not need to revolve around the theme of sexual preference in order to be classified as LGBT cinema, as sometimes when it’s just a fact of the matter, and not the sole purpose – it can be equally, if not more powerful.

One minor annoyance, however, is that Young-nam’s phone never ceases to stop ringing, and she seems hellbent in leaving the damn thing off silent. Not usually a problem, but her ringtone is the generic, default iPhone alarm, and nobody ever likes hearing their wake-up alarm outside of it’s usual morning setting. Thankfully, however, it serves no purpose in this instance, as there’s very little danger of you falling asleep in this truly absorbing piece of cinema.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
A Girl at My Door
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Stefan Pape is the reviews and interviews editor for the site. Considering his favourite thing to do is watch a movie and then annoy everybody by talking about it - it's safe to say he's in the right job.