Malene Choi Jensen’s feature debut entitled The Return is about identity, and the feeling of home and belonging. It’s a hybrid, meaning it perfectly balances between fiction and reality while giving insight into a world of adoptees who are trying to find their roots in the country where it all started.

Karoline and Thomas grew up in Denmark but it took them a trip to South Korea to meet each other for the fist time. They visit the city of Seoul to find their birth parents as well as their identity. They were born in South Korea but were placed up for adoption being very young. The chances that they will be able to find their parents are quite low, but the success stories of others, also living in the guest house for adoptees returning to South Korea from all over the world, give them hope. The seemingly endless conversations build a unity between them all. They finally have an audience, listeners and fellows who can understand them and whom they can open up to and share their frustration, loneliness, joy and success with. While occupying that small place for a shorter and longer period of time, they build a support system thanks to which no one can be lost, forgotten or left behind. There is always someone to pick them up and take them home – literally. So even if some of them constantly find themselves in hopeless situations as newer challenges are emerging, there is always someone whom they can count on and bring them back to life.

The Return is a hybrid, a drama that very much resembles a documentary film. Malene Choi Jensen tells her own personal story blended with stories shared by fellow adoptees she met during her visits to Seoul. There is not a single moment in the film when the viewers can’t feel confused by not being able to differentiate between reality and fiction. Everything just seems so dreadfully real sometimes the characters nearly transcend the screen. Even though these conversations have hardly been heard by many before, the dialogues always hit the right note. Looking at the film carefully, it becomes obvious that the film can enter the realm of the fictional due to the playfulness of its visual and plot. The characters seem like floating in a vacuum and time loses its importance; it’s the what that matters not the when. A special atmosphere is created in the film in which intimate moments shown in medium shots or close-ups to surely convey the emotions and facilitate the viewers’ identification with the characters. The sound and music as well as the silence also timed with perfection and the sneaking looks enhance the process quite well. The actors are doing a great job embodying these people feeling lost between worlds.

Malene Choi Jensen’s The Return completely deserved to be in the selection of Best Nordic Film. She deals with a serious and relevant issue, namely the severe problems with adoption in South Korea, in a scrupulously planned motion picture. She clearly benefits from her experience with documentaries and her story infused by her personal history gets told in such a beautiful way. The film definitely has the capacity to start a discussion on identity and international adoption that sometimes raises eyebrows since it might qualify as human trafficking in certain situations. Malene has managed to achieve her goal and depict the uncertainty of a minority that has barely been in the spotlight before.

This review is in the March issue of Cinema Scandinavia. 

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Information

  • Directed by Malene Choi Jensen
  • Produced by Katja Adomeit, Julie Rix Bomholt & Julie Friis Walenciak for Adomeit Film
  • Written by Sissel Dalsgaard Thomsen
  • Starring Thomas Hwan (Follow the Money), Karoline Sofie Lee
Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.