Berlinale 2021 review: Short Vacation (Hansol Seo & Kwon Min-pyo)

Four girls in their school photo club “Shine” are tasked with photographing “the end of the world” over their summer vacation by their photography teacher. And so they set out, armed with plastic film cameras, to do just that. What transpires is a leisurely (sometimes too leisurely) journey as the four girls head to a train station at the end of the line. But upon arriving and taking a few pictures, none of the girls is satisfied. They’re not sure what the end of the world is supposed to look like, but they know it’s not this. Undeterred, they decide to head to another train station hoping that it will not be as underwhelming.

What does the end of the world look like? Short Vacation could have gone in a sci-fi route, but in Hansol Seo (who also wrote the screenplay) and Kwon Min-pyo’s debut film things are decidedly more low-key. The girls wander from location to location, each further away from their stated goal than the last. Along the way they take pictures of various objects – these still photographs are scattered amongst the film in a clever way, giving us a better idea of how these girls see the world around them. But they also illustrate how these girls take so much of what they’re viewing for granted.

Their journey takes them to another train station except this one has been long abandoned. Instead of turning back, they decide to continue exploring which takes them further and further into the unknown. Finally, a rain storm forces them to take refuge in an abandoned community building. This is where the film really excels, allowing us to more closely see the friendships these girls have with one another. They bond over their grandpas having served in the war. They talk about their likes, wants, and desires. It feels profound to so intimately look in on these girl’s conversations. I realized I was more invested in the journey of these girls than I thought and I found myself wishing there had been more scenes like this along the way.

My primary issue with Short Vacation is the pacing. There just isn’t enough material to fill out the already short 79 minute runtime and too often the film, much like its protagonists, seemed aimless. Having a more structured screenplay might have helped in this instance. Still, the directors display an unusual amount of trust in their young actors which is refreshing to see. While in the end Short Vacation didn’t completely win me over, I could definitely see this director duo making something truly special in the future.

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