Marrakech - A film not like any of the others. It was worth the 49 minute wait behind the official schedule.
Marrakech – A film not like any of the others. It was worth the 49 minute wait behind the official schedule.
“Steel Flower” is an exceptional picture with an exceptional lead role. The feeling of hope that the green light which twinkled from far inside the sea is too good to be true. Anyone who had seen or is familiar with the symbolism in The Great Gatsby could guess the build up would end up in a bitter deception, a disappointment, a disaster and a return to essential loyalties. The similarity ends here, however.
The suitcase trolleyed across all types of floors – concrete, steel, grass and dirt – every time changing the echo it claimed from the surface of streets, stairs, and pathways and throughout every single part of the day announces that the story is one of quest, and a tough one. The woman is not yet revealed although her search, in vain, for a space to sleep and a place to work in the middle of the night is eloquent of what she must be undergoing.
As the night gets longer and darker, her steps shrunk shorter and grew heavier. The more daylight hurried into the night, the steps got slower and more reluctant to follow each other. The climb of the hill with a ransack on the back and a suitcase that seemed to be taking up weight as the top drew nearer and the slippery doorstep could but reinforce an impossible Sisyphean endeavor.
While darkness hardly concealed the squalor of both vicinity and room, the lighting up of the place with a candle after a real struggle with junk and waste of all sorts reveals a virtue of obscurity. With the nascent lights of the city waking up to its daily activities, the quest resumes. All tests and trials for jobs were vain. The requirements of modern identity are not met as the woman could produce neither phone number, nor home address. She could not be tracked and located at will. The quest for dignity and recognition through work is frustrated as a generous person offers alms instead of a wage. Humiliation is consumed but hope persists. The experience of the street is not promising. No positive learning results from it, only dishonesty, treachery and abuse. Neither gender is excepted. A woman cheats her and abuses her sincerity. She makes her work promising her money for it and disappears in the night. The job done, the woman doesn’t show up to honor her word.
Signs of hope popped in here and then. A restaurant owner offers her a meal. Walking back to her place, she discovers a tap dance ring, sneaked in, peeped and fell in love with the march-like step sounds. The shoes were displayed at two prices none of which she could afford. The following day she came back, the ring was closed, she went in, tried a pair, tried the steps and liked the feel and the sound. She helped herself to the shoes and left. In her place, she put them on and made them sound, washed them and went to sleep holding fast on them.
The quest continues. A man makes her do the dishes of his restaurant, pays her in kind the first day and stops paying her the following days. When she claims her pay, he exhibits a loathsome attitude and kicks her out. She walks back home. He follows her, pushes her door open when she was not looking, peeps in and gets in. He leaves without her being aware. Privacy is violated. The squalor of the place equalled only the weight of silence, or let us say the absence of sound – human or non human. Not even breathing is heard. She puts on the tap dance shoes and does a few steps, as if breaking them in for a job.
The search continues and the city keeps ignoring her until, one day, she gets a job. The owner had fired her predecessor who, apparently was also his lover, because of a drinking problem. With her first pay, she goes back to the tap dance ring and placed the price of the shoes she had helped herself to on the shelf she had taken them from. She has paid her debt. Now she can wear them in the street, which she does albeit in the middle of the night but also anywhere she goes. She tries them against all types of floor and explores new steps, she runs with them, has fun, lets her body exult. Alone in the night and in the street, both are all hers, alone.
Her predecessor in the restaurant hated her both for the job she took and for the love she assumed she made with the owner. One night, the angry woman, obviously drunk, bursts in the restaurant and beats her, kicking her in the most sensitive parts of her body, insulting her, calling her whore, humiliating her and pulling her by the hair to throw her out of the place. The boss was not in and none of the customers cared to intervene. None of those witnessing the violence and injustice move a finger. She could hardly talk. “Why, I just want to work” she wailed. No other words, but these she repeated. Customers kept watching and not interfering. She picks up her stuff and leaves into the night. The tap dance shoes echoing the diverse inhuman sounds of the ground materials.
A decision seemed to be boiling in her simple but, now we know, also pure mind. She will not take any more of that. She finds the woman who had cheated her, follows her to toilets and makes sure her due is redeemed. In the restaurant she had been misused in, she picks up fish from the aquarium and sets it free in the river. Less of a revenge than a compensation one is given to feel as she watches the fish swim away!
The circle seemed to be about to close as she went back to the dock everything had started. The sea, much rougher than the first time, however. The waves striking harder, higher and farther near her. She stands facing the swollen waves as if inviting them to take her back, to wash her away from the scum of the city. The lights are dimmed on the beat of the tap dance shoes on the hard but mesh like steel of the dock that lets water through and, she, facing it all in what might be recovered serenity. The pace gets faster and harder and the water higher. Tension builds and keeps building until, unexpectedly, everything stops. An overwhelming sense of relief and release gains control. The sea is at the back. It’s too dim for the green light to be seen!
South Korean Film at its best.