The Athens International Film Festival took place from April 27th to May 3rd. It’s one of the annual events that just about everyone in Athens looks forward to. Because of my teaching schedule, I only had time to see two films this year: The Host and The Lives of Others. Both were good.

Here’s the trailer for The Host:

The Host is ostensibly about an amphibious monster, presumably a mutated fish, that terrorizes sunbathers on the shores of the Han River. Gang-du, who works at a food stand near the shore, and his daughter, Hyun-seo, are among the crowd of people running for their lives when the monster strikes. When Gang-du accidentally lets go of his daughter’s hand, she is snapped up by the monster, who soon disappears into the river. After authorities, worried about the monster and an apparently related break-out of a new virus, evacuate the area, Gang-du receives a call from his daughter, who says she’s still alive. The rest of the film follows his efforts to convince his family and the authorities that he must return to the sewer system surrounding the river to rescue her.

While that’s the ostensible plot, the movie is really an allegory about the destructive impact America has on countries like South Korea. We watch in the opening scene as an American military official orders his Korean assistant to dispose of toxic chemicals by pouring them down a sink drain. This pollution is what presumably leads to the monster’s mutation. As the film progresses, we see additional ways in which American foreign policy and military intervention harms the Korean people.

On the whole, this is a really good film. PJ and I were told by friends that the movie is comic more than suspenseful, which is the only reason I agreed to see it. Parts of it are hilarious. The trailer shows a brief glimpse of a scene in which Gang-du and his relatives are mourning Hyun-seo’s presumed death. Their mourning keeps getting more and more outrageous. By the time they are all rolling around on the floor, I couldn’t stop laughing. The movie’s a little long — a good 20 minutes (at least) could have been cut out of the middle — and I really didn’t like the ending (I just didn’t get it). But I certainly enjoyed it for the most part.

The Lives of Others won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year. Here’s the trailer for it: