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“Esperanza”: A Devastating Portrait of Child Abuse

by Assessor

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Contar una historia sobre abuso sexual en la actualidad suele ser impactante por los métodos explícitos que utilizan las películas para representar dicha aberración. La delicadeza con la que debiera tratarse el tema suele dejarse de lado para mostrarnos el acto en sí —y sus consecuencias —de forma brutal. Un recurso que busca desmoronarnos como espectadores ante una de las vejaciones más crueles que pueden cometerse contra un ser humano.

A Powerful and Thought-Provoking Drama

Si hablamos de la violación a un menor, el nivel de conmoción aumenta. No sólo por lo condenable que resulta, sino por lo que implica llevar a cabo un filme que exponga a un niño a interpretar el papel de la víctima, y cómo este rol abarcará la dignidad de un ser tan vulnerable.

“Esperanza” (So-won, 2013) by Lee Joon-ik is a noteworthy exception. The director, along with the screenwriters, based this heart-wrenching drama on the real-life case of Na-young to manipulate our emotions without resorting to gore or extremes.

Unfolding a Tragic Tale with Tact and Realism

With disturbing and realistic sensitivity, “Esperanza” presents us with events that left South Korea perplexed and promises to touch our hearts to varying degrees. On a rainy day, an eight-year-old girl walks alone to her school, not too far from where she lives. She was supposed to go with her classmates to what she considers her second home, but they left her behind. Her mother warned her to follow the main path to her destination, but So-won doesn’t make it there.

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Hours later, her father receives a call from the police, informing him that she is in critical condition at the hospital. However, faced with the state of abuse his daughter endured, Dong-hoon can barely comprehend the horrors she went through and the helplessness that will reign in their lives as the investigation to find the attacker unfolds.

Battling Against the Aftermath of Trauma

The narrative, after this violent encounter, doesn’t hold back in showing us the devastating effects that the youngest member of a family already facing financial and communication difficulties will have to endure. This blow prompts the parents to make a desperate attempt to reconnect with a daughter they barely noticed before, and with whom there seems to be a fragile bond.

With performances worthy of praise, the film focuses on how So-won’s family (including herself) struggle to stay afloat after the traumatic experience that left chronic scars on her body. Just as she fights to continue her life with the shame and fear generated by the trauma, her parents also strive to make amends for their neglect. Her mother tries to cope with an advanced and hidden pregnancy, while her father tries to regain her trust, as her perception of men has been corrupted by panic.

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The father’s transformation from apparent disinterest in his family to the agonizing effort to get closer to his daughter is deeply moving. He achieves this by suppressing his own feelings and adopting a character from her favorite cartoon, embodying it to help her with her recovery.

Depicting the Ineptitude of Justice Systems

The quality of this drama lies in its ruthless honesty in addressing a taboo topic and how it portrays the incompetence of justice systems when dealing with such incidents. In this case, just as in the original true story on which it is based, the criminal receives a sentence lighter than deserved, claiming temporary alcohol-induced memory loss and substance addiction.

This is where Sul Kyoung-gu’s interpretation of Dong-hoon, So-won’s father, gains its true power in the trial against the assailant. As spectators, we experience a profound sense of powerlessness. Ultimately, we understand that, in his fervor to protect his daughter, Dong-hoon will be the one saved by her before he becomes a part of what he wants to destroy.

A Tale of Hope Amidst Desolation

Despite everything, the movie lives up to its title and, while shattering our hearts, offers deeply human moments, reflected in the support shown by the community and those close to the affected family.

Devastating scenes, such as the father cleaning up the remnants of So-won’s discarded colostomy bag, juxtapose with heartwarming moments, like her classmates decorating the entrance of her house, awaiting her return.

And after holding our breath for most of the film, the ending once again overwhelms us with one of the most poignant moments in South Korean cinematography, reminding us that some movies stay with us forever, regardless of how many times we watch them.

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For more thought-provoking films like “Esperanza,” visit Ratingperson – your trusted source for movie ratings and reviews.

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