by Luke Gorham Film

Microhabitat | Jeon Go-woon

July 13, 2018

Jeon Go-woon’s debut feature Microhabitat offers a conceptually ambitious and thematically rich premise: a young woman named Miso (Esom) — who leads a simple, balanced life of work (cleaning houses) and pleasure (daily cigarettes and whisky, as her budget allows) — finds her calibrated existence upended when the new year brings inflated costs for rent and her allotted vices. At its best, Microhabitat proves both lively and poignant; Jeon is formally playful, utilizing wonky angles and bouncy camera movement to emphasize the screwball influence on his narrative.

Rather than sacrifice her beloved smokes and Glenfiddich, Miso instead chooses to embrace temporary homelessness and use the opportunity to visit (and crash) with her college bandmates in exchange for cleaning and cooking (and, as it turns out, unexpected emotional support). Philosophically informed by a Kierkegaardian absurdist streak, with Miso’s particular ideology in consistent conflict with her generation’s methods of measuring personal and professional success, the film asks for a reconsideration of societal values. Yet despite its isolated strengths, Microhabitat suffers from an overall tonal inconsistency, its bid for pathos undermined by a broad approach that often borders on farcical. Jeon’s conviction is blunted by an unfortunate inelegance of execution.

Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival 2018 | Dispatch 1.