[Movie Review] Microhabitat: what we need to survive

Photo Credit: Asian Film Archive

One of the very first scenes in Microhabitat has 31-year-old Miso (Esom) and her boyfriend attempt to make love in the middle of winter in her small, unheated, one-room apartment in Seoul. Off come the clothes, layer by layer. However, neither of them get very far before the cold becomes too much to handle and they start piling back the layers almost immediately. At this point, her boyfriend hopes to one day afford a house so they don’t have to wait till spring. Miso, on the other hand, sees nothing wrong with the current arrangement. To her, the only things she needs are cigarettes, whisky, and her boyfriend.

Photo Credit: Asian Film Archive

When the new year comes, there’s inflation across the board and both Miso’s favourite cigarettes and whisky now cost more. To make matters worse, her landlord has decided to increase rent. Rather than cut back on her vices, Miso decides to do away with the roof over her head altogether and couch-surf her former college bandmates while saving money and finding a cheaper place.

And so begins her reunion tour. Miso enters each of her friend’s homes with a basket of eggs and a natural curiosity at how her friend’s lives panned out. After all, these were friends who, in a general sense, ‘sold out’ to the corporate world. While imposing on their homes, Miso never once lets their favour go unreciprocated. She cleans, cooks and even lends a listening ear to her friends in need, all while being the object of their scorn. To them, Miso is a relic of the past. She’s a slacker with no motivation who still lives like she’s a 20-something college student and it’s not long before she has to move on.

Photo Credit: Asian Film Archive

Yet, Miso who never once settled for societal expectations is probably the only one who can say she’s truly happy. In an ever-changing world, she plants herself firmly to a spot and stays true to herself, refusing to get swept away in the slipstreams of advanced capitalism. She would much rather get left behind than join the rat race. Her simple, nomadic lifestyle affords her empathy and a certain kindness that expects nothing in return and the freedom to, well, live. By the end of her reunion tour, she’s still the same old Miso, while her friends are all left grappling with the realisation that life may not have panned out the way they had expected.

Microhabitat is an interesting take on the choices we’ve made and the fragility of our egos, but more than anything, it’s a meditation on what we need to survive.

Microhabitat was screened as part of Asian Film Archive’s Faces of the Korean Woman programme. For updates on the latest programmes and screenings, head over to Asian Film Archive’s website or Facebook page.

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