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‘My Love, Don’t Cross That River’ is an Inspiring and Intimate Look at the Love of Two People
September 11, 2017  | By Roger Catlin  | 1 comment

On the finale night for a show that reflected only the most shallow charade of love, Bachelor in Paradise, where dim folks coupled up primarily to stick around the resort, there’s an opportunity to glimpse genuine lifelong love from a couple on the other side of the globe.

My Love, Don’t Cross That River is a simple and profoundly moving examination of a couple that’s been together 75 years. The beautifully shot film by South Korean director Jin Mo-young makes its bow tonight on POV (PBS, 10 p.m. ET check local listings).

Their faces are a cascade of wrinkles, their movement has become more limited, but from the first time of glimpsing Jo Byeong-man and Kang Gye-yeol in a rural South Korea, it’s clear that they still get a kick out of one another.

Jo first offers to sweep up leaves, before throwing them playfully on his wife, who throws some back, laughing (How one’s partner reacts to having something thrown their way is a fine test of compatibility Chris Harrison has never tried).

As seasons change, snow falls on their beautifully simple rural hut, and of course, they’re tossing snow at one another while shoveling. Come spring, it’s water from the nearby spring that’s splashed back and forth.

The old folks know how to have fun. But they also work hard, helping one another when they are gathering firewood nearby (and carrying them in impossibly big bundles).

Through it all, they enjoy each other’s company. As they do so, they have adorably dressed alike in splendidly colorful traditional silk Hanbok robes.

The film doesn’t dwell in the couple’s background; we never see a picture of them as a younger pair. They talk about meeting as teens, but that’s about as far as they go. For the film and the couple, life is something lived in the present every day.

The two get visits from their adult children just twice a year for holiday meals. One of the occasions devolves into a shouting match on which is more devoted — and their parents just look on sadly.

Eventually, it’s clear how much mortality weighs on them as Hubby, as she calls him, turns 95.

Suddenly, he’s not as chatty, playful or philosophical as he was. He coughs disturbingly in his sleep.

And here are signs of mortality around them: One of their beloved dogs dies. Kang does something she’s been putting off — buying a set of long underwear for six of her children (who had all died decades earlier; the other six of her 12 children survived).

As Hubby comes seemingly closer to death, his wife sadly starts burning some of his clothes, since tradition dictates that it’s the way to get them to the afterlife where he’ll need them.

Tears are shed as the inevitable approaches, but they still cannot be separated.

And when wife speaks to Hubby in the beyond, director Mo-young brings the camera back, to take in the sad beauty of the moment at a respectful distance.

It’s the opposite of the intrusion that comes so often on reality TV, over professed love that pales badly to this life-affirming and laudable show of lifetime commitment.

The film streams online at pov.org following its broadcast.

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This is without question the finest documentary film I've ever had the honor to watch. It's an astonishingly beautiful and moving examination of love, life, death, aging, family, the seasons, and Korea. Speaking as someone who's studying documentary filmmaking, I hope and pray to have a chance to do something half as good as this; if I do, I'll feel my life has been well spent.
Sep 16, 2017   |  Reply
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