Despite a steady output of features and documentaries, Korean filmmaker Park Kiyong returns to the Berlinale with OLD LOVE, for the first time since CAMEL(S) in 2001, screening once again in Forum. The film opens with a high-angle panorama of travellers at a Korean airport; the mass is largely nondescript until a woman enters the frame and commands our attention. While smoking alone outside the terminal shortly thereafter, she unexpectedly notices – and interpellates – her lover of decades past. From this point on the film rarely strays from this woman, Yoon-hee (Yoo Jung-ah) and this man, Jung-soo (Kim Tae-hoon). Having moved to the Canadian prairies, where she lives with her son, Yoon-hee returns to Seoul for the winter holidays. Alongside a steadily pallid sky, this holiday provides the background for the film, in which an occasion typically associated with family and celebration is instead filled with uneasy exchanges and bittersweet reminiscences.

All around the pair are often painful reminders of the passage of time: a son’s forthcoming wedding, a daughter’s college matriculation, a mutual friend with a terminal illness, and shared concerns about their parents: Yoon-hee’s is suffering from dementia, while Jung-soo’s is under the supervision of a home nurse. None are shown, but, like the couple’s previous decades apart, they inform all of their present words and gestures. Instead the film is almost exclusively limited to scenes of the two together, or of them navigating the city alone.

Theatre remains a theme that runs through the core of the film, eventually growing to serve as a symbol of what could have been, as we learn of the pair’s long-abandoned plans to live and perform together. Using extended sequences with uninterrupted dialogue, Park creates in OLD LOVE an astonishing sense of cinematic time and place – the brittle winter air feels palpable, while the moments spent in the company of these reunited lovers feel at the same time slow and ever-fleeting. Eventually, in one of the film’s most moving moments, OLD LOVE slows to a near standstill with the two locked in a tight, nocturnal embrace, as decades collapse into an instant.