Overseas (2019) - Sung-a Yoon
Taking place almost exclusively in the confines of a training facility in the Philippines, which specializes in preparing women for overseas domestic work, Sung-a Yoon's Overseas is a startlingly effective documentary that manages to be unintrusive and non-judgemental while providing a window into the day-to-day lives of domestic workers in-training, who've chosen this path due to the promise of a better life. Conjuring up the complexities of such an apparatus with clear-eyed focus, Overseas manages to be both intimate yet expansive, thematically assured yet never assertive, operating in an observational module in which nothing is easily conscripted or defined. Instead of attempting to be thematically assertive, Overseas lives in a space of static contemplation, documenting the environment of this training facility and its core instructional tenets to elucidate its theme in an assured but never forceful demeanor. Through this approach, Overseas is far more emotional and intellectual poignant, revealing instead of expounding the more lurid aspects of Western expectations for the migrant domestic worker. The audience experiences how the school's training is instilled with a crude, unhealthy sense of stoicism, one in which subjugation is an expectation and the proper reaction is rooted more in de-escalation than confrontation given the imbalance of power between employer and employee. Their training operates in passive resistance, whether it be through the containment of expressing emotional fragility or through static obedience. What is startling becomes the mere fact that this is a part of their training - emotional and physical abuse is commonplace enough to be part of a curriculum. By focusing first and foremost on the human element of its story, Overseas is more astute about how transnational systems extort inequality than the panoply of domestic worker dramas to come out in recent memory. It erodes the western privileges implicit in the current systems of global politics while simultaneously recognizing that there are no simple solutions to global inequity. Yet, at its core Overseas is an ode to the domestic worker, recognizing how they sacrifice so much, leaving their families and their familiar spatiality for the unknown, all for the sake of monetary gains which in itself, may provide their family with a better life.
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