"“A poignant and conscientious look at a very simplistic yet ultimately distressing set of events...”"

In a similar vein to her previous feature length film Treeless Mountain, South Korean director So Yong Kim is delving into the theme of absent parents in her latest production For Ellen, except this time around rather than depict such a subject matter from the children's point of view, instead we now witness events unravelling via the estranged father, in this case portrayed by the brilliant Paul Dano.

Dano plays Joby, a struggling musician who travels a long distance to meet with his wife Claire (Margarita Levieva) and sign the divorce papers to finalise the ending of their marriage. Upon arrival, his lawyer Fred (Jon Heder) informs his client that in signing these documents, he is terminating any legal right he has to his daughter Ellen (Shaylena Mandigo). Although he hadn't initially formed any relationship with her in the past due to a life mostly spent on tour, Joby struggles to come to terms with the agreement, and he hopes to strike up a bond with the young girl before any decision is made.

For Ellen thrives in its naturalistic approach, serving as a succinct observation of familiar, real life affairs. This is very much a character study, concentrating almost exclusively on Joby and his provocative soul-searching. There are no flashbacks to his failing marriage, nor do we see any arguments amongst Joby and his band. Instead the story is told via the phone-calls he makes and his mere facial expressions. It's a pensive, slow-burning piece, yet rewards the patient viewer, as when Ellen first makes an appearance not only does the character of Joby come to life, but the film also.

Dano shines as our lead, and it's encouraging to know that despite being one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood at present, he simply chases a good script, seemingly unfazed by the modest budget or profile. Joby is someone who is miserably inadequate, and evidently still hasn't grown up – however such a character is endearing to the audience, and you can't help but root for him as you feel he deserves some good fortune. At one point he is asked if he wants the good news or bad news first and opts for the bad news first, and in a sense this reflects his character; someone who disregards and prolongs the negatives, with a blind optimism that in the end everything will turn out okay. Much the same can be said of his hapless lawyer Fred, who still lives at home with his mother. Although playing the role straight, there are certainly shades of one of Heder's former characters Napoleon Dynamite in this, in that he's just a little bit pathetic.

For Ellen is a very subtle and affecting piece of cinema, taking a poignant and conscientious look at a very simplistic yet ultimately distressing set of events. So Yong Kim has now covered estranged father/daughter relationships from both sides so I imagine she'll be moving on to something completely different next, yet whatever it may be, it's still something to look forward to.