“Difference and harmony is what creates passion”. Jan’s explanation of love captures the essence of the film 303 that was released in Korea on March 14. European films are very rare in Korean cinemas and the public has no idea about the rich experiences European films can display. 303 is easily one of the best films by its director, Hans Weingartner, and is one of the best the audience in 2018 has seen, delivering a soothing atmosphere and realistic characters that many contemporary movies fail to realize.
Two travelers with very different motives leave Berlin to reach the westernmost parts of Europe. Meet Jule: a young biology student at a university in Berlin, a 24-year-old at the rock bottom of her life after finishing the semester with a failed biochemistry examination. Meet Jan: a political science major in Berlin, who narrowly missed the scholarship he desperately needed. Their miseries are doubled when Jule finds out that she is pregnant by her boyfriend who now resides in Portugal, and when Jan gets a call from his biological father in Spain whom he has never met before. Jule decides it is best to break the news to the father-to-be and starts the journey on an old “303” camper van. Just a few minutes into the trip, she meets a hitchhiker, who introduces himself as Jan, a 24-year-old, who needs to go to Spain but does not have money for a plane ticket.
Brought together by circumstance, the two debate the most important questions of life: cooperation and competition, drugs and suicide, mechanisms of falling in love, and many more. The more they discuss, the more they find themselves to be completely different from one another. It is not surprising, therefore, to see their journey face a series of ups-and-downs.
The character development of Jan and Jule reminds us that 303 is not your average romance movie with a mundane “boy-meet-girl” concept. The depths of characters, initially obvious due to the circumstances the two Berliners are in, delve much deeper when they talk about profound topics of life they never had the chance to manifest in their busy and stressful lives. As the two’s beliefs clash, the viewers are forced to ponder upon polar-opposite opinions. However, it is easy to nod to both sides of the arguments as characters convincingly deliver their reasoning. Despite the film primarily displaying their differences, the two are also very similar. Initially, both are facing the unfortunate circumstances that forced them on a road trip. Also, they have a similar persistence that leaves their arguments inconclusive most of the time. Most importantly, they find each other’s company hopeful and harmonious. Their relationship and the overall atmosphere of the fruitful discussion are peaceful and calm, just like the roads their decade-old 303 camper meanders on.
Of course, these multidimensional characters could not have been properly portrayed without the excellent acting from Mala Emde and Anton Spieker as Jan and Jule, respectively. The two Germans could not have done better in showing the two travelers facing life’s curveballs, eagerly trying to leave what made them suffer in Berlin. The actors’ excellent chemistry makes the whole narrative convincing and realistic.
The setting of the movie captivates the audience to its fullest. The title of the film is named after the rusty Mercedes camper model, which is the movie’s significant setting. 303 signifies a haven for Jan and Jule who have been knocked over by the difficulties of their lives. The physical proximity also adds to the development of the relationship as they are forced to be close to one another. The camerawork is also limited in this cramped space. This makes the audience physically and mentally closer to the characters as they understand how the two characters think. As the travelers make stops to explore Europe’s hidden beauties, the viewers are awe-struck and find themselves more engaged in the characters’ road to discover who they truly are.
Contemporary cinemas in this country are filled with stimulating and exciting movies from Hollywood and Korea. 303 offers a cinematic experience like no other as the movie takes you on a journey across Western Europe in a relaxed and non-pressured way. This is not to say the movie is boring though. For two hours, you will find yourself at the back of an old 303 Mercedes camper van, with Jan and Jule fiercely debating love and lust, watching the two desperately trying not to fall in love with each other.