The film Return to Seoul by French-Khmer filmmaker Chou Davy won the Golden Athena Best Film award at the 28th Athens International Film Festival in Greece. The award is the festival’s top honour, given out each year at the close of the event.

At the awards ceremony on October 8 in Athens, the festival jury praised Return to Seoul for its honest portrayal of a relationship between a mother and daughter, capturing the complexity of family relationships and what it means to be adopted into one culture and still feel connected to the culture of your birth.

Chou Davy is a Cambodian filmmaker born and raised in France. Return to Seoul was released in 2022 and is Davy’s third feature film following previous efforts Koh Pich and The Golden Sleep.

But unlike Koh Pich and The Golden Sleep – which were both films that were set in Cambodia and essentially about people living their lives in the Kingdom of the present day – the film Return to Seoul, as its title would indicate, was shot in South Korea and is a story about a Korean woman named Freddie who is left by her parents at an orphanage and then adopted and raised by a French family in France from an early age.

Then, at age 25 and curious about her roots, the French-Korean woman returns to Seoul for the first time and decides to find her biological parents and the events that proceed from that quest end up changing her outlook and her life completely.

“They say that while everything is fragile and momentary and that everything could stop existing in a second, mothers and children are still forever. Mothers and children, it’s the basis of the human experience, the basis of human existence. What will become out of those who are motherless? Those whose mothers refused to be their mothers? Refused to have them as children, and keep on refusing to meet them, to know them? How will they go on?” said the festival jury in its statement awarding Davy’s film their top prize this year.

“Like the movie itself says ‘everything at any moment could all just disappear with the slightest snap of your fingers’,” they added.

Chou Davy previously confirmed in interviews that he made the film based on the real life story of a friend of his who was adopted from South Korea by French parents and her friends took her to meet her Korean father in 2011.

The meeting didn’t go well and Davy said he felt that the understanding that adopted persons do not quite grasp until they are in that situation is that they do not really understand their birth culture because they have been adopted and raised in another culture their whole lives and it’s this disconnect between their adopted culture and birth culture that often causes such havoc for them when they return home seeking their roots.

Ten years after his friend’s difficult experience took place, at the end of 2021, Davy began shooting his film Return to Seoul in South Korea and Romania, with primary shooting lasting for six weeks.

Return to Seoul is now being shown at film festivals globally and will continue to be screened at festivals throughout 2022 and 2023, with Davy set to travel to as many of those events as possible in order to give a presentation on his film – and, as his many fans in Cambodia hope – to also win more “best in festival” awards.