Saturday 23 May 2020

Poetry [2010]

The most beguiling aspect of Lee Chang-dong’s delicately structured and profoundly evocative work Poetry is that it could’ve gone in diverse directions from its haunting opening sequence – darkly funny satire, somber crime drama, portrait of familial dysfunction, meditative character study, or quietly devastating exploration of ennui, loneliness and grief; it’s a proof of Lee’s prowess, therefore, that the film’s heartbreaking emotional core is laced with all these facets. It begins with the tranquil panoramic shot of a gently ebbing river, which seamlessly turns harrowing as the dead body of a girl is seen floating by. The narrative then shifts to the film’s protagonist Yang Mi-ja (Yoon Jeong-hee) – a 66-year old lady with a meagre income and diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s, who lives in a small town with her aloof and potentially delinquent teenage grandson Jong-wook (Lee David), and takes care of an aged and partially paralyzed wealthy man craving for his lost manhood. In order to escape her boredom and provide an outlet to her long suppressed creative side, she enrolls in a poetry course for adults, which opens a new vista for her dour existence. However, when the above mentioned girl’s tragic death – she was repeatedly raped and driven to suicide – is linked to her grandson and his batch-mates, and that the parents, in collusion with the school, are arranging funds to bury the case by paying the girl’s impoverished mother, this scathing depiction of gender violence, patriarchy and smug class bigotry formed a compelling and painful parallel strand to the Yang’s fleeting quest for freedom and self-expression. Yoon came back from retirement and gave a subtle yet magnificent turn in this richly layered and deeply melancholic film.

Director: Lee Chang-dong
Genre: Drama/Crime Drama
Language: Korean
Country: South Korea

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