Thursday, May 19, 2016

2016 Cannes Marathon: Poetry (2010 film)

(Winner of the Best Screenplay Prize to Lee Chang-dong at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival)

Written and directed by Lee Chang-dong, Poetry is the story of a sixty-something woman who finds solace in poetry as she deals with her growing Alzheimer’s disease, her grandson, and the suicide of a young girl her grandson might know about. The film is an exploration of a woman dealing with not just losing aspects of herself but also deal with tragedy and horror as she would find an outlet through something as simple as poetry. Starring Yoon Jeong-hee and Lee David. Poetry is a mesmerizing and somber film from Lee Chang-dong.

The film is a simple story of a woman in her mid-60s who decides to take up poetry to fill her time where she deals with her moody grandson as well as his possible involvement in the suicide of a girl he knows in school. Adding to these horrific revelations is learning she has early stages of Alzheimer’s disease where she turns to poetry for solace in the hopes she would create a poem that would express everything she’s feeling. Lee Chang-dong’s screenplay does have a traditional three-act structure as it explores the world that Yang Mi-Ja (Yoon Jeong-hee) who is trying to live a good life where she nurses an elderly man for a friend while trying to make sure her grandson Jong-wook (Lee David) does well despite being lazy and moody. Even as she becomes suspicious of activities he does with his friends where it could relate to the suicide of this girl who was found in a river. For Mi-Ja, the events in her life as well as pressure from the fathers of Joon-wook’s friends who want her to pay 5 million won as compensation for the girl’s family as they will also put up 5 million each.

Chang-dong’s direction is very restrained for the fact that it doesn’t bear any kind of style in favor of something that is very simple and to the point. While it opens with the scene of children playing by the river where they would find the body of this young girl. The scene would set the tone for Mi-Ja’s world to slowly unravel as this quaint and simple life she has would eventually vanish as the film progresses. Chang-dong’s compositions emphasize more on intimacy in its usage of close-ups and medium shots in not just Mi-Ja’s home life but also in the classroom for her poetry lessons and at the home of this elderly man who had suffered a stroke. There are a few wide shots to capture some of the locations as they’re set in rural and small city areas in South Korea where it would play into some of the ideas Mi-Ja would write for her poem as it would serve as the film’s climax.

Especially as it relates to some of the darker aspects in the film while Chang-dong would also create moments that are offbeat as it relates to the elderly man Mi-Ja would nurse. Still, Chang-dong maintains a sense of restraint where it does lead to Mi-Ja not only coming to terms with what she is facing but also the fact that her grandson hasn’t said anything nor is willing though she remains suspicious. There is also the fact that Mi-Ja hasn’t said anything to her daughter who has no idea about not just her son but also what her mother is facing which adds some ambiguity to what Mi-Ja is doing. Yet, her actions play into a woman not just losing herself but also aware that she has no control of her illness but is willing to accept that. The film’s ending is the poem itself but it also has an air of mystique and melancholia as it relates to everything Mi-Ja has been through as well as the loss she finds herself connected to. Overall, Chang-dong crafts an intoxicating and touching film about a woman channeling herself through the art of poetry.

Cinematographer Kim Hyun-seok does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography to capture some of the brightness in some of the colors for many of the daytime exterior scenes in the city along with some more naturalistic look in some of the interiors with some low-key lights for the scenes set at night. Editor Kim Hyeon does terrific work with the editing as it is mostly straightforward with a few jump-cuts for some of the poetry reading at the poetry class that Mi-Ja attends. Production designer Sihm Jeom-hui does nice work with the look of the apartment that Mi-Ja and Jong-wook live in as well as the poetry class and places that she goes to. Costume designer Lee Choong-yeon does wonderful work with the costumes as it is mostly casual with some of the colorful yet plain clothing that Mi-Ja wears. The sound work of Lee Seung-cheol is terrific as it captures much of the natural sound that is on display including some of the wonders that Mi-Ja would take notes on for her poem.

The film’s phenomenal cast include some notable small roles from Park Meyong-sin as the girl’s mother, Min Bok-gi and Ahn Nae-Sang as a couple of father is Jong-wook’s friends, and Kim Hye-jung as the old man that Mi-Ja would nurse. Lee David is excellent as the moody Jong-wook as a kid who is like the typical teenager as he is very secretive about his possible involvement with the death of this young girl. Finally, there’s Yoon Jeong-hee in a sensational performance as Yang Mi-Ja as a simple elderly woman who takes up poetry as she deals with the fact that she is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease as well as the possibility that her grandson might be involved in a girl’s suicide as it’s a performance that is radiant but also very eerie as she just maintains a sense of grace throughout her performance.

Poetry is a remarkable film from Lee Chang-dong that features an incredible performance from Yoon Jeong-hee. Along with some lush visuals and a subtle yet restrained narrative that doesn’t reveal too much while maintaining a sense of grace. It’s a film that is a lot of things but it is told with a sensitivity that explores an old woman coming to terms with loss. In the end, Poetry is a rapturous film from Lee Chang-dong.

Lee Chang-dong Films: (Green Fish) - (Peppermint Candy) - (Oasis (2002 film)) - Secret Sunshine - Burning (2018 film)

© thevoid99 2016


Dell said...

I love this movie, can't praise it enough. The ending is just perfect. I practically broke out in applause the first time I saw it. And that performance by Yoon Jeong-hee. Wow. She crafts a truly special piece of work. Really glad you enjoyed this.

thevoid99 said...

That is awesome. It was a really good film as Yoon Jeong-hee is just amazing as I now want to see more of Lee Chang-dong's work now having seen this and Secret Sunshine.

Anonymous said...

I love this series you're doing, lots of great, out of the way movies. Hat's off to you.

thevoid99 said... you. I love doing these marathons as it gives me an excuse to watch different movies and take a look at what is happening at Cannes.