A deeply moving portrayal of an elderly woman's struggles in rural South Korea
The quest to write a single poem becomes a heroic act in Poetry, a poignant, intricately plotted melodrama from Secret Sunshine director Lee Chang-dong. Poetry won the Best Screenplay at Cannes but it is the central performance from veteran actress Yun Jeong-hie that lends the film its heart and stature. Emerging from a lengthy period of retirement, Jung-hee plays Yang Mija, an elegant 66-year-old constantly confronted by the harshness of a world that she no longer recognises. She cares for Wook (Da-wit Lee), a sullen, bone-idle grandson who is accused of belonging to a gang who raped a high-school girl. Parents of the other gang members wish to pay blood money to the girl’s family to ensure their silence. A trip to Mija’s doctor confirms the early signs of dementia. Her commitment to creating a poem for her local arts centre class and her desire to do the right thing make her an increasingly admirable, isolated figure.
Set in a rural backwater of South Korea, Poetry has the gentle compassion and lyrical humanism of a film from the Italian neo-realist era like De Sica’s Umberto D and also calls to mind Kurosawa’s Ikuru (Living). It allies those traditional elements to a stern critique of the evident fault lines in a male dominated, imperfect society. Slow-moving but also deeply moving and satisfying.
Selected release from Fri 29 July.