Kim Ki-duk's latest is a brutal and pitiless study of pain and penitence, suffering and salvation
The latest film from Korean director Kim Ki-duk was the surprise winner of the Golden Lion at last year's Venice Film Festival. It is as brutal and pitiless as a punch to the stomach. Best known for Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, he adopts an unflinching approach to a complex tale that elaborates on some of his trademark preoccupations with pain and penitence, suffering and salvation. It begins as a man in a wheelchair hangs himself and is marbled with sadistic violence, rape and relentless unpleasantness involving the smashing, breaking and sometimes consumption of human body parts. It is as tough and demanding a film as you are likely to see all year with the rewards at the end of the narrative tunnel staking a dubious case for justifying everything that has gone before.
Even the claustrophobic setting of the dingy, derelict industrial slums of Cheonggyecheon suggests a world where the very atmosphere is poisonous and compassion is suffocated at birth by the ethos of a dog-eat-dog society. Baby-faced debt collector Lee (Jeong-jin Lee) appears to have ice water in his veins as he dispenses the roughest of justice without a flicker of hesitation or concern. Respectable, middle-class woman Mi-sun (Min-soo Jo) arrives at his door, claiming to be his long lost mother and begging him for forgiveness. He treats her as less than human in some of the film's most sickening scenes and yet she seems to regard every punishment as a necessity and will do anything to win his trust and melt that cold, cold heart.
Intense and unyielding, Pieta is the kind of film that sends sensitive audiences rushing towards the exit and yet for those who remain to the bitter end there is method in all of this savagery, purpose visible through the grey clouds of unrelenting bleakness.
Selected release from Fri 6 Sep.