A grandmother suffering the beginning symptoms of memory loss takes a poetry class to better express her feelings and in the process must cope with the shock her grandson was partially responsible for a classmate's suicide. Yun Jeong-hie gives an exceptional lead performance and writer/director Lee Chang-dong gives the screenplay several intriguing twists that help his Poetry sustain interest throughout. His film was awarded Best Screenplay at Cannes. The originality of the story, as well as the accomplished acting and filmmaking will help this drama stand out for arthouse audiences.
A schoolgirl's corpse floats in a river, lending an ominous mood. Mija (Yun) is raising her young grandson Wook (Lee Da-wit) while her daughter works away from their home. Mija enjoys life, wearing colorful clothes that reflect her warm personality. Her doctor's tests reveal she's in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Even after this diagnosis she keeps up relentlessly cheerful telephone conversations with her daughter, avoiding any unpleasantness. Mija finds herself forgetting everyday words like "purse." Described as "saying odd things like poets," Mija enrolls in a poetry class.
She sees a distraught woman falling to the ground in pain and finds it's the mother of the dead girl. The diary of the girl reveals she'd been raped by a group of fellow students, including Wook. The boys have admitted to the crime. Representatives of the students' families want to pay off the dead girl's mother to prevent notification to the police.
It's a chilling view of contemporary South Korea. Outside of Mija no one shows sympathy for the dead girl or her family, and even less concern is expressed about the actions of the boys. Everyone has paid his or her share of the settlement except for Mija, who can't come up with the money. Her only source of income is earned caring for a partially paralyzed old man.
Yun's expressive face conveys Mija's profound sadness, warmth and emotional sensitivity; all are traits otherwise missing in the characters she encounters. Mija's inner strength, determination and innate intelligence remain as her memory starts to fade. She is a very sympathetic protagonist.
Particularly effective are scenes of Mija's trying to see things around her in deeper ways to convey new observations to her poetry class. She holds up a piece of fruit for intense concentration. Though taking a class for communication Mija remains circumspect, ironically never directly confronting her taciturn grandson over his treatment of his dead classmate. She continues to give only upbeat news to her absent daughter.
As director, Lee Chang-dong sustains tension as Mija desperately tries to find solutions to her mounting problems. His cinematic Poetry remains compelling as he twists the different strands of Mija's story together.
Distributor: Kino International
Cast: Yun Jeong-hie, Lee Da-wit, Ahn Nae-sang, Kim Hira, Kim Yong-taek
Director/Screenwriter: Lee Chang-dong
Producer: Lee Jun-dong
Genre: Drama; Korean-language; subtitled
Running Time: 139 min
Release date: February 11 NY