10 November 2010


Written & Directed by: Lee Chang-dong
Full credits at IMDb

Poetry (Shi), Lee Chang-dong’s attempt to reconcile the awful with the awesome, explores the origins of beauty and searches for the poetry in a culture so ostensibly devoid of it. The movie finds the mundane and the monstrous living side-by-side everywhere it looks—even sharing the same apartment—and then asks, how do we make peace between the simple, natural beauty of apples and trees and the terrible violence humans inflict upon other humans?

Yoon Jeong-hee, South Korea’s Meryl Streep, gives an epic starring-performance as a grandmother with custody of her grandson, a woman on the cusp of dementia who makes a living by caring for a stroke victim. She seems subsumed with a deep, pervasive sadness that she tries to get out in a poetry class. (“I do like flowers and say odd things” she offers as proof of her “poetic vein”.) But it only gets worse when she discovers her grandson was involved in repeated gang rapes that drove a classmate to suicide. Yes, that boy steeped in banal boyhood signifiers—junk food, dumb television—is a monster; his benign-seeming schoolyard chums are his co-conspirators in a program of systematized sexual assault.

And yet Poetry acknowledges there is still beauty to be found all around: sunny, island fishing-idylls, before the dead body washes in; architecturally staggering churches, before the funeral mass; riverside quiet, before the rainstorm. “Even the suffering is beautiful,” one character says. Lee, a poet of images according to the terms he has set—he is a director who sees the world, really sees it—dramatizes beautifully how maybe it’s from this conflict that “poetry” arises: beauty from ugliness, truth from chaos. Grade: A

Watch the (cheesy, unsubtitled) trailer:

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