Last year’s winner of the Cannes award for screenwriting, Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry is the story of one woman’s yearning to see the beauty of life and finding that often it’s only to be found in its blackest tragedies.
Mija (Yun Jung-Hee), a sixty-six year old woman, is caring for her grandson in a tiny apartment on the edges of a city when simple aches and pains lead to the discovery of a serious health problem. Having seen a poster for a local adult education class in poetry writing, and recalling a teacher once predicting she’d one day become a poet, she decides to enroll. In the midst of this she also discovers that her grandson has done something unthinkable, and that the reactions of others to these events range from the nonchalant to the wildly self-interested. Bewildered by the conspiracy of these conflicting crises, Mija must reach an understanding of what needs to happen now and learn to see the beauty of life in all its ugliness so that she can finally write her own poem.
Poetry is an overwhelmingly beautiful film that becomes almost transcendent in final moments. As Mija searches for her poetic inspiration we are treated to the images of natural beauty as Mija sees them; newly, as if for the first time.
However, try as she might this isn’t where Mija will find what she’s looking for. Alongside nature’s inherent beauty lies man’s cruelty and lack of compassion. It’s the juxtaposition of these two elements that provides the inspiration for Mija’s poetry, and when the poem is finally revealed to you it will break your heart.
A big part of the film’s success is the wonderful performance of Yun Jung-Hee, who prevents what could have been an overwrought and melodramatic film from becoming bound up in its own import. She displays such tremendous subtlety in conveying Mija’s growing bewilderment that you immediately feel you know this woman and it’s impossible not to empathise with her.
A melancholy and often distressing film, Poetry is nevertheless a cathartic experience. A bittersweet examination of life’s joy’s and sorrows, this is a very moving film that is almost pitch perfect in execution.
Poetry is currently screening at cinemas around the UK
Beautiful, moving and yes, poetic; Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry is a film that deserves much wider recognition than it’s currently getting.