Poetry takes the soul seriously
Starring Yun Jung-hee. In Korean with English subtitles. Unrated. Opens Friday, October 21, at the Vancity Theatre
Korea has, over the centuries, created a dazzling variety of unique narrative forms, although they may not be as well-known as haiku. The film Chunhyang, for instance, was abstracted from the most popular tale in the pansori tradition, its alternating passages of song and prose taking more than eight hours to recite. Like painting and philosophy, poetry has always been central to the Korean cultural tradition.
This said, verse cannot be said, at least at first, to have played a major role in the life of Mija (Yun Jung-hee), a pensioner who makes a little extra money tending to the needs of a disabled old man. She shares quarters with her grandson, a surly youth whom we soon discover belongs to a pack of rapists. As if all this weren’t bad enough, Mija is also struggling with the onset of Alzheimer’s disease (always a tragedy, even when reminiscence isn’t particularly sweet).
To escape from her social and physical hells, the troubled woman enrolls in a poetry course offered by a local community college. Not only does she take to verse like a junk-bond trader to greed, Mija discovers that organizing her thoughts in a rhythmical manner brings all kinds of collateral benefits in its wake. Her memory improves, and so does her will. The vicious grandson whom she once protected is now revealed for what he truly is, and she acts accordingly. In becoming a poet, this aging woman whom everyone has long ignored becomes a real person, the sort of quietly self-actualized being that Akira Kurosawa so memorably depicted in Ikiru.
This is a terrific film from a talented director (Lee Chang-dong, whose films have already won two prizes at Cannes). Poetry has the courage to take the soul seriously.
Watch the trailer for Poetry.