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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Lee Chang-dong
Kino International 08/11 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Yang Mija (Yun Jung-Hee) is a 66-year-old grandmother who is raising Wook (Lee David), her moody and antagonistic adolescent grandson. Despite the fact that she doesn't have much money, she wears beautiful clothes and graceful white hats. Mija works part-time cleaning and caring for a wealthy stroke victim (Kim Hira) who is often gruff and demanding with her. One day by the hospital she sees a body being put in an ambulance. It is a young girl who was found in the river after committing suicide. Witnessing this depressing scene touches something deep inside Mija that she cannot express.
On an impulse, Mija signs up for a poetry class at the cultural center and is introduced to a new world of possibilities. The teacher tells the class that writing poetry is about seeing well and discovering true beauty in everything we see in our everyday life. He holds up an apple and marvels at the mystery surrounding it; to truly know it, you need to converse with it and understand it. He tells the students to always have pencil and paper ready for the moment of pure potential to come.
Mija begins her quest for poetic inspiration, listening to a tree and admiring flowers, writing lines as they come to her. But this assignment is difficult for Mija after she is told by a doctor that her recent memory problems are the result of her having Alzheimer's. She does not tell her daughter, who lives in another town, her grandson, or anyone else. She resumes her quest for beauty and is moved by sound of the wind rustling in trees. Each experience adds new impressions for the poem she has decided to write.
In class, Mija asks where poetic inspiration comes from, and her teacher says that she must "beg for it." It's not in a specific place, but it is nearby. It must be sought by the heart. At a poetry reading, a woman advises her to start by writing down her feelings honestly. Poetry comes from the heart.
Mija's heart is disappointed when she is drawn into a group of fathers who have banded together to offer financial compensation to the mother of the girl who committed suicide. It turns out that Mija's grandson along with five other boys had repeatedly raped her at school. The men with the school's blessing want to keep this silent. Mija is shocked to hear that Wook could do such a thing and that this group of respectable men thinks things can be settled by a payoff. Along with the beauty she seeks in the world she discovers this heavy dose of moral ugliness.
Lee Chang-dong, a very talented South Korean director, has followed his touching psychodrama Secret Sunshine with this poignant film which won the best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. Yun Jung-Hee gives a nuanced and memorable performance as an elder who is challenged to create a poem out of the unique blend of beauty and darkness in her life as she valiantly tries to deal with one challenge and disappointment after another. We salute her courage and grace under pressure. The poem she creates is a marvel that catches within her embrace most of what she has experienced in her heart.
Special features on the DVD include a featurette on the making of the film, an interview with actor Ahn Nae-sang (who plays one of the fathers), the trailers, and a gallery of stills.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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