Published Sep 29, 2011Even though Lee Chang-Dong's latest treatise on female victim hood in relation to male violence as status quo is titled Poetry, suggesting lofty artistry and inaccessible pretence, it has a surprisingly lucid narrative, clearly, if repeatedly, communicating its assertion of language as a form of consciousness.
It does this by weaving together two seemingly unrelated storylines involving 66-year-old Mija (Yun Jung-hee), wherein her propensity for forgetting words is diagnosed as Alzheimer's, leading her to seek out poetry as a new form of language ― something she aspired towards in her youth but never pursued. This is an act of personal affirmation in the face of a powerlessness that's exacerbated by the knowledge that her grandson and several of his friends repeatedly gang-raped a young girl, who later committed suicide.
This connection is made in part by a blackmail conspiracy concocted by the fathers of the other boys to buy off the mother of the rape victim, but more so through Mija's part-time job as caregiver to a disabled man that makes lewd advances. Her eventual acquiescence to the selfish male desires that repress her comes as a poetic act of martyrdom and realization of personal expression within the vacuum of fate, which is reiterated (a little too matter-of-factly) in her poetry classes.
That it all adds up to cohesive testament to life, grief, guilt and inevitably, resignation is a testament to Lee Chang-dong's thoughtful and subtle depiction of quiet moments and reactions. When confronted with passively violent male impulses and righteousness, Mija routinely appears in a daze, retreating to nature and words as signifiers of greater meaning.
The lethargic, often nondescript nature of the actual direction somewhat contradicts this impassioned message, making the final piece more thought provoking than emotionally cathartic or engaging. It's a sacrifice made to avoid contrivance or heavy-handed histrionics, ultimately making safe what could have been a far more powerful work. (Mongrel Media)