A Korean gem at Cannes
One of the most touching movies at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival was the Korean Competition entry, Lee Changdon's Poetry. The work opens with a flowing river, whose placidity is soon disturbed by the blotted body of a young girl.
Much like the opening shot, the movie meanders through the life of a grandmother (played with extraordinary feeling by actress Yun Junghee, her first screen appearance in 15 years) and the tempest that rips her life apart.
Yun, who plays Yang Mija the 66-year-old grandmother, with her sense of elegance and dignity reminded me of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, only that here in the film she is no sleuth.
After we are into the first few reels, we know she is suffering from dementia, has a passion for poetry, attends a month-long course in it and has an insolent grandson, Wook, whose mother is busy making money in another city. Soon, she is shocked to learn that the boy was part of a school gang that raped a classmate, Agnes, for six months and finally drove her to commit suicide.
While the fathers of the other boys are desperate to save their sons by paying money to Agnes' mother, Mija goes along with the men only to a point. She raises the money, writes her poetry at the end of the course and deals with her grandson in a way she considers fair to the dead girl and to her own conscience.
The movie is intelligently conceived and narrated through a near brilliant performance by Junghee, and interestingly the work underlines a cultural issue in Korea. Poetry is very popular there, and leading poets sell thousands of copies of their books. And the art is considered far more formidable than it is in the West.
Poetry is set in a provincial town and has an old world charm that turned out to be a surprisingly beautiful gem of the Festival.