ICAF is hosting a Korean Film Festival this week. The first movie that was screened was Poetry (2010) by Director: Chang-dong Lee.
The story is about a widowed grandmother Yang Mi-Ja (played by Yoon Jeong-hee) raising alone her grandson studying in local town school. Mi-Ja’s daughter is in the city not spending any time with them. Mi-Ja lives on government subsidy and her meagre income as a maid taking care of an old man. She is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and starting to forget names. One day a 16-year school girl commits suicide and that incident changes the life of Mi-Ja and her grandson for the worse. During her struggle with handling the situation and Alzheimer’s, her new found interest on writing poetry is what that keeps the old lady sane.
The film subtly navigates the tough subject of what caused the girl to commit suicide and how the aftermath is being handled by different people. In parallel, the film showcases the beauty of poetry, how to write them, and some examples of few Korean poems. I enjoyed the class of the poet, where he teaches on how to write a poem – you have to “really” observe everything around you, even a simple apple requires closer observation. Mi-Ja becomes obsessed with this instruction and starts observing everything around her and recording it in her small notebook. In the scene where she confronts her grandson about the incident and in the scene she speaks with the victim’s mother, Yoon Jeong-hee’s acting was brilliant.
I felt the relationship of Mi-Ja and the old man she works for could’ve been shown differently; The length of the film at 140 minutes was too long – a shortened film by 30 minutes would’ve held our attention better especially in the second half.