But the last thing that can be blamed on Lee Chang-dong, 56, a writer who was South Korea’s culture minister, is precisely that. Here is a man who is primarily interested in “special” people, in these anonymous people with ungrateful physique, in these people who repel us more than in those who attract us, in all those who do not call for identification immediate.
The filmmaker has proven it, in the past, with admirable films like Oasis (2002, evocation of a mad love between a simple-minded delinquent and a young girl handicapped by cerebral palsy) or Secret Sunshine (2007, ordeal of a widow whose son is kidnapped and murdered).
Lee Chang-dong is a filmmaker who tracks down disturbing, trivial realities, who turns around the gauntlet of an illusory reality to exhume beauty from where we don’t usually go looking for it.
Presented in competition at Cannes, Wednesday May 19, poetry is a bold film. You have to look with both eyes. One eye on the worst of humanity, and the other on the best. With one eye, this endearing Mija, a grandmother who is raising her grandson, with whom she loves to play badminton, and who, moreover, is sinking into Alzheimer’s disease while taking poetry lessons , learning to look at the world differently, aerially, while strolling.
What the other eye sees is anything but poetic. A schoolgirl committed suicide by jumping off a bridge. Her diary reveals that she committed this act because she had been raped for months by six school friends, including the grandson of Mija, this brooding teenager who only thinks of guzzling in front of the television, surf the Internet, to get paid for a new cell phone.
Not so crazy Mija has one foot in her imagination and another in the sordid. She learns to look at an apple, and it is revealed to her that her grandson is involved in the rapes. She attends the meetings of the fathers of the young criminals, who have decided to compensate the mother of the suicide. The latter is offered 30 million won (21,000 euros) to convince her not to file a complaint, with the complicity of the director of the college. Mija must participate, and find 5 million won.
She looks a bit disturbed, but she’s not that crazy. Mija does not have the means to pay, she is a cleaner for a rich, hemiplegic old man who does under him and whom she soaps in his bathtub. Mija may be losing her memory, but not her lucidity or her moral sense.
Lee Chang-dong invites us to watch the end with a third eye. He gives clues and lets us decipher the mystery of this woman troubled by her conscience, who has a sense of justice, as she has a sense of charity.
These clues are as follows: the meeting, at the friends of poetry club, of a cop with salacious jokes; the compassion felt for the mother of the deceased girl; the sexual act lavished on the old hemiplegic who wants one last time to feel like a man before dying; a double bout of tears, first in her shower, then in front of the restaurant where she ran into the policeman; the evening spent with her grandson, whom she scrubs, makes it presentable, claiming to prepare him for his mother’s visit.
This old woman acts before losing herself in the admiration of flowers, sensual rhymes, the aerial apprehension of things. What poetry taught him is a sense of truth. The desperate passion for purity induces the expiation of faults. This is how Mija escapes sentimentality. Thanks also to actress Yun Jung-hee, whom we will add to our favorites for the Best Actress award, after Juliette Binoche (Copyby Abbas Kiarostami) and Lesley Manville (Another Yearby Mike Leigh).
Korean film by Lee Chang-dong with Yun Jung-hee, Lee David, Kim Hira. (2:19 a.m.)