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Film Club March 2020: Poetry

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We haven't had much interaction with Film Club for a couple years now, but I thought it worth trying for a month or so given recent events and all the social isolation. 
Here is a link to the film at Tubi (free): https://tubitv.com/movies/149549/poetry


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8 minutes ago, Darrel Manson said:

It's also available on Kanopy.


That is true, though in my experience Kanopy availability varies depending upon one's library.

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What a curious film.  Honestly, I find it hard to get a toehold on this one, since the main characters all struck me as so shallow and repugnant.  

Mija seems like a tourist in her own life; it seems she joined the poetry class in order to find a self that doesn't really exist.  She alternately nags or neglects her rapist grandson, her shallowness made evident by her banal comments to him ("grandma is happiest if you're eating" and "clean body, clean mind').  

I'd like to think the widespread conspiracy by the parental figures and the school to cover up the repeated gang rape of the schoolgirl who suicided is an exception to the norm, but in the era of #metoo, Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, and Penn State, sadly the opposite seems true.

This is only the second film of Chang-dong Lee's that I've seen, besides Burning.  Are wispy, insubstantial, drifting characters abandoned by their mothers the norm in his films?

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa


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I have been slow to get to this with some work issues arising this week, but I am going to try to watch this weekend. 

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I don't agree with Andrew's assessment of Mija; I think she's a highly pitiable character to be sure, but she's a mild mannered, somewhat naive woman who suffers a complete mental breakdown--both due to the early stage Alzheimer's and the shock of her grandson's actions. The scene when she learns about the repeated gang rape with the callous, sexist fathers worrying about their sons' (and their own) reputations is phenomenal acting from Jeong-hie Yun as Mija attempts to process something that was previously unfathomable to her. And the rest of the movie is her attempt to process that information and see the world from another perspective (ultimately that of Heejin), and the poems serve as the bridge for her to get there.

The scenes with her grandson are a sort of five stages of grief--anger in waking him up in the middle of the night, denial with the babying of him.

I still don't know what to make of the tragedy of the ending (that she could only accept what happened by putting herself completely in Heejin's shoes), specifically whether the film views Mija's final act as some sort of triumph or failure.

"Anyway, in general I love tragic artists, especially classical ones."

"Even the forms for expressing truth can be multiform, and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning."

- Pope Francis, August 2013 interview with Antonio Spadaro

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Like Burning, I can admire the craftsmanship on display, particularly in the cinematography and acting, but (also like Burning) I couldn't really find an emotional or moral connection with any of these characters to anchor me and allow me to become immersed in the story. That is to say, I can appreciate the filmmaking, but didn't really enjoy the film itself. A film doesn't have to be enjoyable or have likable characters to be a great and meaningful film, but this was off-putting enough that I'm really going to have to wrestle with its implications (and that ending) to discern what I really think about it.

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FWIW, here's a link to the rather slight thread we had on the film originally. I'm surprised, looking back, to find I was enthusiastic about it. It hasn't stayed with me.



Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.


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So maybe this wasn't the best time to resurrect Film Club...I had a hard time getting through this, though I recognize that my attention span and time limitations play a factor. 

As an aside, I watched this for free on Tubi, and while commercials never help any movie, it's tough to take get passed those cuts between discussion of suicide prompted by gang rape and a commercial for Trolls World Tour.

I don't know if this is brave or foolish of me to say, but I just didn't understand how the parts fit together (until the very end) and when they did, I didn't feel like that fit was organic. A weird comparison, but I kept thinking about Two Days, One Night and how much ground is covered in 90 minutes but that it never feels rushed and it never feels it is written around a thesis (even though, to a great extent, it is). 

The coming together is thematic, in a sense, but I don't feel like they are all part of one life...I feel like she goes to Poetry class so that there can be a poem at the end and not because she is prompted to by anything, that the Alzheimers is a plot device, that being a maid for the one guy (is he the only guy she takes care of?) is a function of her needing someone to blackmail rather than some indication of who where she is at economically or socially. Maybe this is a function of beginning en medias res, but I'm damned in I know who she is without the Alzheimers, without the poetry class. Is her interest in poetry something recent, prompted by the diagnosis? Does it speak to something deeper about her culture? Why is *every* male so disgustingly vile? (Or is that the point?) 

On the plus side, I found the shot composition oddly enthralling. The film seemed to be doing things on a horizontal plane and felt more open that gave me a visual sense of being adrift more than would a series of framed photogenically staged scenes. 

Edit: Of course the other insurmountable problem I had is that I've always had poetry described for me academically as that which cannot be translated or reduced to summary. In one sense that is an overstatement, but unless I wanted to learn Korean, I couldn't really tell if the poetry was profound or facile. I do think visual images or styling could help along that way, but this appears to be a story about words as much as images and seeing, and it's tough to express some ideas in other languages, whether that other language is English for film.

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