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Thursday 19 January 2017

Film Review: Poetry * * * * *

(Club, IFI)

Published 29/07/2011 | 05:00

A flowing river begins and ends Lee Chang-dong's Poetry, but this is no bucolic elegy. As the film opens small boys are playing along the scrubby banks of a broad, fast-running course when they see a large object bobbing downstream towards them. It's the corpse of a teenage girl called Heejin, who in death will dominate Poetry's story. She committed suicide by jumping off a high bridge after claiming she'd been repeatedly raped by five of her male classmates.

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One of these is Wook (Lee David), a surly, spotty and stubbornly catatonic teenager who lives with his kindly but eccentric grandmother, Mija (Yoon Jeong-hee). Mija has looked after the boy since his mother abandoned him for the excitement of life in a bigger town. When Mija is told what Wook has done by the fathers of the other accused boys, she is devastated. They, in a very eastern compromise, have decided to keep the situation out of the courts by paying off the dead girl's mother, but Mija has other problems to worry about.

Shes just been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer's, a blow that has left her determined to fulfill the lifelong ambition of writing a poem while she still has control of her faculties. She attends a class where a kindly poet teacher holds up an apple and tells his adult pupils that they've never really looked at one properly before. He will inspire Mija to embark on a desperate search for compensating beauty while she tries to deal with her family's collapse.

Chang-dong marshals his story quite masterfully, and coaxes a performance of almost bewildering emotional complexity from Korean screen legend Yoon Jeong-hee.

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