Last year’s winner of the Cannes award for screenwriting, Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry is the story of one women’s yearning to see the beauty of life and finding that often it’s only to be found in its blackest tragedies. Mija (Yun Jung-Hee), a sixty-five year old woman, is caring for her grandson in a tiny apartment of the edges of a city when simple aches and pains lead to the discovery of a serious health problem. Having seen a poster for a local adult education class in poetry writing, and recalling a teacher once predicted she’d one day become a poet she decides to enroll. In the midst of this she also discovers that her grandson has done something unthinkable, and that the reactions of others to these events ranges from the nonchalant to the wildly self interested. Bewildered by the conspiracy of these conflicting crises, Mija must reach an understanding of what must happen now and learn to see the beauty of life in all its ugliness so that she can finally write her own poem.
Although it has a gentle melancholy, Poetry is not quite as depressing as it sounds and is in the end deeply beautiful. Yun Jung-Hee’s performance is breathtaking, never straying too far into melodrama she keeps a film that might have become overwrought firmly rooted whilst allowing the audience to totally empathise with her character. It’s no wonder that this won the screen writing prize at Cannes last year as it’s incredibly well written and hugely literate.
Poetry is a beautiful film that everyone would benefit from seeing. It’s a real shame that this is the first of Lee Chang-Dong’s films to be released in the UK, hopefully it won’t be the last!