Take a Drink: whenever somebody ignores what Mrs. Yang is saying
Take a Drink: whenever she forgets something
Take a Drink: for each poetry class
Take a Drink: for each poem
Take a Drink: for boners
Take a Drink: every time the grandson is an ass
Do a Shot: for shocking revelations
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
I’ve been meaning to watch Poetry for years now, ever since it won a ton of accolades out of Cannes in 2010, but it can be hard to fit a movie about an old woman writing poetry and losing her memory into your schedule with so many more alluring possibilities out there. Call it the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel effect.
The most thoroughly whelming movie ever made.
My mistake. Poetry is indeed about an old woman, Mrs. Yang (Yoon Jeonghee) with a failing mind and an interest in poetry, but it’s also about a suicide, a group of monstrous children who provoked it, and the cover-up attempt that follows.
Lee Chang-dong is a novelist as well as a director, and Poetry very much feels like a great novel brought to life. His script won top honors at Cannes, and is an intricately constructed achievement in both poetry and prose. The characters all have well-developed motivations, which clash in engrossing and tragic ways. The film feels incredibly realistic, but with a poetic soul underpinning it, which reaches its fullest realization in the stunning finale, among the most beautiful moments I’ve seen put to film.
Yoon Jeonghee carries the film on her back, appearing in nearly every scene and dominating every moment of it. She’s a charming, perhaps slightly oblivious old woman who learns that she is in the early stages of Alzheimers. This isn’t an illness tale, though, but rather the sickness provides a sad undercurrent of adversity both to her artistic awakening and the more insistent problems in her life, particularly her grandson’s deplorable and soon very expensive involvement in a crime. The way the script shows the maneuvering by school and parents to cover it up “for the boys’ future” is chillingly matter-of-fact.
For a little break let’s take a second to think about these kittens’ future
What develops is a portrait of a woman who must play at life the best she can with the rather sad hand of cards that has been dealt her. She’s been maneuvered into a series of corners by the very people she’s tried to serve and make happy her whole life, and now her own faculties are deserting her, but she perseveres. It’s beautiful, and Yoon Jeonghee brings her vibrantly to life.
All the performances in the film are very natural, some achingly so, and Lee Chang-dong complements them with immersive, sometimes almost dread-inducing long takes. Scenes develop slowly and painfully, but there’s authenticity and beauty in that pain, and sometimes joy and even, yes, Poetry.
At almost two and a half hours of unrelenting tragedy, Poetry can at times feel like it’s nearly crossing the line of miserabilism. It doesn’t, quite, but like always, having a little drinkie-poo when things get sad can’t hurt, right?
Poetry is, simply speaking, a masterpiece. It may be difficult to watch at times, but in the end, that effort is thoroughly rewarded.