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Movie criticism is full of paradoxes. Or is it the critic himself? Sometimes bad movies lead me to writing, and, sometimes, a very good movie suggests I should be silent.

A suggestion of silence – respectful silence! – has given me this excellent “Poetry” (“Shi”, 2012) by South-Korean Chang-dong Lee, which I was luck enough to watch on paid tv.

Yes, I do have the feeling that writing about this sweet and tender film is like maculating it. And, paradoxally, I write for, of course, I intend  to publicize it. Actually, if I could, instead of writing, I would get copies, and, kindly, distribute with dear friends.

poetry poster

I should begin by saying that, within this Third Millenium Cinema I happen to know, very few times I came across such a captivating and true character, so well built, as this Mrs Mija, a lady of sixty-six who, with problems of memory, enrolls in a poetry course. Going slowly through the sidewalks of Seoul, Mija makes a difference, with her elegancy and finesse – her old face is still beautiful, her body is still slim and her slightly old-fashioned white hat, which she insists in wearing, gives her a vaguely aristocratic look.

I wonder if I will be able to convey her interior beauty, but, I start with that which is obvious – whatever the plot offers me, and the plot is another enormous merit in the film.

A widow for some time, Mija would live alone, were it not for this grandson, the son of separate parents, whom she practically is forced to lodge – a hostile teenager whom she can not understand, despite the many daily efforts.

One day Mija hear the news that a young girl had committed suicide, throwing herself from the bridge into the waters of the Han river. Not only this, but, going to the hospital for exams, she witnesses a terrible scene: the desperate dead girl´s mother, out of control, crying and throwing herself on the ground like a mad woman.

poetry 2

Very soon came the worst: Mija is secretly visited by a committee of male parents, whose sons had raped the girl, and Mija´s grandson was one of them. The parents went to her because, all togehter, they are collecting a certain amount of money for an indemnity, and, of course, the Police and the press are not supposed to know about it.

Without much means, Mija does not know how to raise the money. She lives on a poor allowance and, an on eventual work as sitter. At present, she takes care of an old man who had a stroke, and lives all by himself in his middle class apartment.

All these problems – including the blanks of memory, diagnosed as Alzheimer – do not stop Mija from attending the poetry course, where the teacher ensures that everybody is able to write poems, for poetry is within every one of us. Mija has always been fond of flowers and of strange words, and this gives her the illusion she may one day be able to write a poem. She spends time with Nature, looking for an inspiration that never comes. Or  does it too late. (Should I tell the end of the story?).

Meanwhile, troubled by the girl´s death, Mija goes as far as the suicide place, the bridge over the Han river, and – sad prolepsis – the wind blows her hat, which falls down on the dark waters.

By suggestion of the parents committe, she visits the dead girl´s mother, in the field, but, the visit is aimless: the two women talk about ripe fruits, and things like these, and Mija comes back without solutions.  Except for the fact that, not knowing what to do, she steals a picture of the dead girl, and takes it home, putting it over the table, for her delinquent grandson to see.

poetry 6

Through not very honorable means – a kind of painful consented rape – Mija gets the money for the indemnity with the old man she takes care of – and, however, a few days later, inevitably, the police appear on her street, and take her grandson to prison.

By the end of the poetry course, none of the students had fulfilled the task of writing a poem, except Mija, who does not come to class, and, together with a bouquet of flowers, sends her written poem to be read – her first (remember the hat on the river?) and last one. While one hears the voice-over that reads Mija´s poem (first the teacher´s, than hers, than the dead girl´s), the camera moves toward the suicide bridge and, we then understand that another suicide occurred. Not only the frighteningly dark waters of the Han river, closely shot, tell us this, but also the strange and beautiful words in the poem we hear.

I turned off the TV set kind of choking, remembering another female victim of men´s world, one that always makes me cry: Fellini´s Cabiria.

I began this post by mentioning the paradoxes of movie criticism. An additional one is not attaining, in the composition of the text, the same level of quality as the movie discussed – which is the case here. So, dear reader, see the movie, and forget this piece of criticism.

poetry 1

Uma resposta para “Poetry”

  1. Jotahah Assunção agosto 9, 2013 às 4:55 am #

    Caro João Batista,
    Teu instigante artigo já me pôs na rua
    à cata de “Poetry” de Chang-dong Lee.
    Um cineasta de quem nada vi.
    Abraço, Assunção.

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