Poetry, a film by Lee Chang-dong.
Poetry, the latest film from Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong, won the prize for Best Screenplay at Cannes. It is structured like a detective story, except thereâ€™s no Hollywood-style mystery to the filmâ€™s meandering central investigation. Unlike a traditional detective, Yang Mija (played by Yoon Jeong-hee) isnâ€™t looking for clues or evidence. As an elderly woman newly diagnosed with dementia, sheâ€™s looking for something more elusive, perhaps even metaphysical. In sifting through the consequences of the discovery of a young girlâ€™s body in a nearby river, what Mija finds is a key to understanding the mystery not just of the girlâ€™s death, but of her own life.
A key quality to the filmâ€™s storytelling brilliance is explained during a class Mija attends to learn how to write poetry. Her teacher says that the key to writing good poetry is observation: â€œItâ€™s important to see everything surrounding us well.â€ This conceit eventually guides not only the way Mija thinks about poetry, but eventually how she sees the world around her. It becomes a particularly useful tool for this aging woman, whom the world seems to have stopped regarding as worth its attention. In an early scene, Mija initially tries to ask a neighbor what kind of food sheâ€™s drying, but the neighbor doesnâ€™t care to respond. Itâ€™s a seemingly throwaway moment, but that display of casual indifference is worth a page of expository dialogue in establishing Mijaâ€™s place in the world, a corner of obscurity from which she will gradually, almost miraculously emerge.
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