Poetry Review: The Art Of Mourning

POETRY (12A): On General Release Friday 29th July

Words are slipping through holes in Mija’s memory as she struggles to care for her careless and unruly Grandson, Wook. After being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Mija finds solace by enrolling herself in a poetry class. Here she is instructed to examine the world more carefully and find the beauty in everything around her, including the kitchen sink. The singular task of completing her very first poem seems a vast challenge as her world starts to dissolve both within and without.

The news of the schoolgirl, Agnes, found floating dead in a river after being gang-raped by a group of schoolboys affects Mija drastically, even before she learns of Wook’s involvement. The suicide reveals more than just the fate of Wook but also the fate of Mija as her failing body and mind leave her distressed amongst secrecy and decisions of morality.

Lee’s agonising, yet beautiful, story progresses calmly as Mija is forced to confront Wook’s irreconcilable actions as well as tackling the domineering male world around her. Mija begins to address loss and mourning through the form of a dying art: poetry.

Written specifically for actress Jun Junghee, despite her respite from the screen for over 15 years, her grace and subtlety brings sincerity to the dramatic and uncomfortable scenes of the film. Such scenes include the divulging complexity of Mija’s state of mind as the audience are made to watch, excruciatingly, as she surrenders her body to satisfy the sexual needs of a crude and dying man.

Scenes directly prior show Mija in deep contemplation at the river where the schoolgirl was found, here Lee’s intelligent juxtaposition evokes great emotional distress. Mija’s intentions for this ‘last deed’, along with her actions that later determine the fate of her grandson, are merely hinted at throughout, cleverly leaving the thought process to the audience.

Director Chang-dong Lee understands the need for calculated calm whilst analysing the violent commotion experienced within oneself, just as poetry was made to be. This is exactly how Lee manages to stand out amongst the mainstream trend of sensationalised melodramas.

Lee has commented himself that it is a ‘film with a lot of empty space… that can be filled in by the audience’. This space seems intended for the inevitable deliberation of the audience, as well as the characters, in times of trouble. Lee’s successful convolution of beautiful landscapes, delighted emotions with loss and sorrow brings together a quintescent story with performances of heartbreaking fidelity of character.