While Lee Chang-dong’s Poetry has invited comparison to Bong Joon-ho’s Mother in its tale of morality, filial devotion, and culpability in the absence of memory, its theme of capturing the ephemeral beauty in the quotidian and transforming it into something eternal suggests a closer association with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After Life. And like After Life, the film is stitched together by mundane interactions and memories both real and constructed (in this case, as told by students in Mija’s (Yun Janghee) class struggling to find a source of inspiration for their poetry writing assignment). By interweaving fractured moments of grace and (implied) brutality, youth and old age, innocence and death (the opening image is of children playing in the river who subsequently discover a body floating in the river), Lee creates an understated metaphor, not only for the idea of preserving the poetry in everyday life, but also for the indomitable heroine’s struggle to find beauty – and legacy – in the face of brutal reality.
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