Intensely aware, 66-year-old Mija fears some signs she's noticed of her own forgetfulness might signal more serious trouble. Still she calmly goes about her daily chores, primarily caring for an elderly man who has suffered a stroke. More distressing, Mija must grapple with the knowledge that her grandson Jongwook, along with five classmates, may have been involved in the rape and death of another student. A contrast to Mija in behavior and values, Wook is the product of the modern age, attached to his iPod and computer games. The five students' parents' response to the tragedy further alarms Mija as it reveals a sickness at society's core.
Yearning to express her thoughts and feelings about her world's challenges, Mija enrolls in a continuing education class in writing poetry, hence the title. If not now, she figures, then when? Unexpectedly, the shrewd teacher directs students to write one poem only, adding that to do so they must learn to see truly and honestly. This film provides that opportunity as few movies ever have.
At 2 ¼ hours, unhurried in its pace, Poetry details the multiple layers of Mija's emotional and psychological existence, and she is fascinating. I became her friend, her confidant, her admirer. As Mija, the exquisite South Korean actress Yun Jung-hee holds the screen with the force of an unyielding anchor, buffeted by troubles but solid in her moorings. A veteran of over 300 movies, Yun models a master class of acting.
Maximizing her impact, writer/director Lee lets his camera linger on finely detailed, revealing compositions with a script that won best screenplay honors at last year's Cannes festival. Events unfold slowly, with precision. For example, in the opening scene the dead girl's body floats on the river from the distance into the foreground as we comprehend with incredulity. Throughout, particularizing the pain as well as the beauty, the disappointments and the delicate triumphs, Poetry invites a much greater appreciation of the lives we all too often take for granted. In Korean with English subtitles. At a Landmark Cinema.