There’s stillness to Lee Chang-dong’s film that can activate a prosaic state within someone. It’s an odd feeling as Chang-dong manages to move the audience through the lives of ordinary people. The pleasant qualities of Poetry recall something like Late Spring – but like Ozu’s masterpiece, when characters discover something that goes against the routine, a difficult trial of coping ensues.
Mija (Yun Jung-hee) takes care of her teenage grandson Wook (Lee David) in a shabby looking apartment. The two live in cramped quarters, wherein Mija makes money from government subsidies. She also makes a bit of money as a caretaker for an elderly man. Wook’s disrespect and adolescent ambivalence borders on caricature, but his insincerity may be accentuated by the film’s quiet nature. The title “Poetry” refers to poetry classes that Mija takes on a whim, though the month-long class serves to take greater meaning as the film progresses.
It’s best going into Poetry without knowledge of the film’s larger narrative qualities – knowing what happens beforehand jeopardizes its tranquility and nulls the ripple effect of its narrative elements. I’d argue that Poetry lasts too long for its own good, but as I reflect upon it, I only recall its positive elements.