I don't see a lot of films where elderly women are the center of the stories. "Poetry" by Lee Chang Hoon, is one of the few films that beautifully, sensitively, gently accomplish this. This film is about a woman who has Alzheimers, whose realization of the illness (and impending death) shapes the way she interacts with the world, shapes the way she acutely understands her gendered experiences and her empathy with other women (particularly a young deceased rape victim and her mother), but who does so in a very gentle and yet passionate and strong manner. She seeks poetry as a defined, tangible "poetic aspiration," and yet doesnt realize that as she wanders through the last leg of her life, she is experiencing and speaking poetry at every turn.
I like this film in part because the main character, Yang Mija, is seeking words at the same time that her body is losing them. Yet her body transcends language, and her physical presence in the world, her accidental encounters and experiences with other people in her town, embody what poetry is. In the end, the poetry she writes transcends language and time and body -- she and the deceased girl become one in the reciting. It is this merger of time and space that is the essence of poetry, at death.
The gendered experiences of patriarchy in the film are subtle, but very present. Mija is a single grandmother, who brings up her daughter's child, Wook. Her daughter had left the town to find work after her divorce, in Busan. It is not a coincidence, that Busan is the 2nd largest city in South Korea, and Mija's daughter's move seems to be a larger picture of urban migration. Mija meets with the fathers of Wook's friends who are discussing how to cover up their childrens' involvement in the months-long rape of the recently deceased girl. Mija is the only woman present, in shock upon hearing the news, but also from the men's callous attitudes about the girl's death. She finds out later, to her surprise, how widespread this callousness is, both in her own grandson, as well as in the man for whom she cares for as part of her maid-job.
Anyway, watch this film. It's on Netflix!
Here's the poem at the end of the film. It's beautiful, so it's here, but if you hate spoilers, don't scroll down below the trailer:)
How is it over there?
How lonely is it?
Is it still glowing red at sunset?
Are the birds still singing on
The way to the forest?
Can you receive the letter
I dared not send?
Can I convey the confession
I dared not make?
Will time pass and roses fade?
Now it’s time to say goodbye
Like the wind that lingers
And then goes, just like shadows.
To promises that never came,
To the love sealed till the end,
To the grass kissing my weary ankles,
And to the tiny footsteps following me,
It’s time to say goodbye.