Sunday, 2 December 2012


Kim Ki Duk's Pieta offers viewers no comfort, not in its subject nor its style. A drab film visually, it frequents dull, grey spaces decorated with dirt and metal, masses of machinery filling thin, tinny shacks, populated by sad, simple people who seem oblivious to their misery, and express a pathetic optimism at facing mutilation, prostitution, death in the pursuit of pittance. Jo Young Jik's hand-held camera frames these shreds of life in a basic, watery aesthetic that emanates coldness and despair. The narrative content suggests a melodramatic horror / thriller in the same vein as a deal of other recent successful Korean cinematic crossovers, but Kim saps the vitality from this content - violence is depicted, but rarely shown, high emotion is displayed, but only administers greater ambiguity to the inner workings of these enigmatic characters' minds. Kim keeps us from guessing where things will lead to by withholding his leads' thoughts and motives, and by a plot structure that, initially, appears aimless. But he is working backwards from a point wherein he has peeled back Pieta's layers to reveal its true design; yet still, the extremity of the protagonists' actions and decisions remains intact, maintaining a distance between us and them. Kim does not want to help us to understand, or to feel. He doesn't want to indulge us either - this is not an easily classifiable film. It doesn't allow its characters to wallow in their suffering, and the filth, grime and grisliness are undercut by the dreariness, a grim admission that not even hopelessness is absolute, nor pain. This is a story that feels like it needs to be told in a robust, searing, vivid manner. Kim valiantly treads a path in the opposite direction, one which might not have seemed accessible to any other director working at this level today.