Here's Copernicus On Venice Golden Lion Winner, Kim Ki-Duk's PIETA!
PIETA, a film by subversive Korean master Kim Ki-duk was one of the most powerful and haunting films I saw at this year’s Toronto Film Festival. It won the Golden Lion in Venice, and rightly so, even if it only squeaked in because THE MASTER had already won its quota of awards.
Kim Ki-duk was said to have been inspired by Michelangelo’s Pieta, his sculpture of Mary holding Jesus’ body just after the crucifixion. As Anton Sirius said in his preview of TIFF 2012, “Wherever you think that set-up might go, I can pretty much guarantee it’s going to go somewhere else.” He was actually talking about this film being about a loan shark who is reunited with his long-lost mother, but it doesn’t matter, his quote is true in any context -- trying to figure out Kim Ki-duk is like trying to figure out a tornado. He’s an unpredictable force of nature, at once both horrific and sublime. You can’t tell where he’s going to go, but when he gets there, it seems like it couldn’t have happened any other way.
In this PIETA, Lee Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is the (grown) child. He’s a loan shark, and an especially nasty one. When his victims can’t pay, he cripples or maims them (usually with their loved ones watching), and takes the insurance payout. This wrecks their lives in nearly every conceivable way, as nearly all rely on manual labor to make a living. Several of his victims are so ashamed and destroyed that they commit suicide. Despite wrenching pleas for mercy, Lee Kang-do never displays even an iota of compassion. He seems inhuman, and alone -- he has no friends, and no family.
That is, until a strange woman (Cho Min-soo) shows up, claiming to be Lee Kang-do’s mother. She says she abandoned him at birth, when he was very young, but now she feels responsible for the wake of destruction he’s leaving. Lee Kang-do, utterly incapable of compassion, rejects her and even rapes her as a kind of test, but she stays anyway, even going so far as to help him commit atrocious acts of violence. Meanwhile, some of Lee Kang-do’s victims are out for revenge, and everything is headed for a final showdown. I told you -- this is about as far from the Jesus and Mary story as it is possible to get.
The atmosphere of the first hour or so of PIETA is suffocating -- the sheer amount of depravity is hard to take. And in addition to the mutilation, rape, and killing, we get images like doomed eels slithering down stairs, blood on the streets, and the heads being chopped off of animals prior to cooking. Still, this isn’t imagery for mere shock value, it is all going somewhere, and if you can make it through to the end, there is a payoff.
To say more would give away too much, but there are several twists, even leading right up to the final two shots of the film. Going into the last shot I was thinking that this is an interesting film, but I wasn’t sure it was worth the gut-wrenching setup to get there. But when that last shot hit, it is like a punch in the stomach, and only then do you realize that this is a masterpiece. Everything flips, and suddenly, Kim Ki-duk has achieved the seemingly impossible. He’s put you through a horror show of human suffering as a perverse meditation on vengeance, compassion, redemption, and, remarkably, the love between a mother and son. It is simultaneously the antithesis of, and the embodiment of, Jesus and Mary story after all.
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Sept. 16, 2012, 5:54 p.m. CST
doomed eels slithering down stairs, blood on the streets, and the heads being chopped off of animals prior to cooking...
by vic twenty
Sounds like Sunday night to me!
Sept. 16, 2012, 5:59 p.m. CST
by vic twenty
Sept. 16, 2012, 6:23 p.m. CST
by brad negrotto
Fucking Spoiler Warning Man!!!!
Sept. 16, 2012, 7:10 p.m. CST
you mad bro palefire?
Sept. 16, 2012, 7:16 p.m. CST
by Duncan Irons
I prefer my movies dumbed down and without subtitles...
Sept. 16, 2012, 7:20 p.m. CST
by brad negrotto
Yeah, I tend to like moments in film, let us say like the rape of one's mother, to come as a shock. And given that there was absolutely no need to include that bit of information in the above review — why, yes. I'm mad.
Sept. 16, 2012, 7:45 p.m. CST
I have been waiting for more Kim Ki-Duk since Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter....and Spring. I really really love how that film has slowly slipped into the imdb top 250. :D If you haven't seen the film, what the fuck are you waiting for?
Sept. 16, 2012, 7:47 p.m. CST
palefire, ok point taken, but that happens pretty early on, and, remarkably, isn't a huge story point, or isn't the most shocking thing in the film by far. I didn't give away the real substance or twists of the film -- in fact I obscured much of it.
Sept. 16, 2012, 7:58 p.m. CST
by Artemis Webb
I respect free speech. And unlike certain religions in certain countries I don't have any interest in burning, murdering or raping people simply because I'm offended.
Sept. 16, 2012, 8:07 p.m. CST
Artemis, do not allow your distance to the poverty of the world to build in you some false pride in the strength of your religion compared to others. A religion is only as strong as its believers (and Christians are not the pure white they wish themselve
Sept. 16, 2012, 8:11 p.m. CST
Sounds like the Korean answer to Von Trier's "Antichrist," which I will not see until I've seen every Von Trier film up to that point. (Saw "Europa," recently. Interesting movie.)
Sept. 16, 2012, 8:13 p.m. CST
And I say that Artemis in the interest of humility. True humility is a great aid to the Christian and his message to the world.
Sept. 17, 2012, 1:03 a.m. CST
by golden tribw
Sept. 17, 2012, 2:26 a.m. CST
My favourite Kim Ki-Duk film.
Sept. 17, 2012, 3:30 a.m. CST
by albert comin
Don't take the actions of a few but very vocal and active extremists as an exemplification of a whole people and a whole faith. As everywhere in the world, the vast majority do not follow the religion that profess to follow all that strictly or take it that as the most important part of their lives, when other things feel more imperative (job, family). I know due to recent events this is not the type of thing you want to hear right now, but it's true. It's always the thing about fanatics/fundamentalists that due to their extreme actions and shouting they seem the represent those who they really don't.
Sept. 17, 2012, 3:52 a.m. CST
by albert comin
My humble advice, and as somebody who also digs Von Trier's filmmography, it's OK if you skip some movies. The man operates through phases which seem a bit independent from one another. You can watch "Anti-Christ" without seeing "Breaking The Waves". And "Europa" is one very interesting movie, quite good. already there you can see his fascination for nazi germany and it's aftermath. You can get a clue in that movei for the rason behind his weird coments at Cannes when "Melancholia" was in competition. One fact of his life to take into account is that his true father is german and he was a german officer in WWII. He met his father and claims he feels nothing that connects him to him, but the shock of the revelation truly disturbed him to the core of his being, and which explains his coments. Also, he's dannish, and they have a different notion of propriety in regard to speaking in public. For example, fellow dannish filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn once said "fucking" in a life UK TV show. In Denmark, swearing is not considered a big deal.
Sept. 17, 2012, 11:29 a.m. CST
Can't you make more beautiful movies like 3-Iron or The Bow? :(
Sept. 17, 2012, 4:34 p.m. CST
by Artemis Webb
You're pretty brave at your keyboard aren't you pussy? I'll bet you kick lots of ass in your mommy's basement on the XBox huh?
Sept. 17, 2012, 4:35 p.m. CST
by Artemis Webb
Sept. 18, 2012, 3:19 a.m. CST
by albert comin
No worries, friend! For a moment you got me worried. I was wondering what did i say to warrant such hostility, me being so nice and all. It was kinda funny too!
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