SKY CINEMA REVIEW: MINARI (2020)
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
Written by Lee Isaac Chung
Produced by: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh
Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton, etc.
Cinematography: Lachlan Milne
Music by: Emile Messeri
*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***
I missed Minari (2020) at the cinema. Which is a shame because out of all the Oscar-nominated films from earlier in the year it is now my favourite. Further, it should certainly have won the best film award. (Note: I have yet to see The Father (2020).) It has the heart and warmth and realistic hope that eventual winner, Nomadland (2020) lacked. Chloe Zhao’s powerful character study was arguably too meditative and glacially paced, without any real diversion from the plodding repetition of monotonous existence. I love slice-of-life and character-driven work, but I want some drama too. While Minari (2020) has certain meditative qualities, writer-director Lee Isaac Chung has crafted a supeb cinematic memoir of tender power and emotion.
Set in 1983, Minari (2020), centres around the Yi family. They had been working in California, but have moved to Arkansas to farm the land. The father, Jacob (Steven Yuen) dreams of growing produce to sell to fellow Korean businesses. However, the farm and static caravan he has purchased is remote with no guarantee of water to ripen the fruits and vegetables. Jacob must either pay exorbitant prices from the water company or find a natural spring underground. Alas, rain rarely threatens the Arkansas plains.
Jacob’s wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri) hates the caravan and does not share his farming dream. This marital conflict drives the much of the narrative as the two argue constantly. Monica is especially angry that her young son, David (Alan Kim) is so far from a hospital. The boy has a heart condition and like any good mother she consistently worries. Their teenage daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho) is too young to be a full-time caregiver to David while Jacob and Monica support themselves working at a local chicken factory. To placate Monica, Jacob brings grandmother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) to the farm for support. Here a beautiful and funny parallel plot begins as David and his grandmother’s relationship comes to the fore.
I watched Minari (2020) on a Sunday morning at home, relaxed and cosy, filled with breakfast and coffee. I loved experiencing the film. The music wondrously supports the beautiful photography that illuminates the green and wheats that fill the lens’ gorgeous palette. Like the masterpiece, Parasite (2019), Minari (2020) represents a working-class family striving to stay together and survive in difficult times. The main difference though is the Yi family were doing it with honest hard graft rather that grifting, ducking and diving. The Yi’s connect with nature and the land rather than skimming the city and the rich. I really rooted for the Yi’s. Jacob’s desires and battles to find water reminded me of the equally moving French classic, Jean De Florette (1986).
Minari (2020) doesn’t take the obvious route of making the Arkansas locals racists who rail against the Yi’s. While there are some scenes involving cultural clashes, much of the drama and humour derives from the families interactions with each other. Indeed, the scenes where David antagonises his unconventional grandmother are hilarious. Youn Yuh-jung as the elderly matriarch is fantastic, deservedly winning a best supporting actress role at the Oscars. Moreover, Lee Isaac Chung gets a miraculous performance from child actor, Alan Kim. Special mention for a busy, but nuanced portrayal of a troubled but helpful worker, Paul, by Will Patton. His deeply pious character could have easily been made an antagonist, but Chung ensures he is another relatable human being in a film full of them.