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“Poetry,” Reviewed

“Poetry,” Reviewed (photo)

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I’ve never been a big fan of poetry. I don’t get much out of reading it and Lord knows I ain’t no good at writing nothing poetical (NOTE: I may be exaggerating slightly for comedic effect). So I can relate to Mija, the subject of Korean director Lee Chang-dong’s beautiful new film “Poetry.” A grandmother in her mid-60s, Mija goes to the doctor for an arm ache and leaves with the knowledge that her recent forgetfulness is the early stage of Alzheimer’s disease. Slowly losing her vocabulary, she tries to rebuild it by joining a poetry class at the local community center. Try though she might, she can’t find “poetic inspiration.”

Mija’s teacher gives her class two suggestions to guide their work. “To write poetry,” he says, “you must see well. The most important thing in life is seeing,” Later he adds that writing poetry is “about discovering beauty in everything we see in front of us in everyday life.” By either measure, Lee’s film lives up to its title. The movie sees Mija, played in an award-worthy performance by Yun Jung-hee, with absolute clarity. Her struggle against her disease and her writer’s block could not be more mundane or, in its own way, more beautiful.

There are further complications. Mija’s lives with her grandson, a disrespectful teenager named Wook (Lee David). He spends an awful lot of time locked in his room in hushed conversation with a bunch of friends. Eventually, Mija learns that the boys played a role in the death of a fellow student, whose body is found floating in a river surrounded by spectacular natural beauty, in the film’s opening scene.

Threats, blackmail, and enormous moral decisions all follow. This is all the stuff of a great mystery film — indeed, the raw materials of this story are not very dissimilar to Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s exceptional mystery film “Mother” — but Lee is working in poetry, not narrative. Instead of focusing on the drama swirling around Mija, he narrows in on the woman herself, painting a fascinating character study with words and, when Mija’s memory fails her or inspiration eludes her, a poignant lack of words.

Mija’s journey to become a poet brings her to those community center classes. As an exercise to stimulate their writing, her fellow students describe “beautiful memories” in front of the class, and it is interesting to note how many of those memories are heartbreakingly sad. As Mija’s troubles deepen, she becomes more in tune with the everyday beauty around her – note how often bad news in this film is delivered in the presence of gorgeous bouquets of flowers.

For Lee, it seems, the best art must come from the most painful places. Maybe that’s the reason a fortunate man like myself has never been great at poetry and why, by the end of this haunting film, Mija has suddenly discovered a gift for it. You know the expression when life gives you lemons, make lemonade? “Poetry” is one hell of a lemonade stand.

“Poetry” opens today in New York City. For a full list of playdates, go to

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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