“Flowers fade,” writes Mija in her diary, and nothing could be more banal than that. Yet in the context of this Korean film, nothing could be more meaningful than that. Poetry is about lacks, restraints, and absences – of emotional expression, of action, and of poetic inspiration. This image shows parents who have gathered to discuss something terrible that their sons have done. Look outside the window, and you will see an old lady studying the flowers. This is Mija. She slipped away from the meeting. Look at the far right of the table, and you will see Mija’s absence next to her beer. We are presented with a beautiful, complex image of escape, where an observation of absence coexists with, and holds up to, an observation of presence. Why does the empty spot at the table still hold our attention? And what is definitive of Mija’s escape: the people she escapes from, or what she escapes to? The power of Chang-dong Lee’s film is not merely in the presences it shows, but in the absences: they are subdued, difficult, and ultimately destructive.


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