Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020, USA)

    Lee Isaac Chung's Minari is one of the better films to emerge during the Oscars race this season. Like prior A24 Oscar nominee The Farewell, Minari is a sensitive American drama - mostly in a foreign language - that concerns themes surrounding the Asian diaspora. While The Farewell addressed a Chinese-American woman, Minari focuses on a South Korean family living on a farm in Arkansas in the 1980s. The film follows a long tradition of stories about pioneering American families. Chung in fact even started the project as an adaptation of Willa Cather's My Antonia. There is a clear autobiographical aspect to the film, as Chung's family did in fact also live on a farm in Arkansas during this time period.
    The film largely tells its stories through vignettes, seen through the eyes of the son David, played wonderfully Alan Kim. We experience these vignettes almost as memories. There is the presence of noted character actor Will Patton as their eccentric new neighbor, who speaks in tongues and carries a cross through the town. The arrival of David's grandmother Soon-ja, played by the great Korean actress Youn Yuh-Jung, brings out tensions. She reminds the family of their past in Korea - as David says, she even smells like Korea. This tension between past and present is ever present within the film.
    In the background of these vignettes is the tension that is emerging between David's father and mother in their relationship. While the film takes its time with pacing, this perpetual uncertainty regarding the fate of the farm and the fate of parents Jacob and Monica's relationship, keeps an underlying layer of tension that culminates in a surprising finale. The film is enhanced by beautiful cinematography by Lachlan Milne, and an emotional score that avoids treading into the saccharine by Emile Mosseri. Moving.


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