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Review: Minari – “Subtle, quiet moments that elevate the film”

Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari is a film whose reputation now very much precedes it. Working the festival circuit for consecutive years, it landed in Glasgow last week. That felt significant. It’s only 600 odd miles away from me. It’s seemingly getting closer.

When it does get here, I’d thoroughly recommend it.

The film is a quirky family drama rooted in excellent performances, all given time to breathe. It is always strange to me what manages to catch the global zeitgeist and what slips under the radar.

Here, a steady and languidly paced family drama could so easily have gone under the radar. It arguably still has. But in amongst the Malick-like low shots of people stooped in the grass, chomping on cigarettes, as they worry for their future, there’s a lot to love.

It’s 2021 Parasite is a Best Picture Winner, so you’d hope by now people will be over the subtitles and lack of crash, bang, wallop. This film is sedate and all the better for it.

Watching it is like being a fly on the wall. You get to see private moments play out — and credit to Chung, much of it in a unique way. I loved for example the parents — both fantastic, but especially Steven Yeun, who with Okja, Sorry To Bother You and Burning should be well past “one to watch” territory — arguing.

In the room next door, the kids meticulously fold paper planes. It’s striking imagery, how rushed yet deliberate they are, but then they break into English and write “stop fighting”, before launching the planes at their parents.

Then, an hour in, as mounting debt and failed orders make Yeun question again his decision to relocate to Arkansas, there’s another striking scene. This time quite literally.

As Yeun leaves his barn and tensions rise, there’s a strike of lightning. The sky itself is clear so I had to go back and see if it was my eyes. Sure enough, just as the order is cancelled a strike of lightning in the far distance shoots through the sky.

It’s these subtle, quiet moments that elevate Minari for me.

Earlier, the sun is breaking through clouds in a square shape. Characters cup their hands as if to capture it. It’s almost spiritual. Later, they’ll see red in the sky again and it feels symbolic.

There’s all the family drama you could want, especially when Nan arrives. I really appreciated Will Patton, who’s often overlooked, adding some additional class.

By the end, I was left thinking about how important it is for kids to see their parents achieve something. How important it is to make sure that money doesn’t make your world go round and that ultimately, however you need to, you find peace.

Minari opens in the UK on 19th March 2021.

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