Minari (2020)

LEE ISAAC CHUNG

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 2020. . Screenplay by Lee Isaac Chung. Cinematography by . Produced by , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by . AFI Film of the Year 2020. Boston Film Critics 2020. Golden Globe Awards 2020. Gotham Awards 2020. Independent Spirit Awards 2020. Las Vegas Film Critics Awards 2020.  National Board of Review Awards 2020. National Society of Film Critics Awards 2020. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2020. Online Film Critics Awards 2020. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2020.  Washington Film Critics Awards 2020.

A young Korean-American family of four leaves California and moves to a small town in Arkansas, father Jacob (Steven Yeun) purchasing a large piece of arable land that has a tiny mobile home on it, which is the first indication to his wife Monica () that it their move might be a folly.  Jacob believes that he can farm the property while they continue their day job at a chicken plant, it will give them a chance to get ahead in this land of opportunity that inspired them to leave home and do something magnificent.  To help ease the constant friction between them, Jacob brings Monica’s mother Soonja (played by the unforgettable ) over from Korea, and she brings with her the tastes and smells of home (Monica’s unwrapping the foods from Soonja’s suitcase is one of the film’s most touching scenes).  The family settles in with the locals, and as some of only a handful of Koreans in town they are subject to curiosity from people who are themselves not free of idiosyncrasy, the best of them a religious fanatic played by Will Patton who helps Jacob on his farm while taking breaks to speak in tongues.  Younger brother David () spends his free time with his irascible, rebellious grandmother, a woman who is not interested in blending into the new land the way her daughter and son-in-law do and, for him, brings a strangeness into their home that frightens him.  Anyone who has watched movies about outsiders trying to make their way in the American south will be bracing themselves for a series of crimes against humanity (or a plague of locusts, perhaps), but director Lee Isaac Chung’s graceful, elegant film finds more humorous embarrassment in culture clashes than he does melodramatic conflict, concerned more with the emotional state of people who are suspended between worlds in their longing to make their dreams come true.  The subtlety of the performances match the poetry of the images, both Yeun and Han maintain a terrifying tension between them, constantly caught between wanting to express their fears to each other but worried that it will destroy the progress they’ve made since leaving home.  This wondrous film engages you from the very beginning despite hardly ever raising its dramatic volume, and captures your heart without ever resorting to manipulative string-pulling.

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