Minari ★★★★½

Minari is a beautiful, exquisite film, without a doubt the best I've seen all year and very unlikely to be topped. It exudes warmth in every frame, even as it traverses the pain, uncertainty, and inevitable distance that making a life for yourself in a new place brings. It's less focused on conventional assimilation beats in the sense that it already establishes this patch of land is theirs - it is their territory, their crops, their mobile home. The story is not about establishing that fact, it's about understanding the family dynamics as they ebb and flow and figure out this land for themselves. We understand that they face racism and that they are seen as outsiders, but Chung is concerned with the internal more so than the external. And frankly, so much more is said about the emotional state of an immigrant in the small details throughout this film than other broad external conflict-based stories I've seen. One of my favorite moments is when the grandmother brings anchovies over from Korea, and the mother tears up just looking at them. Food is such an important marker of home and culture, and being reunited can be so incredibly comforting and emotional.

The cinematography by Lachlan Milne is lush and earthy, but also grounded and intimate. The score by Emile Mosseri is stirring without being overwhelming. The characters and their respective performances are complex and powerful, most notably Youn Yuh-jung as the grandmother Soon-ja - she joins Zhao Shuzhen in the pantheon of Asian grandmas. The film overall is slow, but remarkably assured, effortless, and imbued with so much humor even as it builds to a heartbreaking climax (that climax by the way is different than you'd expect, which I appreciate). On the surface, it's a story about a family trying to make their way in America, but on a deeper level, it's a story about a man trying to reconcile his dream and his reality, about a woman trying to keep her family together, about kids who are trying to figure out their own identities, and a grandma trying to bring home to a new home.

The minari plant at the center of it all is a concise metaphor for what this family goes through. It's a marker of home, of South Korea, but it can grow and propagate as long as there is water. It's tough to find a spot in rural Arkansas that has those necessary conditions, but it's possible. And when you do, it grows and grows and even when you cut it, it keeps on growing, getting stronger every day. As long as you nourish it, even somewhere thousands of miles away, it will be just fine.


kevinyang liked these reviews