While Venice Film Festival is currently underway, it’s a triumphant entry from last year’s event that is, at long last, being granted a theatrical release in the UK – as British audiences are finally being given the chance to make up their own minds on the controversial, opinion-splitting Ki-duk Kim drama Pieta – the film that took home the immensely prestigious Golden Lion award (amongst others) in Venice last Autumn.
Jeong-jin Lee plays Gang-Do; a vengeful and sadistic loan shark, collecting debts in a violent fashion across the city of Seoul, as he cripples his victims, before cashing in on their insurance claims to make up for the money owed. With little conscience or moral code, his life is shaken upside down with the arrival of a mysterious woman called Mi-Son (Min-soo Jo), who claims to be the delinquent’s long-lost mother, abandoning him when only a baby. With such a groundbreaking discovery, Gang-Do is left to analyse his own violent tendencies, questioning his own morality in the process.
Whether you are a fan of Pieta or not, one thing that is for certain, is that herein lies a film that will stick with you regardless, as Ki-duk presents a quite sublime and innovative piece of cinema, that comes with so many layers. To a certain extend, the plethora of themes at play makes Pieta almost overwhelming in its approach, as not only do you have the immensely damaged relationship between this mother and son to take in, and the livelihoods of the various victims who seek revenge on Gang-Do for his actions, but we also have the thought-provoking correlation between the narrative and the Michelangelo statue this picture is based upon. The Renaissance sculpture depicts the collapsed body of Jesus Christ, laying across the lap of his mother Mary – proving to be a distinct metaphor for what Ki-duk is conveying, as we explore themes such as remorse, compassion, devotion and matriarchy, to devastating effect.
Ki-duk also ensures that we get intimately intwined with our lead, allowing us to see past this intimidating facade. To others he is a dangerous presence, the devil disguised in human flesh. However we see him differently, and be that humping a pillow first thing in the morning, or trying – and ultimately failing – to catch a rogue chicken running down a narrow street, we see him as the clumsy and idiotic person he truly is, giving the viewer a sense of empowerment. At the core of this story is actually a somewhat touching relationship between two very damaged and lonely souls, and it’s a real credit to the filmmaker that we are still able to find the poignancy beneath the surface, in a film otherwise dressed up in such grandiose and rather nauseating surroundings.
Pieta is also highly melodramatic, playing out at times like an 80s soap opera – with so many sensational slaps to the face you actually lose count. However it has its tongue firmly in its cheek at all times, as the dramatic sequences are overly extravagant, as life is presented in such an immoderate way it makes the film seem almost surrealistic. The way this picture has been frantically edited and put together enhances such a notion, and though such a directorial style takes a while to get used to, it’s an effective technique as it reflects the haphazard nature of the piece, adding to the overstated approach.
At the start of Pieta we see a credit to announce that this production is Ki-duk’s 18th feature film. Well, after this showing it seems that a visit to Amazon is on the cards, with a 17 strong basket full of DVDs to purchase. Though this film will undoubtedly split opinions, one thing we can all rejoice in together, is witnessing the unhappiest blowing out of candles on a birthday cake you’ll see on the big screen in a good, long while.