In Minari Jacob (Steven Yeun) wants to start a new life with his family. He’s gotten a new house, on wheels, and a big piece of land. The wheels, that emphasize that it isn’t a ‘normal’ house, make his wife Monica (Han Yeri) remember that this isn’t the life she’d imagined. Jacob, however, sees an escape from the poverty and hopelessness. Together with daughter Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and their son David (Alan Kim), who has a heart disease and therefore needs ‘protection’, they try to build a new home. It isn’t without obstacles and they try to make ends meet. Therefore Monica’s mother Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung) comes to America to look out for the kids. During the movie the family relations are tested, but they also discover what beautiful character traits every one has.
Minari was very high on my anticipated movies list. Part of my expectations were met. Firstly the movie has exactly the mood and aesthetics I hoped for. Since The Last Black Man in San Francisco(2019, Joe Talbot) and Kajillionaire (2020, Miranda July) I’ve been a fan of the scores by Emile Mosseri. In Minari he doesn’t disappoint. With his music he knows how to convey warmth, but especially the longing for family and connection. With his music he makes one feel safe. The same goes for the cinematography and use of colour. There are several beautiful shots with gliding, dynamic camera movements. Combined with the vivid, fresh colours the movie gives you the same feeling Jacob has while starting anew.
The film also knows how to convey the feeling of being different. While the kids are accepted and even make friends, the distance between them and the other people on the countryside is obvious. Innocent remarks show they are seen as different. David had a clear idea of what a typical American grandmother should be like and his own grandmother doesn’t come close. The fact that Lee Isaac Chung chooses to show this little things, shows exactly how those things create a distance and loneliness. Add the remote place they live and it isn’t hard to imagine the struggle one has to feel at home.
Slightly less successful is the way the relationship between Jacob and Monica is portrayed. While the conflict between them is understandable and the actors do a great job, I couldn’t escape the idea that a certain intimacy lacked. There are several beautiful moments, but the balance felt off. David’s relationship with his grandmother also has quite some screen time and made me feel the same. There are nice and emotional moments, but I wanted more. And that’s where my high expectations came in. Luckily however the film is convincing enough to even make me want to watch it again. The ending gives space for possible paths the characters could take and gives the viewer room to keep thinking about them. Even though I’d have wanted a bit more depth at times, I have definitely fallen in love with the characters.
Direction and script: Lee Isaac Chung
Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Yeri, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton a.o.
Cinematography: Lachlan Milne
Editing: Harry Yoon
Composer: Emile Mosseri
Length: 115 minutes
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