out of Five
Running Time: 104
A vicious, unrelenting and bleak drama depicting the devastating effect of the current economic climate on society.
What’s it all about?
Kim Ki-Duk emerges from his long bout of depression with a bleak world full of crushing economic desperation, cruel powers and people hell bent on revenge. Everyone is mad, sad or bad in Pieta, and the most time is spent with sadistic loan shark debt collector and breaker of bones, Lee Kang-Do and a woman claiming to be his long lost mother, Mi-Son. With his mother in the picture Kang-Do decides to give up his job and change his ways but this is not as simple as it sounds.
The desperate and deranged things financial woes can drive a person to are taken to the extreme in Pieta and the two lead cast members Jo Min-Soo and Lee Jung-jin turn in completely committed performances. Jung-jin’s transformation to a gentler man is a difficult one as his sadistic character loses any sympathy within the first fifteen minutes, but he pulls it off convincingly.
Intentionally difficult viewing at times Pieta floats in between depressingly real, with its miserable depiction of the economic crisis and incredibly nasty with disturbing sexual images and violent activity dominating the screen for much of the running time. But as difficult as some of Pieta is to stomach it clearly makes its point about the cruel stronghold of capitalism over a crumbling humanity.
Pieta is very Dickensian in tone and imagery with claustrophobic living conditions and cramped workshops being the place where much of the drama plays out. Kim Ki-Duk constantly places his characters atop tall buildings looking at the city below to illustrate the vast contrast between the small shacks of the poor protagonists and the grand skyscrapers of the wealthy and it’s quite something to behold.
Kim Ki-Duk has a penchant for queasy visuals and though the world in which his characters live is a dark place, some moments feel like they are purely there for shock value.
A reveal too early on, albeit a painful and sad one, removes some of the dramatic tension and the latter half of Pieta plays out in a repetitive and unrelenting fashion which can be patience testing. There are so many interesting and provocative ideas at play in Pieta that the twisted relationship between Kang-Do and Mi-Son gets a little lost in the second half which in turn means the emotional impact is somewhat lessened.
Though Pieta falters in its latter half there’s still much to admire thanks to its strong ideas and disturbing depictions of the cruelty and greed that is having a devastating effect on society.