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GFF 2021: Minari Review

The critically acclaimed and award winning festival hit Minari finally graces our shores, opening this year’s digital Glasgow Film Festival. The semi-autobiographical family drama from A24 has been at the top of my must-watch list following the overwhelming buzz at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, so undoubtedly my expectations were pretty high. Thankfully it definitely doesn’t disappoint, wonderfully bringing to life the immigrant experience with plenty of humanity and aspiration.

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari documents the highs and lows of the young Korean American Yi family as they move from California to rural Arkansas in the 80s. Tired of his unsatisfying job sexing chicks at a hatchery, Jacob (Steven Yeun) buys a fifty acre plot of land with the dream of turning it into a profitable farm growing predominantly Korean produce. But the more Jacob struggles with his new business venture, the bigger the divide grows between him and his wife Monica (Yeri Han) and their two young children David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho).

Minari is a tender and moving snapshot of a young immigrant families’ journey as they attempt cultural adjustment, moving from South Korea to America in the hope of a better and brighter life. The narrative feels hugely intimate and authentic in the portrayal of the Yi’s resilience, as they bravely adjust to their new lives and attempt to fit in to the wider church going community. Chung positions us as one of the family, fully immersing us into their everyday lives as they navigate numerous trials and tribulations. Whether that’s heartbreak over a failed irrigation system or confusion when asked why their faces are “so flat.” This intimacy quickly establishes a gripping empathy in which you’ll find yourself laughing and crying with them, and completely rooting for the family throughout.

The film’s gentle pacing, which is reminiscent of Nomadland, emphasis the fact that life is all about the journey, which you travel no matter how bad the ups and downs. And there’s a real joy in their everyday lives, particularly when their hilarious grandmother Soonja (Yuh-jung) joins the family, spending time watching wrestling with the two kids, teaching them how to play cards and drinking the fabled Mountain Dew.

The lengthier runtime affords a real connection with these characters, as you spot the shifting dynamics between the family members. Steven Yeun and Yeri Han are phenomenal as the central couple who’s differing ideals over life threatens to break apart the family. The real standouts however are Alan Kim and Youn Yuh-Jung who steal pretty much every scene they’re in with their heartwarming and hilarious dynamic.

Supporting the outstanding central performances is the visually stunning cinematography from Lachlan Milne, who often frames events with beautiful wide shots of the lush sunlit fields. It’s easy to see why Jacob’s so determined to make the farm work, particularly when juxtaposed with the cramped and dark conditions of the hatchery. Emile Mosseri’s beautiful score also perfectly accompanies the Li’s tale, particularly throughout the highs and lows.

Verdict

Featuring a number of standout performances, Minari is a profound and moving tale of an immigrant family seeking a small piece of the American dream. What an opener!

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