“Pieta” by Ki-duk Kim / Venice 2012 review

With a furious return to form, Ki-duk Kim delivers a humanistic melodrama in the form of a gruesome revenge movie that met with the warmest reception in Venice so far, and is expected to walk away with one of the festival’s major awards. And rightly so…

Watching the autobiographical “Arirang” about a year and a half ago at the Cannes Film Festival, where Ki-duk Kim had made an attempt to communicate the reasons for his withdrawal from worldly pursuits (including filmmaking), everyone seemed to write this idiosyncratic South Korean director off, despite the fact that he was once considered a major force in one the world’s most lucrative film industries.

In the meantime, Ki-duk Kim made another low-budget movie ("Amen"), which premiered at last year’s San Sebastian Film Festival, never to be heard of again.

His return to Venice – where he had won the FIPRESCI Award, an Honorable Mention and the Little Golden Lion in 2004 for "3-Iron" – justifies the precious few who still believed the director would eventually regain his filmmaking composure, exceeding all expectations with his best film so far.

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“Pieta”, which means compassion and invokes the image of the Virgin Mary embracing her son’s dead body, is a melodrama packaged as a revenge movie. An affectionate drama illustrated with gruesome violence. A Christian hymn arising from human misery. A thoroughly pessimistic, yet deeply liberating essay on absolution.

What sets out as the story of a merciless assassin working for a loan shark, who leaves debtors crippled in order to settle debts with their disability pension, is totally transformed when he encounters a woman claiming to be the mother who had abandoned him at childbirth. Doubt will eventually give way to happiness, as he experiences love for the first time, but real life will soon rear its ugly head.

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Filmed against the background of a country where people sacrifice body parts in order to live a better life, where money is the main reason to kiss your life goodbye and the most widespread religion is capitalism, Ki-duk Kim turns melodrama on its head in a contemporary parable on the fine line between forgiveness and revenge, absolution and punishment.

A neorealist thriller of biblical proportions that sucks you right in, from the opening sequence to the lyrical finale, “Pieta” is a journey towards salvation you’ll most likely experience with your eyes wide shut (thanks to an overdose of gore), while every fiber of your being vibrates with hope.

Read all our Venice 2012 reviews here