Cannes: Four years after winning the Palme d’Or for “Shoplifters”, the master filmmaker is back with another triumph that cannot be classified.
In Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 masterpiece Magnolia, there’s a scene where his network of lonely souls gently, then suddenly, erupted into song. Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Tom Cruise, John C. Reilly and the rest stare out into the night trying to make sense of their desperate lives as they craft the lyrics to Aimee Mann’s painful “Wise Up.” The scene comes out of nowhere, but like so many of the best parts of this movie and all the best movies, it’s just one thing that happens. you go with it
In Hirokazu Kore-eda’s bittersweet and complex family drama Broker, Wise Up plays on a car stereo in police officer Su-jin’s (Doona Bae) car on a rainy evening. Mann’s timbre is unmistakable, and the “Magnolia” nod is echoed by this lonely cop trying to reach her own isolated loved one on the end of the line, make small talk about the film’s scene, and admit “that it’s… doesn’t really make sense” as she waits for her job to finally give her the closure she needs from her own past demons. “Broker” makes sense, but this heartfelt nod to one of cinema’s most devastating depictions of the implosion of family structures and the extreme measures we take to forgive, grow, heal, and love ties all the dots beautifully.
It’s not particularly uncharted waters for Kore-eda, who returns to Cannes after winning the 2018 Palme d’Or for the wondrous “Shoplifter” with a story that grapples with rather similar existential and emotional reckonings. The nuclear family is gone, long live the new clan. Where Kore-eda’s previous film found tenderness in a ragtag gang of thieves who learned how to take care of each other while robbing everyone else, Broker follows two child traffickers who take a runaway young mother under their wing and set out on a journey to sell her baby at the best price while learning to forgive her parents and learning from our children as they deconstruct and lovingly redefine the meaning of family.
The execution of this premise is somehow wonderful in its sensibility to pose questions about issues of ethics, choice, money and murder, and family, and how to find love in all of this sad mess. No answers are given – Kore-eda is an empath but has never been a utopian, rarely one for an incredible happy ending. There’s an amazing sympathy for the unforgivable choices we make, a patience for all the strange journeys one must undertake to shake off the grudges passed down from generations. And somehow the filmmaker always finds a way to see light in all of this. Narratively, it’s Little Miss Sunshine as opposed to Juno, but then there’s so much more that defies comparison, as no other filmmaker could balance the sticky moral issues that color the film like Hirokazu Kore -eda.
He’s never been in better company with these actors than “Parasite” patriarch Song Kang-ho as trafficker Sang-hyeon, a middle-aged man who can’t figure out the laundromat he claims to own but knows for sure who Baby boxing operation directs what Woo-sung, son of new mom So-young (K-pop star Lee Ji Eun, better known as IU, a welcome surprise with multi-layered performance) earns, Woo-sung, while they cart him across the country trying to convincing people of his eyebrows really aren’t that bad. Sang-hyeon works with Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won, often cute amidst his bitterness), a well-meaning young man with a chip on his shoulder after being abandoned himself as a child, with his mother’s promise that “she will me.” would come back.” As he tells So-young, only one in 40 who says that does.
As with Shoplifters, much of Broker’s charm comes from its impressive cast of unexpected people saying and doing completely unexpected things. After a brief visit to the orphanage to scout out a potential family for Woo-sung (planted by Su-jin and her colleague Lee, who is giving away the game with insufficient knowledge of fertility treatments), Sang-hyeon’s gang meet little seven-year-old Hae -jin, a football-loving boy who promises everyone that one day he will be just like Tottenham Hotspur’s son Heung-min. Next thing you know, Hae-jin has snuck into the van with everyone else, giving thumbs down to potential buyers and trying to figure out what kind of guys So-Young might be attracted to for him to grow up, to be just like her .
He and everyone else finds ways to make dilemmas you wouldn’t even consider seem as obvious as taking an umbrella with you when a downpour is on the horizon. Why have a child if you can’t raise them? Is it less of a sin to kill him before he is born? Can you ever forgive the person who threw you away? Should social security intervene? The police? What about the woman herself? It’s an impossible, endless cycle that pushes women into impossible situations that lead to a kind of pain and judgment no matter which path you take. A cursory read might alarmingly suggest a slight anti-choice bias (but it’s important to remember that abortion was only decriminalized by a 2019 order from Korea’s Constitutional Court, which went into effect last year) – but that would mean missing the point and misunderstanding Kore-eda entirely. No choice is ever completely right, and Broker knows that once the decision to leave has been made, which path you choose matters.
A lot of things don’t make sense when it comes to family — the way you cling to those who brought you into this world, the distance between those you raised and the people you are want. Everyone is doing their best to make those choices, turning a crime into a form of redemption, finding a home for a child who doesn’t even know what the power to choose means until it’s too late to use it . These are silent, existential conflicts that Kore-eda has always grappled with (and will no doubt live on forever as the struggle for bodily autonomy continues) that reach an emotional and intellectual climax with Broker. It’s one of the most transparent and – when it comes to confrontations about what parents, and women in particular, can or should do for themselves and for the babies they are forever attached to – boldest films of his career.
Call it murder, call it a crime against humanity, call her insane, lock her up. But somehow, through all of this, you can find a way to feel your heart lighten a little, to forgive and grow, and have faith that your family will find their way back, somewhere down the road.
Broker premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. It was picked up by Neon for US distribution.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/05/broker-review-hirokazu-kore-eda-1234728917/ ‘Broker’ Review: Hirokazu Kore-eda Teams With Song Kang Ho