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At The Movies: ‘Minari’: balm in Gilead

“Minari” is a profoundly beautiful film that is refreshing, delightful and an inspiration, despite the somewhat pitiful circumstances of its protagonists.

In this, “Minari” is a bookend to another 2021 Oscar contender, “Nomadland.”

However, whereas the mostly Caucasian folks in “Nomadland” are footloose and fancy-free (not counting their lumbering live-in recreational vehicles) in the United States’ great wide west, the Korean family in “Minari” is digging in and putting down roots on an Arkansas farm.

“Minari” augurs an interesting comparison to “Parasite,” the 2020 Oscar winner about a South Korean family adrift in a morass of moral ambiguity and the avarice of acquisition at all costs. In “Minari,” the family’s inner moral rectitude defines the outer landscape.

The title of the film, “Minari,” refers to a Korean vegetable similar to parsley. The word, Minari, can be translated as: mi (water) and nari (vegetable).

The plant, minari, is a harbinger of spring in Korea, of new life, and an apt metaphor for the film.

Minari is said to be a detoxifying agent, and is used to treat fever, dehydration, high blood pressure, and as anti-inflammatory salve. It’s akin to the Biblical balm in Gilead.

“Minari,” the film trucks in the elementals: earth, water, wind and fire, each of which is a factor in the plot, as in the screenplay, and also as in the family’s plot of land.

In 1980s’ America, Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) raises Asian produce he intends to haul in his Oldsmobile station wagon to a Korean grocer in Dallas, Tex.

Jacob’s plan to get back to the land and start a farm when he relocates his family from California to Arkansas is greeted with near-hysterical derision by his wife, Monica (Yeri Han). Jacob sees it as a “garden of Eden.” Monica calls it a “hillbilly place.”

Their children, Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan S. Kim), are bemused by their new house, which has wheels. It’s a double-wide manufactured home and a used one at that. Unlike the “Rubber Tramps” (named for the tires on their RVs, vans and cars in which they live) of “Nomadland,” or Lucy and Ricky (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez) in “The Long, Long Trailer” movie (1954), you can’t hit the road again.

Jacob, pausing between long drags on his cigarette, to survey his 50-acres and a mobile home, enlists the help of a neighbor, Paul (Will Patton), a born-again Christian who breaks into tongues and a holy-roller strut faster than you can say “exorcist.” Paul’s idea of a Sunday drive is dragging a huge wooden cross down a black-top road.

To make ends meet, so to speak, Jacob and Monica work as chicken sexers at a hatchery where they separate the desirable female chicks from the undesirable male chicks, with the latter unceremoniously incinerated. Chicken hatchery is a euphemism. Chicken mortuary would be more apt.

The family sends for maternal grandmother, Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn), who proves adept at teaching David how to play cards and to learn new swear words. The exasperated daughter can only seethe, muttering ironically, “It just gets worse and worse.”

The husband and wife reach a detente from their bitter bickering following a health scare of their son, David, who is treated gingerly because he was born with a hole in his heart. The family dutifully dines beneath a watchful velvet Jesus painting and worships Sundays at the local Christian church.

When grandmother is felled by a stroke, she lives, but in a greatly-diminished state, which leads to an even bigger tragedy. But that would be telling. No spoilers here. Can the family recover? Could any family bounce back? When all hope is gone, what can one hang onto?

“Minari” writer-director Lee Isaac Chung (director, “Abigail Harm,” 2012; “Lucky Life,” 2010; “Munyurangabo,” 2007) has said he drew from his experiences as a son of Korean immigrants who lived on a small farm in Arkansas for the screenplay. In this, “Minari” recalls the Oscar-winning “Roma,” by writer-director Alfonso Cuarón (best director, best foreign film, 2018), which also was a memory play on celluloid.

The cinematography by Director of Photography Lachlan Milne (TV’s “Stranger Things,” 2019-21) creates the sense of an unobtrusive documentary film about the family’s life.

The gently-insistent score with interesting sonic and vocal effects by Emile Mosseri (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco,” 2019) helps the movie soar.

Steven Yuen (TV’s “The Walking Dead,” 2010-16) is facile and believable as the father, Jacob, whose commitment to his farm and family is unquestionable.

Yeri Han as the wife, Monica, creates a tragic figure whose restraint is breathtaking.

Yuh-jung Youn as the grandmother, Soonja, is hilarious and charming and transitions into tragedy seamlessly.

The children, Noel Cho as Anne, and Alan S. Kim as David, are remarkable.

Will Patton is a hoot as the coot.

In view of the anti-Asian racism during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the modest film, “Minari,” takes on new proportions and importance. “Minari” is larger than life just because it is about life.

“Minari” can be interpreted as a metaphor for faith, even when all hope is gone. Hope comes and goes. Faith stays. “Minari” is a must-see.

“Minari,”

MPAA rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.) for some thematic elements and a rude gesture; Genre: Drama; Run time: 2 hrs. In Korean with English subtitles. Distributed by A24.

Credit Readers Anonymous:

“Minari” was produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, Inc. “Minari” premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it received the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award.

At the Movies:

“Minari” was seen at 4:30 p.m. March 27, Frank Banko Cinemas, ArtsQuest Center, SteelStacks, Bethlehem. COVID-19 mitigation protocol was in effect. The screening was nearly sold-out for the theater’s 15 percent of capacity allowed audience.

Oscar contender:

”Minari” has six nominations for the 93rd Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Yeun), Best Supporting Actress (Youn) and Best Original Score. “Minari” was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, Yuen was nominated for a lead actor SAG. Youn received a supporting actress SAG. The SAGs were telecast April 4.

Yeun is the first Asian-American and first person of East Asian descent to be nominated for a Best Actor Oscar.

With Chung receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Director and Chloé Zhao receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Director for “Nomadland,” it’s the first time two directors of East Asian descent have been nominated in the category in the same year.

“Minari” is the second Korean-language film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, following “Parasite,” which won the award in 2020.

Movie Box Office,

April 2 - 4: The dynamic monster duo, “Godzilla vs. Kong,” opened at No. 1, with $32.2 million for the weekend and $48.5 million since opening March 31, on 3,064 screens, approaching blockbuster numbers in the year of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The Unholy” debuted at No. 2 on the Christian Holy Weekend of Easter, with $3.2 million on 1,850 screens. “Nobody” dropped from No. 1 to No. 3, with $3 million on 2,567 screens, $11.8 million, two weeks.

4.“Raya and the Last Dragon,” dropped two places, $2 million, on 2,031 screens, $32.1 million, five weeks. 5. “Tom and Jerry” stayed in place, $1.4 million, on 2,273 screens, $39.5 million, six weeks. 6. “The Girl Who Believes in Miracles,” $580,068, on 640 screens, opening. 7. “The Courier” dropped two places, $452,201, on 1,322 screens, $4.2 million, three weeks. 8. “Chaos Walking” dropped four places, $380,000, on 1,605 screens, $12.2 million, five weeks. 9. “The Croods: A New Age” dropped three places, $210,000, on 1,212 screens, $56.3 million, 19 weeks. 10. “French Exit,” $193,428, on 483 screens, $200,509, eight weeks. 20. “The War with Grandpa,” co-starring Allentown’s Oakes Fegley, stayed in place, $27,172, on 288 screens, $21 million, 26 weeks, which is the longest-running movie now in the Top 25.

Box office figures from Box Office Mojo as of April 4 are subject to change.

Unreel,

April 9

“Voyagers,”

PG-13: Neil Burger directs Colin Farrell, Laura Dreyfuss, Tye Sheridan, Quintessa Swindell, Madison Hu, Lily-Rose Depp and Chante Adams in the Adventure, Science-Fiction, Thriller. A crew of astronauts on a multi-generational mission descend into paranoia because they don’t know what is real or not.

Movies opening information is from Internet Movie Database.

Five Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY A24 From left: Steven Yeun (Jacob), Alan S. Kim (David), Yuh-Jung Youn (Soonja), Yeri Han (Monica), Noel Cho (Anne), “Minari.”