Minari: A fascinating love-letter to the nostalgia of turbulent times

Minari: Film Poster
Rachit Raj
Rachit Raj

6 Oscar nominations, winner of Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language 6 BAFTA nominations including winner of Best Supporting Actress, MINARI is a film that explores The American Dream, nostalgia and plight of a migrant. The film has released in theaters in India today. Here Rachit Raj gives you a first day first show review of the film. Rachit prefers to be called a film critic by accident, an academician by design, and a storyteller by choice.

Minari: Film Poster

There is something magical about ace filmmakers revisiting their childhood and telling semi-autobiographical stories of hope, despair, and diaspora that seem to carry a soul that speaks to our own memories of the time and people gone by. There is something more authentic about these films, making them emotionally raw. In Minari, like Roma, we see a moment in the life of Lee Isaac Chung that he turns into the basis of his fascinating new film about migration, xenophobia, and family.

Right from the word go, Chung establishes that his concerns lie only with the family that the story is focusing on. The Yi family is fresh in the United States of America, having migrated from South Korea. Jacob (Steven Yeun) is a dedicated dreamer of a breadwinner. His belief in the Great American Dream reeks of a Hollywood protagonist, finding it hard to sustain the artistic bravado amidst the challenged reality of his life. His wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) is more of a realist, and hence more scared of their future as a young family. Their kids, Anne (Noel Kate), and David (Alam Kim) are passive witness of their parents’ tremulous relationship. It is not pretty, but it is the compromise that comes with being an economically unstable migrant in 1980’s America.

A still from the film Minari

The story follows these four characters as Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) joins them, leading to some of the most memorable moments in the film. Chung infuses the film with some genuinely heartfelt moments while maintaining a light-hearted tone. David, the little boy with a heart condition provides some wonderful bits in scenes with the grandmother, while also emphasizing on the need and value of sticking together in a foreign land.

Minari has a bright-eyed look of a young, exuberant boy, which makes the green of the grass an interesting contrast to the lives these characters are living. There are moments of xenophobia – best represented in a scene where a white-skinned boy says to David that his face is too flat – but the film remains true to the family. The politics is in the mundane, Chung realizes. For a family like the Yi family, survival is all that matters. The parents are unconcerned of holding on to their Korean roots, while the grandmother gives the kids a piece of their roots by planting minari, giving the film its title in the process, too.

A still from the film Minari

Chung explores the fractured idealism of the American Dream and the plight of migrants without turning the gaze morose. At best, he keeps the film observational. The little moments matter here, as if they form the highlights of a childhood memory that is now remembered more by the smell of season change, and the touch of minari, than the bigger tragedies that the elders are taking care of. Minari is a fascinating love-letter to the nostalgia of turbulent times. It is a wonderful example of how memory and nostalgia helps soften the harshest of stories, if only you look at the minari, the beautiful farm, and the idealism in the eyes of the father, instead of focusing on disease, depression, and a draining sense of failure, that may well lead to a film very different from the one that we get here.

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