Sunday, December 25, 2022

Kore-eda’s Broker

If you peruse the list of past Cannes Ecumenical Jury Award winners, some of them might look a little forced. The truth is it can be tough to find films that express the experiences and concerns of the Christian communities of faith in major film fests, but Japanes auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda’s latest film was a fitting selection. It might just be the most pro-life film ever—especially since it was not conceived with the American Evangelical market in mind. More importantly, it is a profoundly moving film that also won the Cannes best actor award for Parasite’s Song Kang-ho. For his character, every unwanted baby has value, especially those he can facilitate black market adoptions for in Kore-eda’s Broker, which opens tomorrow in New York.

After helming his first film in France with
The Truth, Kore-eda shifts to the current cultural capitol of the world, South Korea, for a tale inspired by the controversial baby boxes, designed to safely accept unwanted babies, no questions asked. The vast majority of such babies are placed in adopted home. However, when the mother leaves a note promising to return, they are sent to an orphanage instead—as sort of an escrow arrangement. The thing is the mothers almost never really return, consigning their abandoned foundlings to orphan-limbo. “For the sake of the babies,” part-time church employee Dong-soo erases the records of those babies deposited with maternal notes, so baby-broker Ha Sang-hyeon can facilitate a black-market adoption—for a fee of course.

Moon So-young is the exception. The morning after leaving her baby, she returns to reclaim him. Fortunately, He and Ha manage to intercept her. In his regular life, Ha is a workaday hand launderer, but he is sufficiently persuasive to talk Moon out of making trouble. In fact, he convinces her to help screen prospective parents for her baby. However, on the first stop of their road trip, they pay a visit to the orphanage that raised Dong-soo.

As a result, Moon starts to understand his ill-concealed resentment towards her. They also pick up a young stowaway, Hae-jin, who secretly joins their journey out of a need for belonging. It is actually a caravan if you include the two women are hot on their trail. Soo-jin and her junior colleague are detectives hoping to catch Ha and Dong-soo in the act.

exemplifies the humanism and forgiveness found in all of Kore-eda’s very best films. The emotional pay-off lands brutally hard, but it never indulges in cheap sentimentality. Kore-eda does not serve up a conventionally “happy ending,” but he still takes viewers to a very uplifting place. This is one of Kore-eda’s best films to date, ranking alongside the classic After Life. It is a shame it is not getting the critical acclaim it warrants, probably because of its pro-life implications.

Rest assured, Kore-eda’s screenplay is never didactic, but over and over, his characters argue every baby deserves a chance. Honestly, if the Evangelical community does not embrace
Broker, then go ahead and call them dumb philistines.

Of course, that also makes
Broker a very Korean film, given the growing strength of Evangelical Protestantism in Korea. This film is lightyears different from Parasite, but both films are anchored by the blue-collar everyman characters played by Song Kang-ho. There are hundreds of films featuring a slick operator who also has a heart for the less fortunate, but rarely has that duality been so compellingly portrayed.

Likewise, the initial friction and slow romantic thaw that transpires between Moon and Dong-soo sounds familiar, but Kore-eda has it unfold in realistically messy, halting, and incomplete ways. Everything about
Broker rings true, even though it might have read as contrived or cliched on the printed script-page. That is particularly true of Bae Doona’s work as Det. Soo-jin, which really drives the final point home during the bittersweet third act.

is a great film from a great filmmaker. For some reason Shoplifters became his breakout hit, but this film resonates much more deeply. Broker is a beautiful film, because it is so heartfelt and so truthful in its characters’ imperfections. Very highly recommended, Broker opens tomorrow (12/26) at the IFC Center. Merry Christmas.