Hirokazu Kore-eda’s broker enters the gray world of the black market

Five years after winning the Palme d’Or for Shopliftersthe japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda is back on the Croisette with his latest film, shooting in South Korea Brokerwho, just like Shopliftersconcerns foundlings and makeshift families living on the margins of the law. Broker premiered on the penultimate day of screenings here at the festival, and it’s well worth the wait. Sweet, sad and funny in a bit shy way, Broker continues the Kore-eda tradition of treating difficult subjects with a light touch.

The title of the film refers to an illegal trade: the sale of babies on the black market, to circumvent the bureaucratic and financial headaches of legal adoption. The film opens with a young woman, So-young (Lee Ji Eun), as she leaves her baby in front of a so-called “baby box” at a church in Busan, where unwilling or unable mothers can anonymously leave their children in the care of the church. Most of these children end up in orphanages, awaiting adoptions that may never come. So-young’s baby, Woo-sung, has a different fate.

He is intercepted by two baby brokers: debt-ridden dry cleaner Sang-hyun (Song Kang Ho) and his young partner, Dong-soo (Gang Dong Wan), who was himself an orphan. What they are doing is deeply illegal and they have to do some sneaky things to complete their operation. But there is also a sliver of genuine selflessness in their motivation. They prefer to see babies immediately placed in the care of parents rather than becoming wards of the state for an unknown period of time. They do good, in a way, they rationalize. Unbeknownst to them, a flint cop, Su-jin (Doona Bae), and his partner are on their trail, a slow-paced cat-and-mouse chase that transports this cast of characters — all suffering in some way — on a road trip through Korea.

One can imagine this setup in an American indie and almost hear the squeaky aphorisms about parenthood and childhood, the too-precocious dialogue written for child actors, the squicky moral lessons. But Kore-eda is a more modest, thoughtful filmmaker than that. It keeps a little miraculously Broker to fall into an eccentric sentimentality, although this potential is omnipresent. There’s even a cute, soccer-obsessed orphan boy who joins Sang-hyn, Dong-soo, and So-young on their journey to sell the baby, and somehow he just add more liveliness and bonhomie to the proceedings.

It’s certainly an interesting time in American civic life to sit down and watch a movie about babies in which abortion is only mentioned a few times, and usually in a serious tone. There are times in Broker when I thought I had detected the slightest glimmer of a conservative streak in the cinema, a moral outlook that puts unprepared mothers to shame. The characters express things like this in the film, but Kore-eda, at the end, makes a simple but important point clear: these questions are complex and there really are no good answers beyond doing what is the best possible for everyone. involved.

Just like in Shopliftersthere’s a bittersweet resolve in Broker, but not one that is in any way tidy. Hearts were broken, lives were changed. It is in this disorder, in the tolerance and understanding of Kore-eda, that the film finds its true empathy. Conclusions about bromides and pats would be too smarmy or glib, dismissive of the finely textured characters Kore-eda has rendered on screen.

The film is full of wondrous details, from the parade of meals Su-jin swallows while on watch, to a startling and poignant scene that evokes, of all the films that could be conjured up, Paul Thomas Andersonit is Magnolia. Embraced by warm Kore-eda visuals, the cast works in beautiful harmony, believable playing weary people struggling to find the right thing to do. Bae is particularly magnetic in her supporting role – I’d happily watch a whole series about her no-frills detective.

Perhaps I was too glamorous by the softness and kindness of Kore-eda’s approach to fairly consider this slight pressure of harsh moralizing I detected here and there in the film. Perhaps these issues are too serious in the real world to receive this shaggy, laid-back treatment. But based on my viewing alone, Broker is one of the highlights of Cannes this year. It is a crowd pleaser that causes these crowds to reflect, to consider the many teeming lives of others, as they laugh and sigh.

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