“Broker”: A bittersweet fable about family

What defines the family? Is it determined by blood ties or is it rather made up of people who choose and protect each other, who take care of each other? These fundamental questions are at the heart of the work of Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda, who has made them the starting point for his masterpieces. Nobody Knows (2004) and A family matter (2018) winner of the Palme d’Or.

This theme of great philosophical and emotional complexity allows the Japanese director to jump with both feet into what he does best: sketch, from a melodramatic and somewhat far-fetched plot, nuanced, complex characters and realists, who alone embody the vast contradictions and wounds of the world.

baby boxes

With brokerhis most recent offering, the Japanese filmmaker chose to set his story — perhaps to demonstrate the universality of his questions — in South Korea, where the phenomenon he wanted to exploit, the baby boxes (baby boxes), is quite common.

This judicious choice also allowed him to work for the first time with Korean actor Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder, Parasite)who won the Best Actor award at Cannes for this role and whose talent for embodying simple and sympathetic buggers, carrying a diffuse but overwhelming emotional charge, fits perfectly with his universe.

On a rainy night, a young woman (IU) places her baby at the foot of a church, outside the “baby box” set up there to collect abandoned children. Two policewomen, stationed nearby, place the child in the box, where he is found by Ha Sang-hyeon (Song Kang-ho) and his accomplice, Dong-soo (Gang Dong-won), two traffickers who operate a market illegal adoption.

Their plan is thwarted when the child’s mother returns to hear from him. Discovering their embezzlement, she decides to join their journey to choose the parents of her son herself. Their caravan will also be joined by a highly intelligent orphaned kid (Lim Seung-so) who dreams of being adopted and having a real family.

From this premise steeped in greed and heartbreak, Kore-eda pulls a surprisingly luminous film, tinged with the hope that tenderness, friendship and childhood inspire. Despite some somewhat eye-catching passages, the director is never complacent when faced with the moral dilemmas and heartbreaks his characters encounter, in which, despite extraordinary situations, it is impossible not to project oneself.

The lack of coherence of the story – particularly of the ending – may make more than one wince, but this downside is in reality very little important in this tragicomic fable, whose staging and naturalistic and refined acting leave all the room for emotions and empathy. A welcome sweetness.


★★★ 1/2

Drama by Hirokazu Kore-eda. With Song Kang-ho, Gang Dong-won, Bae Doo-na and IU. South Korea, 2023, 129 minutes.

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“Broker”: A bittersweet fable about family

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