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Minari has rather disappointingly seen itself shunted to the side of the best picture category by certain awards bodies who seem quite happily to nominate in the foreign language picture category despite it being, decidedly, one of the most American films of the last few years. It’s a brilliant, optimistic story that captures the essence of the American dream almost better than most of its ilk, acting as another commendable showcase for just how brilliant Steven Yeun has been ever since he raised his profile from The Walking Dead with the stellar mystery drama Burning. Here – he plays the parent of David, a seven-year-old Korean-American boy, and the wife of Monica, who is aghast by David’s decision to uproot their lifestyle to rural Arkansas in the middle of nowhere and end up on a house of wheels in which its last owner committed suicide. It’s a depressing start, with the arrival of David’s grandmother, who is as equally mischievous, arriving to throw a spanner in the works of Jacob’s plan.

The film has a natural, realistic vibe that makes its payoff in the second act all the more emotional and more endearing because you care about these characters first and foremost. It’s a tender approach to family, the realistic touches are given almost a storytelling feel by the powerful but restrained soundtrack by Emile Mosseri, who stands out as one of the most exciting composers currently working today following on from his near-perfect score for The Last Black Man In San Francisco. Here Mosseri opts for a more subdued tone in his score that feels befitting of the more specific nature of Minari, a collection of events that pay off on a broader scale. This is one of those movies that I’d have watched at the BFI Southbank on a Tuesday morning in normal times and not been able to shut up about it – watching it outside of the cinema doesn’t quite mean that it has the same impact, but as the opening film of Glasgow’s Virtual Film Festival, Minari still pays off something fierce, setting a bar that three days in, has not been matched by any contender (Reviews of The Mauritanian & Riders of Justice, two other films watched at the time of writing, are coming soon).

From the start, director Lee Isaac Chung gives both Monica and Jacob something to fight against – Jacob wants to move, Monica doesn’t – or at least, Monica doesn’t want to move to the middle of nowhere (“This isn’t what you promised” he’s warned) – and there are these minor touches of conflict that simmer under the surface of Minari, building and progressing as it advances. Chung doesn’t make any primary character the antagonist – giving every family member a sense of nuance and heart that makes them loveable and endearing. Child actor Alan Kim is remarkably gifted and a clear rising star, and the eccentricity of the film’s supporting characters go some way to make them memorable with Will Patton delivering a firecracker of a performance as the elderly Paul.

Sweet and gentle in its approach Minari skilfully navigates the lack of a need for conflict. Situated in the Ozark farmland it’s a film quite unlike most other Oscar favourites, driven by the memorable performance of Steven Yeun. Subtle touches across the board go a long way to making Minari’s location feel more like a home than a film set – the interior design of the house-on-wheels is beautifully detailed, with its own history developing – and although Minari doesn’t point out these moments across the board, they all add up to a truly rich experience. Out of all the Oscar favourites released so far in the UK – Minari might well be the best one.

Minari had its UK premiere at Glasgow Film Festival 2021.

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