Cannes Review: Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s ‘Broker’

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Esteemed Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda walks a fine line between keen social observation and overt sentimental emotionalism in Cannes competition title Broker.

Winner of the Palme d’Or in 2018 for Shoplifters and winner of the Jury Prize five years before that for Like Father Like Son, the writer-director once again displays great empathy for characters who are trying to put their lives in order, examining their predicaments from every possible angle and ultimately guiding them into a position where they can do the right thing. There is a bit of slackness in the storytelling here, a feeling of indulgence that some modest tightening might have helped, but it’s still a warm, often funny account of people finding their way through a tricky predicament.

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The opening is a virtually automatic audience grabber that triggers emotional reactions from the outset: Late at night, a baby is dropped off at a big city care facility with an attached note which reads, “I’ll be back for you.” Quite in spite of proper protocol, the two workers on call, Sang-hyun and Dong-soo, decide to take the sprig home with them, which begins a physical and emotional odyssey that spreads across an engaging but leisurely two-plus hours and stirs up equal amounts of amusement and emotion.

In short order, however, the mother, So-yung, a sullen and extremely attractive young woman, has a change of heart and returns to collect her baby, only to learn the kid has already been discharged. The situation quickly escalates, with authorities becoming involved, and the film morphs into an idiosyncratic road movie that finds everyone involved grappling with their own issues of parenthood, responsibilities, wrong roads taken, second thoughts and all manner of human foibles.

The men’s mission for quite a while is to sell the baby, which evidently would not be illegal given its official orphan status, and this leads to a sort of audition process for adoption that proceeds in fits and starts. The discussions and arguments that take place fill up a good deal of open road time, and at length the characters expand into dimensional figures decked out with their own desires, shortcomings and changes of heart.

Broker may not be a deep movie, but it is one that stays in close touch with human frailties, emotional elasticity, a vast range of temperments and the hopes and desires of people who have been set in their societal roles for a long time. Change may well be difficult and socially restricted, but the film embraces the idea that its characters can evolve emotionally and seek outcomes they might not have previously considered.

Despite the urgency that multiple characters feel about the outcome of their slow-motion chase, there is a leisurely feel about the enterprise that allows them to consider their mixed feelings, conflicting emotions and future intentions in a realistic way; when certain characters make what might feel like sudden major decisions, we can genuinely also feel that they’ve been stewing and weighing the issues for a good long time. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re right, but we can feel that thought and deliberation have been switched on.

The performances are uniformly alive and the characters fully inhabited, with genuine satisfaction to be had from the whole-cloth nature of the proceedings. It feels well lived in.

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