Film Journal 2023: Broker (Directed By Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Where to watch: Mcgilvary Cineplex, Cinemateque
If you are not yet familiar with the work of Kore-eda, one of the best living filmmakers of our present day, do yourself a favor and experience the sheer emotional and inspirational brevity of some of his most celebrated works. While the awards attention garnered by 2018’s Shoplifters helped with bringing his name into the spotlight of celebrated international works, films like Like Father, Like Son, After the Storm After Life, I Wish, and even the grossly underrated The Truth, his first foray into English language features, are films made to break you in all the right ways.
Thematic throughlines and touchpoints defined by moral complexity, along with storied scores and rich casts of characters defined in some way shape or form by the idea of family, found family on the margins being a favorite, seem to be the true mark of his cinematic presence, and true to form Broker delves deep into these different aspects by utilizing a fresh concept. The opening scene of the film is framed by the towering and luminous presence of a church tower before the camera drags our sight lines downwards to a box that occupies space beside the church doors. Visually this brings together the moral and social concern of the films basic premise. It’s a baby box, designed to encourage those unable or unwanting to care for their newborn to safely pass their child into the care of social services under the safety of anonymity.
What we quickly realize is that two of the church workers tasked with monitoring this box are engaged in a practice that could only be described as human trafficking. They take particular babies and, instead of bringing them into the care of social services, they erase video evidence and search for potential parents by way of desperate couples or individuals in positions where they are unable to afford traditional adoption costs and are unable to conceive. The film follows one particular child and the accidental relationship that transpires between the birth mother and the black market dealers after she returns to retrieve her child and stumbles upon their backroom enterprise.
If this sounds like a somehat shocking and disconcerting premise, rest assured that even with me outlining the opening moments of this film, everything about the way these scenes are constructed is designed to leave us unsettled and uncertain and confused. This is precisely where Kore-eda’s deeply formed penchant for writing moral ambiguity and nuance into his characters is able to take root. We know what they are doing is wrong, and yet at the same time Kore-eda challenges our potential and desire to judge these people out of hand. And the more time we spend with them the more compassion we are able to form, deftly shifting that unsettled feeling on to the system and the reality itself.
Cleverly positioned contrasts in the plot help connect these stories, each different and each intersecting in their own way, within this question of the inherent worth and value of life itself. Never far away from the question of this mother abandoning her baby, a question that in itself is submitted to the nuance of the films moral concern, is the question of these peope each feeling abandoned by the world in their own way. It is this juxtaposition that begins to break down some of the very real walls between their stories, gradually giving birth to this messy and complicated portrait of found family.
It’s worth noting that Kore-eda affords equal time to the two government workers who are tracking their endeavors, looking to capture evidence and charge them for illegal activity. It is actually through these two characters that we as viewers are able to find the permission to second guess what a right judgment of these people might be. What they are doing is wrong, and yet there are notes of grace and beauty that permeate the sheer reality of that which what they are doing ultimately serves- finding homes for babies with parents who desperately want one. Even the two agents, whom are used to structure the story as a kind of fun detective-criminal chase story, don’t quite seem to know what the right answer is, and this proves a powerful sentiment in what is a deep and profound exploration of what it is to be human in a complicated world. To hear the words “I’m glad you were born” is not something the film simply assumes or takes for granted, and yet the fact that it imagines that somewhere in the shadows this sentence holds a necessary power is part of the films deeply felt sense of hope.
Shout out as well to the films astute use of humor and the most charming and winsome child performance I’ve seen in a long while. For as heavy as these themes are the film proves a pure joy and delight.