South Korean director Kim Ki-duk brought his brand of excruciating emotion and troubling imagery to the Venice film festival Tuesday with his condemnation of extreme capitalism in "Pieta".
The film revolves around a brutal loan shark played by Lee Jung-jin who prowls the back alleys and small workshops of a central area of Seoul that is quickly going out of business and being replaced by skyscrapers.
Kim said at a press conference that he had been inspired by Michelangelo's famous "Pieta" statue in the Vatican of a Virgin Mary holding the corpse of her son Jesus Christ as well as the fallout from the current economic crisis.
"I've been to the Vatican twice to admire this masterpiece by Michelangelo. The image of this embrace has stayed with me for many years. For me it is an embrace of humanity," said the pony-tailed 51-year-old director.
"I feel that this movie in particular is a movie dedicated to humankind in a situation of a deep crisis in extreme capitalism," he said.
"There are three protagonists. The two actors and the third one is money."
Lee spoke of his apprehension when taking the part, saying: "I was a bit afraid because he works with darkness, with difficulty but it all went very well... I was not asked to play beautiful scenes but to play true scenes."
Lee's character is often compared to an infernal creature by his victims and he enforces a grim Faustian pact -- hobbling the artisans who cannot pay their debts in order to cash in on the insurance they have been forced to take out.
One day a woman claiming to be his mother walks into his life and he tries to change his ways in an emotional crescendo until an ending in which audiences are left wondering whether there can ever be redemption for such a cruel man.
Kim has won awards at the Berlin and Venice film festivals and is known for shooting quickly and on low budgets. This is his 18th feature film.
"Pieta" is one of 18 movies vying for this year's Golden Lion prize, which will be announced on Saturday.