Wednesday 22 May 2019

Cannes 2019 - Parasite by Bong Joon-ho

Of Parasite, barely anything was known apart from its mysterious and intriguing posters and succinct synopsis. Was it going to be a social satire, a genre film, what surprises were in store? After a consistently interesting career that brought him to the attention of the Western world, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho made two films in America with a variable level of success. Snowpiercer was a bit of a misfire in my humble opinion, lacking the impact of his previous work and Okja was a pleasant fable that became an unfortunate symbol of the "conflict" between the Cannes Film Festival and Netflix (one that was orchestrated by click-baity outlets).

Parasite is a tricky film to review as it is not easy to assess how much of the story one should reveal. In it, we are introduced to two very different families, the Kim, who live in a barely salubrious basement flat while trying to ebb a living with whatever part time job the members can come across. The Park on the other hand live a successful life free of any constraint and conflict in a stunning house. When the son of the Kim family stumble upon a chance opportunity to become the tutor of the Kin's youngest son, at the cost of a white lie, their paths which never never destined to meet become irresistibly intertwined.

With such a summary, you might expect Parasite to be about class wars (and its provocative title also hints at that) and it certainly is, to an extent. It is interesting that yet again after last year Lee Chang-dong's Burning, the issue is being tackled. Except that, unlike what we have recently seen in Ken Loach's cinema that has become so didactic, neither film directors forgets about cinema in the process. With Parasite Bong Joon-ho delivers a unique and striking, a razor sharp black comedy full of surprises, whose social conscience never overtakes its artistic values.

I have quite simply rarely seen an audience of journalist react in such a way at a press screening in Cannes, cheering, gasping, clapping... The South Korean director masterfully pulls the strings, each scene, each shot carefully set up to maximum effect, pulling the rug under us, leaving us wonder where this could possibly be going. There are some outrageously hilarious scenes, one in particular in which members of the Kim family desperately tries to hide in the Park's house where they shouldn't be as the owners return earlier than planned, one that is the funniest thing I have seen in a long time.

But the South Korean is very careful not to make it all so simplistic and finds just to right balance to make his characters come across as fairly unlikeable while still making us care for the proceeding. "I would be nice too if I had the life of the Park" is the damning verdict from the Kim matriarch. But while the Park are the sort of friendly and seemingly open wealthy family, they never let their "inferiors" forget who they are.

There is a lot to say about opportunities in society and far from showing the Kim as a family of opportunists and crooks, the film actually finds them managing them pretty well when giving the chance, not excelling but still a far cry from when the only opportunity they had was assemble pizza boxes for a pittance.

A ferocious upstairs/downstairs satire that is full of surprises and of so much cinema, Parasite would make a bold pick for an award this year.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Official Selection, In Competition

Star rating: 

Parasite. South Korea 2019. Directed by Bong Joon-Ho. Starring Song Kang-ho, Park So-dam...

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