Archives for February 2020

Parasite; mmnah


There’s noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly wrong with Par­a­site, the sev­enth film from South Kore­an film mak­er Bong Joon-ho. And, had it arrived under the radar, as it were, much as his fourth film, Moth­er, did in 2009, then very prob­a­bly it could have been for­giv­en its many glar­ing inconsistencies.

Sure, it’s about half an hour too long. And, like Moth­er (not to be con­fused with Dar­ren Aronofsky’s exe­crable Moth­er!, with an excla­ma­tion mark, reviewed by me ear­li­er here), it can’t make up its mind whether it’s a dark com­e­dy, a creepy thriller, or a social satire – cant it be all three, you ask? On which, more anon. 

Depar­dieu in Les Valseuses.

And sure, it’s the sort of film that Bertrand Bli­er was mak­ing eons ago, but with much more verve and brio. Films like Les Valseuses (limply trans­lat­ed as Going Places) from 1974, Buf­fet froid from ’79 and Tenue de soirée from ’86. All of which starred Gérard Depar­dieu in all his pomp, and which all dis­played, not to put too fine a point on it, con­sid­er­ably more balls.

But it didn’t. Par­a­site arrived gar­land­ed, anoint­ed and ver­i­ly fes­tooned, blaz­ing a trail of un-checked praise.

That it should have won the Acad­e­my award for Best Film is very much par for the course. It’s exact­ly the sort of skin deep, un-demand­ing social satire that the Acad­e­my likes to pat itself on the back for applaud­ing. What’s much more sur­pris­ing is that they should have giv­en the nod to the gen­uine­ly edgy Moon­light (reviewed by me here) three years previously.

Tim Rob­bins in The Play­er.

But it’s baf­fling that the grown ups at Cannes should have been equal­ly wowed, albeit in a par­tic­u­lar­ly weak year. Mind you, they gave the Palme d’Or to The Square in 2017, which was sim­i­lar­ly unfocused.

So, what’s wrong with being a dark com­e­dy, a creepy thriller, and a social satire? Well, noth­ing. It can be done, as with Scorsese’s The King of Com­e­dy (’82), David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (‘90) and Twin Peaks (’92- present) and Robert Altman’s The Long Good­bye (‘73) and The Play­er (‘92). All of which of course were com­plete­ly over­looked by the Academy. 

You just need to answer the three fun­da­men­tal ques­tions that all sto­ries must answer; whose sto­ry is it? What do they want? And what’s stop­ping them?

The Long Good­bye,

So whose sto­ry is being told in Par­a­site? To begin with, it’s the son’s. Then, 20 min­utes in, it switch­es to his sis­ter. Then his father. Then it’s a mix of all four, their moth­er now join­ing them. Before final­ly revert­ing to the son once more. This does not pro­duce a whim­si­cal mix­ing of gen­res and a delight­ful flit­ting hith­er and thith­er. It’s all just a bit of a mess.

If we don’t know whose sto­ry it is, we can’t know what they want, and what there­fore is stop­ping them from get­ting it. So we’ve nobody to root for, and there’s no way for us to get emo­tion­al­ly engaged, so there’s noth­ing at stake. This is not some option­al extra. It’s the very foun­da­tion upon which all sto­ries are built.

Lau­ra Palmer, Twin Peaks.

Not that any of this should real­ly have come as a sur­prise. After all, before mak­ing Moth­er, Boon hooked up with Michel Gondry and Leos Carax, two of the most incon­se­quen­tial and insub­stan­tial film mak­ers to have ever come out of France, to make Tokyo! (08) together.

Let’s hope nobody intro­duces poor Boon to Ter­rence Mal­ick and the afore­men­tioned Aronof­sky, America’s answer to messers Gondry and Carax. Per­ish the thought.

You can see the trail­er for Par­a­site here.

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HBO’s Our Boys

Our Boys is the sort of thing many peo­ple will feel they ought to try and see, rather than some­thing that they actu­al­ly want to watch. Well, I’m hap­py to report, though per­fect­ly under­stand­able giv­en its sub­ject mat­ter, that ret­i­cence is entire­ly unwarranted.

Co-cre­at­ed by the Israeli showrun­ner Hagai Levi, who’d pre­vi­ous­ly made In Treat­ment, and the Pales­tin­ian writer, Taw­fik Abu-Wael, Our Boys was picked up and shown on HBO, and was met by almost uni­ver­sal acclaim.

Pre­dictably, hard­lin­ers on either side of the Israeli Arab divide were equal­ly furi­ous, offend­ed and out­raged. Which, need­less to say, strong­ly sug­gests the show hits absolute­ly the right note.

The sto­ry that the dra­ma depicts takes place at a very spe­cif­ic moment in time. Three Jew­ish boys have been kid­napped and mur­dered by Pales­tini­ans, but Our Boys begins in the imme­di­ate after­math of that hor­rif­ic event. 

In oth­er words, it doesn’t focus on the deaths of the three Israelis, but on the kid­nap­ping, killing and burn­ing of the Pales­tin­ian boy that a trio of fanat­i­cal Israelis take their revenge on.

Our Boys.

What’s so grip­ping and end­less­ly fas­ci­nat­ing about the show is the way it delin­eates each of the lay­ers that sub-divide both sets of com­mu­ni­ties. Giv­ing each and every fac­tion its own weight, and its char­ac­ters a chance to explain them­selves from their points of view.

Despite focus­ing on two very nar­row tracts of land on either side of what is effec­tive­ly the cur­rent board­er, each com­mu­ni­ty is end­less­ly split with­in its own walls. So there is the divide amongst the “set­tlers”, between the Ashke­naz­im and the Mizrahim. 

And then between the more, and the less pious, in both of those groups. And, amongst that for­mer group, between those who are more peace­ably inclined, and those who feel that enough is enough, and an eye demands an eye, as the bible clear­ly states.

Gabriel Byrne in HBO’s remake of In Treat­ment.

Like­wise, amongst the Pales­tini­ans, the boy’s father wants to press the Israeli police for jus­tice and attend the court pro­ceed­ings that fol­low, once the per­pe­tra­tors have been appre­hend­ed. But all that does, he is angri­ly told, is to acknowl­edge the Israeli’s right to juris­dic­tion over them, and to absolve them of the con­tin­ued and per­pet­u­al mis­treat­ment that the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple are for­ev­er the sub­ject of at their hands.

What’s so depress­ing, and of course so famil­iar for any­one who’s ever spent any time north of Dun­dalk, is that, despite all these sub­tle and nuanced dis­tinc­tions, absolute­ly every dis­cus­sion, con­ver­sa­tion, argu­ment and fight ends up being about one thing. Either you’re with us, or you’re with them. Which is as true for the Israelis as it is for the Palestinians.

Ulti­mate­ly, the show tri­umphs by refus­ing not mere­ly to take sides, but to in any way judge. The result is a series that is con­tin­u­al­ly illu­mi­nat­ing and end­less­ly gripping.

You can see the trail­er to HBO’s Our Boys here. And you can read the slight­ly longer appraisal in Har­retz, the admit­ted­ly lib­er­al (in the con­text of Israeli pol­i­tics) jour­nal here

Sign up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every month on All the very best and worst in film, tele­vi­sion and music!