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.

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!