IFFI 2019 Day 4: Parasite - One film, this year, to rule them all
The columnist writes about his experiences of Day 4 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India 2019 in Goa
If you’re reasonably interested in cinema and are on social media, there’s no escaping the hype around South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite. It’s not hard to see why this is. It has a 99 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes on a couple of hundred reviews so far. It has won the biggest honour, the Palme d’Or, at the Cannes, this year. It’s South Korea’s submission for the Academy Awards under the international film category. Typically, when a film gets praised to the skies and back as Parasite has been, the actual experience can sometimes seem tainted by it. Now, after having watched the film on day 4 of IFFI, Goa, I can, without hesitation, proclaim that this film is everything it’s made out to be… and as incredible as it is to say it, more.
Parasite is an explosive bundle of surprises. It’s impossible to predict where it’s headed, although if you have a strong eye for metaphors, you may identify a thread or two. Among other things, it’s about class struggle, it’s about subtle discrimination by those who don’t seem aware they exercise it. In a film about such sobering matters, it’s incredible that Bong Joon-ho gets you laughing with some of the best black humour I have experienced in cinema.
In my last column in this space, I had discussed the despicable Thenardier couple from Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. The Kim family in this film are pretty much them in character, even if not in class—which, I suppose you could say, makes all the difference. Kim’s wife is convinced about this anyway when she points out that it’s easy to be nice when you are wealthy. As the Kims connive and con their way into the wealthy residence of the Parks (Kim’s wife notes with admiration that her daughter could become a successful con-woman), it’s astonishing how much fun you have, how much force this film exerts. The deserving get pushed into misery, a family spins a web of lies and deceit… and it, inexplicably, makes for glorious entertainment. In the presence of squalor and poverty and discrimination, you almost feel guilty for enjoying yourself as much, but it’s impossible not to. In one of the film’s best sequences, a woman’s allergy gets taken advantage of. The slow-mo visuals and the Western classical music unite to tell you why sometimes, it feels like no art can be as enjoyable as cinema.
For those who dig metaphors and interpretations, Parasite is a gold mine. As this film hasn’t had a comprehensive global release yet, I’m restricting myself from dissecting too much of its metaphorical significance, which will no doubt lead to many hours of conversation. The film’s characters themselves use the word, ‘metaphor’, quite a few times. The relevance of the title, of course, is plastered all across the film in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. In some scenes, you will spot characters crawling like creatures. You will see some surviving on scraps, some surviving on the wealth of others, some quite willing to shed shame for survival. It’s a thing of great beauty how beautifully metaphor and surface entertainment enjoy a symbiotic relationship in this film about symbiotic relationships.
This is a tour de force by a filmmaker who displays complete mastery over the cinematic medium. You shouldn’t be able to make people laugh while characters con and pilfer, but Bong Joon-ho does. You shouldn’t be able to interpret a metaphor as literally as it’s done in the film, and to such profound effect, but he does. You shouldn’t be able to make such sudden leaps from one genre to another without causing the audience unease, but he does. Parasite is a stunning achievement, and I cannot wait for this masterpiece to get all the worldwide adulation it deserves when it gets a wider release. You know that proud grin you wear when introducing people to art you love? In a few months, that’s the grin you will see on me.