Hundreds of films screen every year at the Sydney Film Festival and you can’t always rely on the best one, or close to it, getting it’s dues.
Graciously this was far from the case in 2019 with Parasite, fresh off it’s Palme d’Or win, garnering the Sydney Film Prize.
Heralding Bong Joon-ho’s return to the Festival following Snowpiercer and 2017’s Closing Night feature Okja, Parasite beats them all. As shrewdly named a film as any for reasons one cannot go into too greatly without spoilers, the Director was wise to request viewers tread carefully with plot details.
Suffice to say, his latest chronicles a Korean family; mum, dad, daughter and son, seeking employment. Living below street level in a filthy alley and re-folding pizza boxes to make ends meet, one child soon fools their way into becoming a tutor for one of the two Park children; members of a much wealthier, similarly nuclear family. Not the only one intent on income and ingratiating themselves with the Parks, members of the struggling family have similar ideas.
A heist film, a shocker, a drama, a comedy and a horror that plays many of it’s most terrifying beats for laughs, the unique genre fusions of all things settle primarily on being a family film. A plot that could just as well have delivered a PG comedy had it gone for a different tone in it’s final acts (unusually, there are four), Parasite is most essentially about the ties that bind and how families, despite any tensions, are drawn together in overcoming difficulty and in this case extreme circumstances.
The Sneakers of family movies (which too albeit had a strong familial element), the second act takes on a calculated, hilarious approach to the individual family members realising where they need to get to and what they’ve got to do to make it happen. With the third act quickly pivoting into thriller-comedy territory, it would be remiss to discuss in even vague terms the events on which this story turns or the brilliant, resounding fourth act; emerging as this film’s most memorable.
Curiously, Parasite could just as well have ended on the conclusion of its third portion in light of this segment’s searing and patently biblical significance. Thankfully, however, proceedings continued.
Beyond that discussed Parasite remains a considered class drama as we witness the disparities between the families; the film taking steps to convey the recognisable divide that was too very much the subtext of, for instance, H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine. With Wells famously illustrating the issues through use of a clever if none too subtly-stated metaphor, Parasite manages that analogous to Wells’ output with greater creativity; seamlessly rendering that thematic into the narrative in abounding, practical ways.
In this respect it is especially interesting to compare Parasite with Jordan Peele’s Us, released only months prior, which similarly focused on two mirror nuclear families of four who had experienced very different lives. The comparisons don’t stop there, and again, not going to spoil this movie, but the heavily overstated metaphor which Peele pursues is rendered, unlike in Us, pragmatically within the narrative to the extent that Parasite can be enjoyed purely for its dramatic bona fides absent any emphasis, immaculate as it is, on that symbolic.
Parasite too does well to not elaborate on class discrimination as singularly dimensional, with the blatant actions of more than one of the Parks contrasting heavily with some of the subtle, heedless behaviour by family members who would just as well believe they are being gracious.
Predictably, the film is beautifully shot, making exceptional use of the open plan production design to produce uncommon, gorgeous depth within the relatively confined space of the Park’s home. Piling in seemingly inconsequential asides and clues only to reveal their relevance in the traditions of the best thriller fiction, Parasite welcomely treats it’s audience with a great deal of intelligence. The film recognises which story turns are evident, sagely choosing to emphasise that affecting about these moments rather than gratuitously treating them as shocking twists, as it fairly does some other instances.
For Parasite’s faults, there is but one that emerges as bothersome. The premises of so many films depend, if you dig just a little, on one accepting one happenstance or another or a character not imparting some necessary piece of information. In this case, in the broadest terms, the final acts would not have taken place had an off-screen individual told the Parks of a key aspect of an item which our wealthy family purchases. Yes an explanation is provided but it just doesn’t hold up and you’d expect in any circumstance that it is something that would be raised and of which the Park family would be aware.
In any matter it is a most minor detraction of a masterful cinematic endeavour and a contender for the best film of 2019.