Once Upon a Time in..Cannes: Parasite

Historically, the first week of the Cannes Film Festival draws the most attention, but the 72nd Edition this year proved that the second week was the standout semaine. With Tarantino in town alongside his dazzling entourage of stars, his premiere of Once Upon a Time in.. Hollywood was set for 21st May, twenty five years to the date that Pulp Fiction premiered at the Palais. His self-proclaimed love letter to that bygone era of Hollywood nostalgia was one of the most sought after tickets on the Croisette. It drew one of the largest crowds for the red carpet, and in the end over 50 members of the press with tickets were turned away. Tarantino truly was back again and many critics have had nothing but praise for his ninth film.

The red carpet cleared out and the crowds dispersed for the afternoon, returning only later that evening for the premiere of Parasite, or Gisaengchung in Korean. The project directed by Joon Ho Bong, was another hot ticket on the festival schedule. The following morning, I sat in the second row of the Grand Theatre Lumiere at 8.30am for the second screening, the theatre packed to the brim with people who wanted to see what all the buzz was about the previous night.

Bong offers up a deliciously suspenseful thriller, taking the audience on a dizzying, but orchestrated and commanded ride. He introduces us to a nuclear South Korean family, living in an impoverished, street-level abode. Through a superb opening sequence we follow the son Ki-Woo around their home trying to find the elusive wi-fi connection, and we’re introduced to his older sister, father and mother. By chance, Ki-Woo’s college educated friend is giving up his tutoring job for a wealthy family as he moves abroad. As we’ll find, Ki-Woo is well-adept at chancing his arm and takes any opportunity that comes his way. He swoops in to offer his services as an English tutor to the Parks family.

Living in a modern, LA-style style mansion, the Parks family welcome Ki-Woo in. He observes the family dynamic; Mr Parks is the wealthy businessman, Mrs Parks is the fashionable, overbearing mother, Da Hye Park is the moody and entitled teenage daughter, while Da Song Park is the erratic young son. Ki-Woo spots the gap in the market to exploit, taking aim at the help that the family employ. In clever and cunning sequences, Ki-Woo and his family infiltrate the family dynamic without the Parks knowing; his father becoming their chauffeur, his mother their housekeeper, and his sister their expressionist art teacher. They use their streetwise guile to replace the incumbent servants using dirty tactics. While the Parks family, so detached from reality in their bubble of wealth, are all too receptive and naive to do anything but let these people in. Eventually we reach a point where one family is essentially transposed onto another, the result of which is a fascinating exploration of the deep-seated class-divide.

Bong’s handling of the material is key to the overall result of the film. He reigns the audience in with clever humour, before leading us down a twisted garden path, unearthing the ugliness of human nature. As the story becomes darker, his angles are more pronounced and the haunting soundtrack complements it perfectly.

It’s a modern parable for when the grass always seems greener, exposed through the parallels that run through the families. Bong uncovers the ugly side of both, the Park family are seen for more than their wealth, and Ki-Woo’s family live as subordinates in a decadent home that is not their own. A gradual unravelling of both classes ensues and we’re given a fascinating insight into primeval greed and jealousy and how that erupts from within. Tarantino may have been the talk of the town on the Croisette in the run up, but Parasite is a deserving winner for the coveted Palme D’Or. It delicately and beautifully captures the timeless class struggle through this gripping fable. Who knows, maybe in 25 years time, Bong will be back with another timeless thriller.

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