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PARASITE (2019) (W)

My fellow attendees walked out of the cinema with grins on their faces — “a superb black comedy!” “uplifting!” “they were resilient!” — while I left in a fug of depression, convinced both families were locked into their respective prisons (one gilded, one grimy) doomed to fight their private battles in the tight limitations of capitalism. It seems Bong had ambitions of provoking both responses, a serious commentary and a work of farce. Clearly he has succeeded. But, as you may also feel about the cultural appropriation of native American tropes near the end, I have reservations.

PARASITE’s key shortcoming is its failure to properly engage with the poor family’s poverty. They are so hard up as to have had all their phones disconnected, and so beaten down by their situation that they lie around their semi-basement in a stupor. Then, when the plot-driving opportunity to tutor a rich student presents itself, they suddenly have access to a hair and wardrobe department — actually, the daughter’s locks are fabulous from the first scene — and the iron confidence of high-stakes scammers. At that benighted level of society, tasks like getting a new phone contract take on Herculean impossibility, let alone showing up at a prospective employer’s workplace with a suit, a tie, and a memorised script to convince the rich man you belong in the support structure of his world.

I never believed their situation was as desperate as it looked because they were able to extract themselves from it so easily. When they do literally lose everything, they are back on their feet within hours. It’s too convenient.

Pity, because so much about this film is compelling. I could almost feel the impersonal chill of that art gallery of a home, the expensive fabric draped around the rich mother’s shoulders — who, incidentally, is the most complete and consistent character, also in a stupor when introduced. The schemes to establish the illusion are superbly executed. A scene in which a character smokes a cigarette on a toilet achieves a rare and ugly beauty. The film’s final lines beautifully express the fantasy of overcoming poverty while also addressing how much easier it ought to be.

I just wish it had tried harder to examine the reality of life in the underclass, especially as it tosses the rich family to the curb in its final act. Which suggests Bong, himself a rich man, is on the side of the poor, disinterested in telling the full story of what our society does to the wealthy, desperate to present how it keeps so many people down, but not sufficiently motivated to tackle the paralysing breadth of their predicament.

Originally posted as a ★★★½ review of Parasite on Letterboxd https://boxd.it/XfYz7

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Imprints: 127 Hours / Cee-Lo Green / Phoenix / CocoRosie

127 Hours (2010, dir. Danny Boyle): Another work of style with just enough substance from Boyle. You probably know by now that it’s a true story about a dude who gets his arm trapped under a rock in a remote canyon, and is faced with a horrible choice. James Franco is good, the film is decent and certainly uplifting, but I’d class it as merely an above-average time-passer. (W) Worth a Look.

Cee-Lo Green – The Lady Killer (2010): Could never live up to my expectations after seeing one of the greatest videos of the years, which features his ‘Fuck You’ to delightful effect, but this is a listenable combination of throwback to Motown-era charm and Gnarls Barkley-ish chopped-clean production. Bright Lights, Bigger City is the best walking or driving song in a while. (W) Worth a Look.

Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009): I’m still so enraptured at the way track 4, ‘Love Like A Sunset’, was used in Somewhere that when I try to listen to this album, I can barely get past it without hitting repeat. OK, the other songs are good, some of them very good, and I really like this album, and you should listen to it. ‘Love Like A Sunset’ is just ridiculously epic. (R) Recommended.

CocoRosie – La maison de mon rêve (2004): First heard of CocoRosie when they performed the best song of the 00s live with Quinn Walker, but only picked up on their debut album lately – it’s really good, discordant at first glance but quickly altering the way I interact with the world around me. The use of a Godzilla toy’s roar on opener Terrible Angels is a perfect example of their experimental, carefree sound. Don’t know what the rest of their output is like but if it’s the same feeling with better production values, sign me up. (R) Recommended.

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Filed under Books, Imprints, Music