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“Parasite:” The cure to blockbusters

Foreign films are not often looked upon with great reverence.  And while there is a myriad of exceptions—such as last year’s “Roma”—America has dominated the industry since the 1970s, with blockbusters such as “Jaws” and then “Star Wars” changing the landscape of cinema forever.

Forty years later and now that landscape has become overwhelmed by blockbusters, whose definition now encompasses a large majority of films green-lit by production studios.  No longer are artist-driven stories the ordinary.  The range of films made have been consolidated, and in a tactic to make the most profits, most of these films are corporately manufactured for wide appeasement.

After the American monopoly, foreign films’ lack of recognition was so severe that countries began to instate screen quotas, requiring a minimum number of domestic films shown in theaters for a required amount of days each year.  Ironically, foreign films were the ones responsible for sparking and nurturing the industry of cinematic storytelling.  Now that America has been consumed by the franchise film, foreign films may be returning to save cinema.

“Parasite” is evidence of what happens when a filmmaker fully dedicates himself to his craft and his story.  Compared to some of the other massive franchise movies that have come out this year, this movie seems so simple it could have been a student film.  And yet, under Bong Joon-ho‘s vision, it becomes one of the most interesting and well-made films of the year.

The story involves a family of the lowest class deciding enough is enough and manipulating their way up the social ladder.  Confrontations and consequences ensue until the family finally reaps what they sow, leading to an explosive climax.  If the recent “The Lighthouse” was exceptional cinema at its weirdest, “Parasite” is exceptional cinema at its most normal.  An uncluttered, yet layered story told through the mastery of filmmaking basics.

A full range of camera shots and techniques are employed, competently showing every scene in its most optimal composition and framing.  These techniques also reveal the film’s characters in subtle and extremely effective ways by taking advantage of various camera angles.  This may seem like a simple rule of filmmaking, but rarely in film is it fully utilized, particularly in the ways “Parasite” accomplishes.

Tight camera work is also aided by impeccable blocking of the characters and their surroundings.  It is a steady dance that is, no doubt, meticulously planned by its director.  The environment is intricately constructed so as to say something through its individual framing.  Whether it’s a physical object or line separating two characters from separate classes, or the descending vertical architecture of the city that the characters must traverse, every shot is symbolically revealing.

Joon-ho handles the film’s structure with excellence, giving each twist and turn its due.  He allows the story to breathe while still keeping a brisk pace.  His script also contains a good amount of humor, which helps the audience invest in the characters while also providing contrast to the moments of heightened tension.

Crisp textures and smooth colors make for entrancing aesthetics.  The film’s classical score seems to mock the characters and remains largely unsympathetic, until real moments of catastrophe occur and finally, viewers are given just a bit of melodic relief.  All these techniques and Joon-ho’s skillful control combine to develop a nuanced and understandable human struggle that is rarely seen in American blockbuster films.

There are some minor nitpicks that audience members may have.  One is the extensive subtitles as the film is not in English.  “Parasite” has enough dialogue that viewers may be discombobulated by reading the words while trying to comprehend the visuals.  Due to its international nature, the film feels it must explain itself to the audience more, sometimes delivering expository dialogue about character motivations or intentions.  There are also a handful of plot conveniences that unfortunately do not stem from character motivations, but rather from a need to advance the narrative.

“Parasite” may not be a perfect film, but it makes up for that tenfold in the director’s proficiency for storytelling.  Mix in a strong cast, ingenious twists, and a grimy vs. shiny world, and the stage is set for a deliciously appealing, exquisitely crafted story.  It is a remarkable concept, that films can be equally entertaining and thought-provoking, that maybe Hollywood should pay more attention to.

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