Of all sensory perceptions, the smell is probably the most irrelevant in the cinema. Because there is no visual way to visualize it, even the Scratch’n’Sniff Cards, which in 1981, for example, John Waters extended his film Polyester (a scent bark for rose scent, one for fart stench) are not a permanent solution. But also because smells are something very personal. They evoke highly individual associations and memories, so there is little that can be said about them.
In Parasite movie, Bong Joon-ho now manages to make the smell play a crucial role in his story, as well as to give it a social dimension. It depicts criticism of capitalism for all senses and nothing less succeeds the South Korean director and author here.
In Cannes, he already convinced the jury, who unanimously awarded him the Golden Palm. In the meantime, tens of millions of people have seen the film in South Korea, and in the US it’s just the best start ever for a foreign-language film. It is considered a favourite for the newly designated international Oscar, if not the best film nominees.
The critique of capitalism for all the senses may sound unsatisfactorily abstract at first, but in the case of Parasite, it is best to leave it with some basic remarks and not reveal any details.
First, because they would spoil the crazy fun that this movie with its many surprises holds ready. For another, because Bong staged so masterfully effectively that no detail runs the risk of being overlooked.
The peach, the tepee, the flickering lamps: all these things you will experience in the course of Parasite – and yet be amazed when finally reveals their true purpose.
The film takes its starting point in a cellar hole in Seoul. Here live the Kims, a family of four, whose money is not enough for the study of their adult children, nor for decent accommodation.
For temporary jobs, the Kims (led by Song Kang-ho as a despondent father) seem to have no talent, but even more so for imposture. First, the son Ki-woo (Cho Woo-Sik) makes his way in as a tutor with a supposed university diploma in the rich Park family, then the rest of the family follows him into the luxurious washed concrete mansion.
Stacking can be understood literally because while the Kims live in a low-lying district of Seoul, the parks are perched on a hill. As a flood floods the poorest dwellings in the city and thus also the apartment of the Kims with water, the parks get nothing from it. For sheep in the dry, there seems to be a correspondence in Korean as well.
It is, of course, the political weather situation that captures Bong in his pictures of overcrowded shelters on the one hand and an airy, minimalist eat-in kitchen in which a housekeeper prepares short-roasted beef on request, on the other. His theme is social division, and his attitude to it is anger.
However, he does not put a burden on the parks and Kims to be proxies for downers or above, for exploiters or exploited. They are fighters in their own right, as capitalism dictates, and can, therefore, be ruthless without immediately denouncing their class.
And they are ruthless. Not least among each other: When the Kims are still trying to keep afloat with a legal backup job like folding pizza boxes, it’s a similarly precarious employee of a delivery service that withholds their pay: they simply would not have folded the boxes exactly enough.
From such bitter-black humour, Parasite movie is steeped to its bloody end. At the same time, the suspense of a thriller builds up when who discovers who has deceived him.
Bong has previously avoided making simple genre assignments with films like Snowpiercer or The Host. Here he now proves that – contrary to the reactionary criticism of political correctness and woke culture – unsparing wit and time-critical commentary must not be mutually exclusive.
It only needs better filmmakers, who are more precise in the analysis and more astute in their cinematic implementation.
Filmmakers like Bong Joon-ho, who are so sovereign about the means of the cinema that it tickles us even in the nose.
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Parasite movie has been critically acclaimed for its outstanding and intriguing storyline. It is a must-watch.