Just days after the announcement of the selection of “Parasite” for main competition at the Cannes Film Festival, South Korean director Bong Joon-ho warned members of the local press not to expect his film to win the Palme d’Or. He also suggested that the film was “hyper-local” and possibly difficult for foreign audiences to understand.
Whether that was a case of false modesty or a genuine case of pre-presentation nerves, Bong has little to worry about, on the evidence of Tuesday night’s gala screening.
For more than five minutes after the lights went up, with the credits roll nearly completed, the audience in Cannes’ Grande Theatre Lumiere was on its feet clapping and cheering. That appreciation almost equaled the six-minute standing ovation accorded earlier in the day to Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”
Bong received hugs from his cast, and one from friend Tilda Swinton, before bringing the late-night proceedings to a close. He grabbed a microphone, said “Thank you” in Korean and English, and then a simple “Let’s all go home.”
Despite Bong’s earlier warning, and a return to his native Korean after two English-language efforts, “Snowpiercer” and “Okja,” “Parasite” is a perfectly accessible drama about two families from opposite ends of the economic spectrum, and how one cunningly inserts itself into the other.
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But “Parasite” being the work of one of Korea’s best-regarded filmmakers, that simple-sounding setup is the cue for multiple darker twists, social commentary, and bouts of comedic violence.
On at least two occasions, Tuesday night’s official screening was punctuated by rounds of spontaneous applause: one as a crescendo of dramatic dialogue was brought to a ringing conclusion, and another as a character appeared to get their rightful comeuppance. There is room, too, for a couple of smart North Korean jokes.
At his press event in Seoul in April, Bong suggested that his actors stood a better chance of Cannes recognition than the film as a whole. While the reliably rubbery Song Kang-ho, a veteran of Bong’s “Snowpiercer” and “The Host,” was by turns feckless, funny and fawning as the father of a broke crime family, “Parasite” is largely an ensemble piece. Picking individual winners would be difficult. Picking “Parasite” as a contender for some kind of Cannes reward would not be.