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May 24, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

The finale of the 72nd annual Cannes Film Festival has played out. The red carpets leading to the Grand Théatre Lumière, the main screening auditorium at the Palais des Festival, — treaded upon by filmmakers, invited guests, critics, and thousands of cinephiles over the past two weeks — have been removed and replaced. All that remains are the revelations of the winners of the top prizes, including the main, best-picture one, the Palme d’Or, on Saturday.

The critics have made their choice. The South Korean film Parasite from writer-director Bong June Ho surged ahead of the 21 other films selected for the competition, with several critics employing that usually suppressed term “masterpiece” to describe it. On Screen Daily’s grid displaying the ratings of ten international critics, five handed it the maximum four-stars in their reviews, giving it an average of 3.4 stars, slightly ahead of Pedro Almodóvar’s Pain and Glory and Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady On Fire with a 3.3 average. Critical reviews are not necessarily a prediction of festival awards, but Bong’s Parasite does seem to have a lot going for it beside its artistic accomplishment: it is a film from Asia; it is from a relatively young (49) director; Bong has consistently produced hit films in his native land; he has been to Cannes before with a film chosen for the competition; the festival often selects violent Asian flicks for awards; and Bong’s film instantly became the talk of the festival, muting all of the talk about Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

To be sure, the film is somewhat of a social opprobrium; the first half concerns an impoverished family that succeeds in taking over the household positions of the staff at the grand estate of a likable millionaire. Peter Bradshaw in Britain’s Guardian called the film “luxuriously watchable.”

In the Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang praised the director for “brilliantly” creating “an ingenious chain of events that Bong tracks with steadily mounting tension and clockwork precision … [in] an escalating freak show of tension.”

In Variety, Jessica Kiang observed: “Tiny details, like the mention of a Taiwanese cake shop or the flickering of a hall lamp, all pay off in this most tightly plotted of Bong’s films, building to a conclusion that is devastating and yet satisfying as an accretion of a thousand of those little moments.” On the other hand, Peter Dalton argues in The Hollywood Reporter: “Bong’s bludgeoning attacks on economic injustice have more passion than nuance.”

Clearly Parasite represents a mixed bag, even for critics. But that may have been Bong’s intention all along. As Bilge Ebiri, the critic for New York magazine, commented: “You keep expecting Parasite to turn into one thing, but it keeps turning into something else. It mutates, like a real parasite trying to hang on to its host.” It is, he concluded, “a nerve-racking masterpiece whose spell lingers long after its haunting final image.”