A new film by Hirokazu Kore-eda is always a good reason to look up and take note. Ever since I first saw one of his films, the witty, inventive After Life (1998), the gentle giant of Japanese cinema has not disappointed me. Not all of his films are equally strong, but especially after his Cannes-winning Shoplifters (2017), I was sure I’d want to be there to see his latest at the cinema.
However, I would not have expected the new Kore-eda to be a thoroughly French éclair of a film starring Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche.
You have to give it to them: the Kims, the protagonists of Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, are nothing if not resourceful. At the suggestion of a friend, the son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik) pretends to be a student in order to get a position as the English tutor for the daughter of a wealthy couple, complete with photoshopped diploma. It doesn’t take long and he’s introduced his sister Ki-jeong (Park So-Dam) to the Park family and she takes on the job of being the youngest child’s art therapist. It’s amazing how you can fake expertise with little more than Google skills and a knack for improvisation. Before long, the entire family – Ki-woo, Ki-jeong and the parents Ki-taek (Bong stalwart Song Kang-ho) and Choong Sook (Jang Hye-jin) – are in the gainful employ of the Parks, one recommending the other, as that’s how the Parks work: they only trust employees that come highly recommended by another trusted employee. Oh, my father has a friend who used to work as a chauffeur. Oh, I know of this housekeeper who’d be just perfect for you. And the rich, friendly (if patronising), gullible Parks eat it all up. They get the domestic help they want and the Kims get the gainful employment they need, so it’s a win-win situation, right?
To cut a long story short: no. Parasite isn’t a story about the joys of sucessful social mobility. It isn’t a hymn to faking it till you make it. No, Bong’s latest is a caustic comedy that turns into a war movie – the war in question being that between the classes. And as another war story set in Korea used to say: war is hell.
What makes a family real? Is it genes? Are blood relatives the only real kind of family? Or is family something that is chosen, committed to and reaffirmed every day? Can family begin as a matter of convenience, even a decision taken for economic reasons, can it be based on a lie – and then change into something else when you’re not paying attention?
The men walk along the river. It is night. In the distance, the lights of the city glimmer. The man walking behind raises his arm, brings it down again, hard. A muffled sound of impact. The man in front goes down. The man behind – the murderer – hits his victim again.
Once he is done and his victim is dead, he sets fire to the body and watches the flames.
This is how The Third Murder begins. As may have become clear to the director’s fans: this is not your usual Kore-eda. Continue reading →
There are a handful of films that give off a glow in my memory, like a candle flame. They’re not necessarily the Assassination of Jesse James etc. etc. or Magnolia type of films. They’re not by people such as Steven Soderbergh or Martin Scorsese. One of those films is Roderigo Garcia’s Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her (great acting in that one, but more than that, the film is amazingly gentle – not soft, mind you, not anodyne, but gentle), which I saw by sheer accident. Another one is Kore-Eda’s After-Life.
I’d been wanting to see the director’s Nobody Knows for a while now, but I only did so yesterday evening. After the very emotional final episode of Six Feet Under (it got to me just as much this time as it did when I first watched it) I wasn’t sure whether a film about four children who are abandoned by their mother and who try to continue their lives as best possible, ignored by the world around them, wouldn’t be too depressing.
The film is definitely not cheerful, and the ending is quite tough in terms of what happens, but there’s something as gentle and comforting about Kore-eda’s direction in Nobody Knows as there was in his deeply spiritual but never preachy After-Life. There are moments of simple joy in the lives of the children. There are just as many moments of joy in the filmmaking: scenes that are both realistic and subtly poetic.
It’s strange: in a way I feel the movie should get to me more, especially considering the ending – yet somehow I also think that I’d resist a tougher film more. Kore-eda’s work doesn’t do the emotional work for you. It doesn’t tell you what to think or feel. And it doesn’t allow for simple, clear-cut emotions. Yet you have to be willing to be taken along by the film’s flow. I don’t think I’ve seen many films that have this sort of pace; the film that popped into my mind when I tried to think of other movies that had a similar effect on me was Le fils by the Dardenne brothers.
Writing about the film now, I feel I’m only circling around the emotions that it touched upon. I don’t think I’m an inch closer to understanding the effect Nobody Knows had on me. But I think, somehow, that I may be remembering this film, much like After-Life, for a long time.