Tag Archives: Viridiana

Jingyi Zhang on Parasite

Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about Parasite: a  video essay which succeeds in showing how camera movement and the recurrence of strongly symbolic images are deployed to demonstrate distinctions between classes in Bong Joon Ho´s Parasite. 

 

The Revelry in the Basement: Bong Joonho’s Parasite and Class discussion in films

 

With an explicit use of camera language and recurrence of strongly symbolic images, Bong has made a clear distinction between the two classes. I want to examine closely at the oriented camera angles, distinct lighting for each layer of space, meticulous design of spaces (with a reference to Bong’s previously internationally-well-known work, Snowpiercer, which has divided classes into three horizontal layers, while Parasite does the same thing vertically.)[1], and how people’s movements and interactions are limited and altered in the closed environments, leading to a discussion about the borderline between the classes, which Bong refers as smells.

Clothes, language and environment etc. are some of the more commonly used referents to iconographically denote class in film[2], since smell is a more abstract sense that cannot go through the screen for people to feel, but, in Parasite, Bong consistently brings up the discussion about smell, as a referent of the insuperable gap between the classes, and eventually, what triggers the poor to murder the rich is the simple action of the rich covering up the nose. What is the smell of the poor essentially? Are the characters aware of the smell because there is truly a smell of the damp semi-basement and the crowded subway, or their natural instincts and psychological suggestions imply so? There is more to question about.

While Snowpiercer has a more romanticized ending that a dystopia film could possibly have, in which the extremity of class struggle takes place on a train, isolated from reality, and ends with a destruction of orders, Bong pursues a more realistic and neutral approach in Parasite. Bong himself has described Parasite as “a comedy without clowns and a tragedy without villains.” The name of the film, Parasite, also indicates a more mutualistic and symbiotic relationship between the two classes, rather than an absolute predominance of one over another. There is no overthrow or elimination of any class reached upon the denouement, because the fact of class solidification remains, not just in the film, but as a continuation into the actual social status in South Korea.

Bong uses many class-specified actions to make the audience sympathetic towards the destitute Kim family: Mrs. Kim(Jang Hye-jin) folds pizza boxes for a living; Mr. Kim (Song Kang-ho) , unemployed; their daughter and son cannot afford going to university despite their intelligence; the tramp pees outside their window; the whole family scrambles around the house to find perfect spots to steal Wifi from their neighbors. It seems like the extreme of ignominy, but also the truest and simplest living condition a family in the lower class could possibly have. However, the audience are also unable to stand in total opposition to the wealthy Park family as the poor continuously take advantage of the rich’s innocence and their reliance on nepotistic relationship.

Some critics have described South Korea as a capitalist country in economy, a socialist country in social structure, and a communist country in mindsets, which might provide an explanation to the existence of the third class like the housekeeper of the rich, Moon-gwang (played by Lee Jung-eun), who has stayed in the luxurious villa even before the Park family moves in.[3] She is also the housekeeper of the previous owner, a famous architect. She stays in the house and accompanies the rich long enough to gain an illusion that she also belongs to the upper class, but her husband trapped in the basement continuously reminds her of the poverty and darkness. The sense of in-betweenness might be a more relatable feeling for most of the modern Koreans. Up until 2017, over 860000 people were still living in semi-basements in urban areas. They enjoy a little bit of sunshine from the small windows, but they also suffer from inundation when a storm comes. Shoplifters by Hirokazu Koreeda and Burning by Lee Chang-dong are usually being brought up in discussion with Parasite.[4] As the only few of the internationally recognized Asian films in recent years, these three have a realistic touch on the marginalized group without exception, and the issue of social solidification never seems to be resolved in any of them.

The film’s first significant climax takes place when the Kim eventually occupy the house for a hilarity when the Park are away, which I found an amazing resemblance in Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana, in which the beggars also makes the house a mess when Viridiana and Jorge are absent. The social phenomenon of class solidification also seems to osculate in the two cross-time films, both winning the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Buñuel’s rather aggressive perspective towards the upper class was due to an almost authoritarian control of the church in 1960s Europe.

It seems to be a mutual false fantasy of the poor to enjoy the transient indulgence, and it generates a sharp contract with the birthday party of the Park’s little son in the latter part of Parasite. The rich always try to remain a superficial elegance, while the lower class often do their utmost to threaten and trample on each other if possible. They mock and despise the rich, because of their impuissance to break the boundary between classes, and they pry into each other’s secrets, and treat each other with malevolence.

Regarding a more general theme that the two films share, I’d like to cite Pam Cook’s idea of gendered power relations, not just within family structures, but in a broader context.[5] Maternal figures, although seem to be apotheosized or given a priority in a societal sense, ironically still being the vulnerable ones, and this is mainly due to their disadvantage in sexual relationship. Viridiana, although being introduced as a Mother Maria-like figure, trying to bring redemption to the homeless, becomes a victim, who is almost being raped by who she offers food and job, to indicate the collapse of religion.  Mrs. Park, as the hostess of the family, is almost in charge of everything, while her husband is absent from the kids’ education and daily life or the management of different housework, but when they are having sex on the couch, she begs Mr. Park to buy her drugs. Both female figures are innocent and powerless, and unable to take part in a bigger struggle.

Last but not least, Bong uses many symbolisms throughout the film, and they further serve the idea of class struggle. The smallest son of the Park family, Park Da-song, is the first to recognize the similar smells of the Kim family and the first to decipher the Morse code from underground, and such sensibility and consciousness are attributed to his experience as a boy scout, and such experience has made him almost obsessive with the Indian icons. Ostensibly, it is Bong’s salutation to his idol, Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 film, High and Low, in which a similar Cowboy and Indian’s game is played among the kids. Being put in the content of Parasite, it seems more like a metaphor of imperialism. The process of gradually replacing ‘the natives’ is similar to colonization, and in a broader sense, capitalism and class distinction that the upper-class advocates is a result of globalization.

The rock that Ki-woo’s rich friend gives him as a gift also changes from a meaningless decoration, to a symbol of luck, to a burden that reminds them about the poverty, to a threat to their own life and eventually becomes the weapon to kill, but what it essentially means is still a question I want to explore.

 

Bibliography

Bui, Hoai-Tran, Bong Joon-Ho Breaks Down That ‘Mission Impossible’ Scene in ‘Parasite’, https://www.slashfilm.com/parasite-scene-breakdown-bong-joon-ho/?fbclid=IwAR3S6o6ALxiVacDvlNCnRtc7tjtmLGhjKnh4k4t_FSa1IwRMfixs6k8U1Jk

Chen, Brian X., ‘Parasite’ and South Korea’s Income Gap: Call It Dirt Spoon Cinema, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/18/movies/parasite-movie-south-korea.html?module=inline

Pam Cook, The Cinema Book, 1985

Hayward, Susan, Class, Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (2017), p.85-87

Lovelace, Grace, ‘Parasite’ Is ‘Snowpiercer’ For Families Across The Economic Divide, https://www.romper.com/p/parasite-is-snowpiercer-for-families-across-the-economic-divide-19198994

O’Falt, Chris, Building the ‘Parasite’ House: How Bong Joon Ho and His Team Made the Year’s Best Set, https://www.indiewire.com/2019/10/parasite-house-set-design-bong-joon-ho-1202185829/

Seong-kon, Kim, Is Korea a capitalist country? http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20141118001115

 

Filmography

Snowpiercer. Dir. Bong Joonho. South Korea. 2013

Parasite. Dir. Bong Joonho. South Korea. 2019

Viridiana. Dir. Luis Buñuel. Spain, Mexico. 1961

Shoplifters. Dir. Hirokazu Koreeda. Japan. 2018

Burning. Dir. Lee Chang-dong. South Korea. 2018

High and Low. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Japan. 1963

[1] Chris O’Falt, Building the ‘Parasite’ House: How Bong Joon Ho and His Team Made the Year’s Best Set, https://www.indiewire.com/2019/10/parasite-house-set-design-bong-joon-ho-1202185829/

[2] Susan Hayward, Class, Cinema Studies : the Key Concepts(2017), p.85

[3]Kim Seong-kon, Is Korea a capitalist country? http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20141118001115

[4] Brian X. Chen, ‘Parasite’ and South Korea’s Income Gap: Call It Dirt Spoon Cinema, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/18/movies/parasite-movie-south-korea.html?module=inline

[5] Pam Cook, The Cinema Book, 1985

https://vimeo.com/user70827005/review/414425105/437624ba98

Margarita Lozano in A Fistful of Dollars

Seeing a restored version of A Fistful of Dollars a few days ago at the BFI on a big screen was a gorgeous experience. The Morricone score, the melodrama, the sweep of the camera, a young Clint Eastwood. It’s almost like a great silent film of the 1920s but with bits of dialogue and a great score. Beautiful print also. fistful

Part of the thrill of watching A Fistful of Dollars was recognising Margarita Lozano as Consuelo Baxter, the matriarch of the Baxter clan. She gives a great, controlled performance. Why isn’t more made of her presence and her performance in A Fistful of Dollars? There are only two women in the film, the other being Marianne Koch as Consuelo. And for those who know their film history Lozano is a cinema immortal, the mousy maid who gets pounced on in Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana. You’d think  an actress who’s made classics with Buñuel, Leone, the Taviani Brothers (Good Morning Babylon, The Night of the Shooting Stars), Pasolini (Porcile), Claude Berri (Jean de Florette) and so many others would at least rate more of  a mention. Is it xenophobia or is Brexit just making me paranoid?

 

José Arroyo

Dubbing the voice of Francisco Rabal

IMG_0906 2.jpgWatching so many French gangster films recently has made me aware of how many of these films one thinks of as ‘French’ were actually European co-productions, often with Italy — Maigret tend un piège, Maigret voit rouge, Le tueur — sometimes even with the US: e.g. Le clan des SiciliensI’d not given it much thought until seeing Llanto por un bandido (Carlos Saura, Spain/France/Italy, 1964) which is known as La charge des rebelles in French. I’d bought it as a Lino Ventura film — a mistake, as he’s only in the first twenty minutes or so – and not realising that it was the French version of the celebrated Spanish film Llanto por un bandido.

Seeing it made me realise that the price of hearing Lino Ventura in French was not hearing co-star Lea Massari in Italian, and worst of all, not hearing one of the most glorious and expressive voices in the cinema, the sound of Francoist Spain, not just in its pejorative and critical aspect, but as expressed in that deep hoarse voice, a sound produced by smoke, wine, sun, and the punishment of a lifetime of pronouncing a j with a Castilian accent, the sound of clearing your throat after a cold, the sound of cleansing your respiratory system so you can breathe through all the bullshit of Francoist culture, the sound of pain, and feeling and love too. All of that is missing from the French version. All of that is the sound of Paco Rabal’s voice.

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Paco Rabal’s is the first face we see in Antonioni’s L’eclisse. But it is not his voice we hear

Llanto por un bandido in French makes one weigh aspects of filmmaking. On the one hand, we must be grateful, because without the financing made possible by co-productions, these films might not have been able to be made. On the other hand, the loss of actors’ voices, particularly great actors with great voices, is not negligible.

To make you aware of the price we pay when these voices are erased by co-production agreements, I wanted to show you four distinctive instances of Rabal’s voice, the first in a landmark film of the era, where Rabal plays a radio announcer and sounds like the archetypal one (I’m afraid I could not get sub-titles but listen to the sound); then half a decade later as an embodiment of changes in Spain for Buñuel in Viridiana; much later, in the late 80s,  for Almodóvar in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, his voice having deepened and made more expressive with age, and the director making full use of it and also what Rabal then represented for Spanish audiences; in the middle of this period, in 1967, again for Buñuel, this time in Belle du jour but in with Rabal speaking his own broken French, mixing it in with Spanish phrases and adding to the general seedyness of his character, Hyppolite de Murcia. Finally, an exchange with Lino Ventura, where Ventura speaks with his own voice and we realise all that is lost when instead of the sounds we know so well, that voice comes out of Rabal’s mouth, in French. It’s a sadness.

 

Historias de la radio (José Luis Sáenz de Heredia, Spain, 1955)

 

end of Viridiana (Luis Buñuel, Spain/Mexico, 1961)

 

 

Rabal and Abril in Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down (Pedro Almodóvar, 1989)

 

Rabal speaking French with his own voice in Buñuel’s Belle de jour (France/ Italy, 1967)

 

Ventura, Rabal and others in La charge des rebelles (Carlos Saura, Spain/Italy/ France, 1964)

 

****

After writing this post, Melanie Selfe directed me to  a superb piece in Camera Obscura entitled ‘The Name above the (Sub)title: Internationalism, Co-production, and Polyglot European Art Cinema’ (Issue 1.46 pp. 1-44). There, Mark Betz begins by citing Jean-Marie Straub  arguing in 1970 that ‘

Dubbing is not only a technique, it’s also an ideology. In a

dubbed film, there is not the least rapport between what you

see and what you hear. The dubbed cinema is the cinema of

lies, mental laziness and violence, because it gives no space

to the viewer and makes him still more deaf and insensitive.

In Italy, every day the people are becoming more deaf at

an alarming rate.

Betz then roundly refutes that argument and goes on to explore how :

European art films have thus been left free to carry on as

signifiers of stable national cinemas and identities or as gleaming

expressions of their auteur’s vision, somehow not blurred by

the quite specific determinants of cross-national cooperation that

leave their marks everywhere on the film, from its budget to its

shooting locations to its cast to its sound track.

My viewing over the last month highlights all of those marks and substantiates Betz’s arguments and the underlying multi-layered and complex relations that underpin co-productions in general and the art cinema variant in particular.

I’d add also the more personal understanding that, whatever the pleasures of what is gained, here that of the work itself, one always yearns and desires that which one loves and seems lost. For me, in this specific instance, the aspect that relates to sound, and specifically the sound of Paco Rabal’s voice.

 

José Arroyo

 

Kiss of the Damned (Xan Cassavetes, USA, 2012)

kiss of the damned

A film buff’s delight, and not only because of the director’s parentage (John Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands for those of you who might not yet know). The film begins with some of the narration from Vittorio De Sica’s Indescretion of an American Wife (a.k.a. Terminal Station, USA/ Italy, 1953) with Jennifer Jones expressing her loneliness and her need whilst visually we’re introduced to a handsomel house in Connecticut and a lovely woman, Djuna (Joséphine de la Baume) who evokes some of the beautiful porcelain vacuity of an Ursula Andress or a Sharon Stone.

Djuna meets Paolo (Milo Ventimiglio) in a video store showing Algiers (John Cromwell, USA, 1938) with Hedy Lamarr. He drinks scotch and writes arty screenplays that don’t sell. At a bar, they fall for each other but she can’t see him: she’s got an ‘illness’. He pursues her, wants her; he longs for the danger and excitement he knows she can provide. He follows her to her house and there’s a brilliant scene where she keeps the door chain on, they kiss, the kiss is filmed from above in a striking composition made up of a rectangle of light formed by the partly opened door, but then he recoils in pain, looks through the side of the door and sees her fangs reflected in the mirror (this is a vampire film that does not respect all vampire lore).

He doesn’t quite believe that she can really be a vampire so she gets him to tie her to the bed with enormous silver chains, turn her on and wait for the fangs to come out. The chains ensure his safety but he doesn’t want to be safe and removes them. The scene is delirious and ludicrous and sexy and something else too: one gets a sense that sex can be bloody and dangerous and all the more desirable for that. This is rendered even more perverse by the insertion of the wonderful scene from  Luis Buñuel’s Viridiana where Don Jaime (Fernando Rey) drugs his niece Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) and plans to rape her whilst a little girl climbs a tree to get a better view.

Needless to say Djuna and Paolo fall in love. She ‘turns’ him and introduces him to her coterie of chic vampires led by Xenia (Anna Mouglalis), the queen of the ‘international clan’ who is a star actress longing for human applause and whose house they are staying at. The vampires talk about human blood substitutes, the beluga of ethically sourced platelets and True Blood whilst listening to Chopin. She’s clearly introduced him to a glamorous witty world he’d never have had access to and everything seems to be going swimmingly until Djuna’s sister Mimi (Roxane Mesquida, she of the frank, gritty, somewhat coarse, rather wonderful Catherine Breillat films) arrives. Mimi is hungry, rapacious, amoral: there’s a wonderful scene where she tries to manipulate Xenia by presenting her with a fan, a virgin, and making sure her water glass is nicked so as to draw blood.  Can Xenia resist? Can Paolo resist Mimi?

All of this is filmed as a kind of homage to Hammer Horror and Italian giallo, with particular reference to Dario Argento. Everything about the film seems slightly off, other-worldly, consciously fake and slightly stilted; a feeling exacerbated by everyone except Ventimiglio and Michael Rapaport (wonderful as a sweaty, rapacious agent) seeming to speak their lines phonetically. The music too, though evidently composed for the film, also evokes the cinema Kiss of the Damned renders homage to. It’s nice to see a vampire film that’s once more about romance, loneliness, violence and the polymorphousness and mutability of desire.

In Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, a Professor of Greek tells his students, ‘Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instants, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves…If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face: let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn’ (pp.44-45).

The characters in Kiss of the Damned  feel as the professor does even as they try to take control of themselves. However, the film itself suffers from also reining itself in by genre, convention, allusion and quotation. It sometimes seems more concerned with expressing its particular themes through an evocation of a period and a genre, to exist tightly locked into a matrix of allusion, than to elicit the raw pleasures audiences that go to genre films expect. Kiss  of the Damned has sex, gore, desire and romance; and it does thrill – just not enough: not enough terror, not enough beauty.

2013-07-20 13.26.46

José Arroyo