This Israeli movie won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlinale Film Festival this year, also getting rave reviews from Manhola Dargis (NYT) and Joe Morgenstern (WSJ). Written and directed by the Lapids, pere et fils, it purports to be a movie about an Israeli soldier who has completed his service with a profound hate for the militaristic nature of his country and the determination to abandon it for France. Along with becoming an expat comes the decision to forego his mother tongue and speak only French, carrying a pocket thesaurus for assistance, hence the title.
Parasite bears an immediate resemblance to Jason Peele’s US, a horror film in which underground tunnels are the habitat of dopplegangers cloned by our government in a failed experiment and condemned to live below eating rabbit meat. In the Korean film, things are a bit better - there is a window to the street above the basement dwelling but the view is of a repeat urinator who chooses that corner for his daily excretions. To summarize the plot, we have a family living in close quarters who manage to insinuate themselves into excellent jobs working for a wealthy family living in the most architecturally dazzling house in recent film history. That and the score are two sufficiently good reasons to see the movie but there are more.
If you like your biopics of legendary celebrities reducing them to formulaic caricatures, here’s one not to miss. Think of Alec Baldwin’s skillful skewer of our president which gets a laugh in a five minute skit on SNL and then imagine it stretched out to a feature length film with familiar side characters who are mostly evil in ways that are now shopworn tropes. Louis B Mayer, head of MGM, here a huge man towering over a petite Judy Garland, lives up to his reputation as a tyrant who forces the teen-aged girl to diet and keep working till all hours of the night His assistant, a nameless version of Annie’s Miss Hannigan, is brutal in snatching away hamburgers from our hungry heroine and adding to the cruel atmosphere of “the studio.” If reality were added to the film, we would meet Judy’s most formidable enemy - her mother - who began feeding her pills at the age of 10 and who saw all three of her daughters as viable meal tickets for her own unsuccessful marriage and life. Louis B offered the multi-talented young Frances Gumm a new name and an opportunity to find a big life her own - something that Shirley Temple most famously achieved despite a childhood spent in similar circumstances.