SPOILER-FREE Review: Parasite (2019) directed by Boon Joon-ho

A struggling family in Seoul, South Korea scheme to enter an upper-class/well-connected household in this genre-bending thriller from director Bong Joon-ho (Okja; Snowpiercer). As a young boy, Boon saw a (censored) version of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, and was “overwhelmed” by the music and structure of the house (behind the Bates Motel). Parasite is the first Asian film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes. It was described by Bong as “a comedy without clowns and a tragedy without villains.”

Ki-taek (Song Kang-ho) is an unemployed family man and head of the Kim family, which includes wife Chung-sook (Chang Hyae-jin), a 20-something artistic daughter Ki-jung (Park So-dam), and idealistic college-aged son Ki-woo (Choi Woo-shik). One day, a former school friend of Ki-woo’s drops by w/ a gift (and possible job opportunity). While Min is studying abroad, he wants Ki-woo (who he trusts) to take over as the English tutor for a teen girl, Da-hye. At first, Ki-woo is hesitant; Min explains that it’s fine since he has a recommendation. The Parks live in a mansion which wouldn’t be out of place in southern California. The coldly handsome father (Sun-kyun Lee) has studied abroad and works in his own tech company. Da-hye has an 8 y.o. brother, Da-song, who loves anything connected to the Boy Scouts. The mother (Yeo-jeong Jo), though still youthful and pretty, is also “simple” (gullible).

There are quick changes in tone, as the audience is taken on a journey from the Kim’s crowded sub-basement apt. to the Park’s spacious house (designed by an internationally-known architect). The musical score fits seamlessly w/ the movie; Boon recommended baroque music and works of Bernard Herrmann (one of Hollywood’s finest composers) to his own composer. It’s not only clever, it’s also suspenseful, scary, and darkly funny w/ pointed social commentary. Though all the main 10 characters get their time to shine, the heart of this tale is Woo-shik, a youthful 29 y.o. w/ a slim build who grew up partly in Toronto. The audience I saw it w/ definitely was rooting for him, esp. during the (wild) third act. The crux of this story is the relationship between the son and father (the director noted); Song Kang-ho (who is a star in his native land) gets the chance to show many different sides to being a man getting by somehow in today’s society. This is a must-see, even if you don’t get hyped for scary films! I had passes to a free screening at Landmark E St the night before opening.

2017 Washington Jewish Film Festival: In Between

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It is the time now for women to come and speak up. Until now, we were listening to men, and they were the ones to run everything. -Maysaloun Hamoud (writer/director)

Arab-Israelis make up about 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry. They share the same ethnicity, language, and culture of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; many identify as Palestinians rather than Israeli. This film (written and directed by 35 y.o. Maysaloun Hamoud- pictured below) tells the story of three 20-ish Arab women (two Muslim and one Christian) who have left their hometowns to work/study in Tel Aviv. They find themselves stuck between traditional Arab society (which values modesty, virginity, arranged marriage) and a more open/Westernized Israeli society (w/ dating, alcohol, drugs).

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Laila (Mouna Hawa) is an attorney sharing an apt. w/ close friend, Salma (Sana Jammeieh). Into their world enters Noor (Shaden Kanboura), a hijabi Computer Science major who is prepping for finals. We can see that the pals are dismayed to be stuck w/ this new roomie. Though Noor is religious, she is NOT judgmental re: Laila and Salma’s smoking, drinking, and parties w/ a diverse group of friends. She focuses on studying and keeping in touch with her fiance, Wissam. She cooks for him when he comes over to her new place. Wissam keeps pressuring her to move up the date of their wedding. He does NOT approve of her new building or roomies (who slowly become her friends). 

Laila (who loves to flirt) starts seriously dating a man, Ziad, who had his eye on her from a wedding they both attended. Ziad is VERY attracted to Laila, particularly b/c she is an uninhibited/beautiful/strong woman. Salma quits her restaurant job, after she and a fellow Palestinian coworker are yelled at by their (Israeli) boss for joking around (in Arabic) in the kitchen. She also has to deal w/ dinners set-up by her wealthy parents to introduce her to single men. 

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[1] …the movie is also very much about sisters doing it for themselves. There’s an automatic solidarity whereby women– at least young women of similar ages– are all automatically soulmates; and men, it almost goes without saying, are swine. Despite those stereotypes, the movie holds interest by virtue of believable acting and believable situations. 

[2] The three women characters were believable, warm, expressing solidarity to each other despite their very different personalities and lifestyles. The theme of personal conflicts between tradition and modernity is not new. What makes this film different is that the issues are very real and current and those outside the tradition don’t see it. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

The Salesman (2016) directed by Asghar Farhadi

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Actress Taraneh Alidoosti and director Asghar Farhadi

For years on both sides of the ocean, groups of hardliners have tried to present to their people unrealistic and fearful images of various nations and cultures in order to turn their differences into disagreements, their disagreements into enmities and their enmities into fears. Instilling fear in the people is an important tool used to justify extremist and fanatic behavior by narrow-minded individuals.

However, I believe that the similarities among the human beings on this earth and its various lands, and among its cultures and its faiths, far outweigh their differences.

-Excerpt from Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s official statement re: not attending the 2017 Oscars (where this film has been nominated Best Foreign Language Film of the Year)

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

The film is openly an allegory about social, urban and marital decay. But way beyond it, it is about the costs of masculine pride. …this is a superb statement about the unbearable consequences of trying to live up to codes of honour that centre on the female body.

-Excerpt from IMDB review

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Shahab Hosseini in A Separation

This is the new film from the famed/respected Iranian director who brought us A Separation. I went to see it two weeks ago (it was a sold-out screening) at AFI in Silver Spring, MD. This movie is NOT as interesting as A Separation (which also co-stars Shahab Hosseini), BUT it’s worth a look (esp. if you like naturalistic cinema). It would’ve been more effective if had been shorter; the running time is a BIT over 2 hrs. There is a much left unsaid (b/c of censors); the limits put on artists are referred to also in the play (A Death of A Salesman) w/in the film.

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Raana (Taraneh Alidoosti) and Emad (Shahab Hosseini) in The Salesman

A married couple in Tehran, Emad (Hosseini- an engineer turned actor) and Raana (Taraneh Alidoosti), recently moved into a new apt (thanks to their older friend, Babak). They are irritated to discover that one room is locked b/c the previous tenant (“a woman who had many male visitors”) hasn’t come to get her stuff. Babak’s calls go unanswered by the former tenant, so Emad’s friends pry open the door and empty out her stuff. We learn that this woman (no one ever mentions the word “prostitute”) had a young son; his drawings are in one corner of the room.

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Shahab Hosseini at the Cannes Film Festival

WHAT exactly happened to Raana the night she was mistaken for this prostitute and assaulted? It’s left up to the audience to decide, b/c we don’t hear SVU-style details. Hosseini (winner of the Best Actor award at Cannes Film Festival) is in almost every scene; he characterizes an Everyman who slowly breaks down. He can’t communicate well w/ Raana, get help from the law (she wants to forget about it), so gets obsessed w/ finding the attacker (revenge).

…words of truth are spoken not in the real life, but on a theater stage while playing roles.

-Excerpt from IMDB review

Now, this is NOT the type of man you’d expect to act irrationally, being a mild-mannered teacher at a boy’s high school (day job) and actor (in the theater after work). Raana is also acting alongside him and their friends. One of the actresses in the troupe is a divorced single mom w/ an adorable young son. Though Raana and Emad don’t have kids, they are good w/ this boy when they babysit him one evening.

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Emad (Shahab Hosseini) gets his makeup done before the play.

How does Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman relate to their lives? Sorry, I can’t answer that, b/c I haven’t read/seen that play yet. Farhadi said in an interview that the play is VERY popular in Iran, where modern audiences have embraced it.

The last twenty minutes of film are really breathtaking and the spectators associate with Emad more than anytime and I think they regularly ask themselves “if I were him, what would I do?”

-Excerpt from IMDB review

If you’re looking for suspense and tension, then wait until the last quarter of this film. There are intense moments, for sure! By then, Emad is VERY on edge, and getting close to becoming the villain in his own story. Maybe he’s NOT that far from the domineering, volatile, working-class man he played in A Separation? Raana, who has been in a fog of depression, is shocked when she sees his behavior. We wonder: What will happen w/ their marriage?

Bajirao Mastani: The Love Story of A Warrior

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Background & Trivia

The film was first announced in 2003. Sanjay Leela Bhansali initially wanted to cast Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, but plans fell through when the real life couple had a messy, highly publicized breakup. Bhansali then kept Khan on and approached Kareena Kapoor to play Mastani and Rani Mukerji to play Kashibai, but shelved his plans and moved on to other projects. Over the following decade, several major actors were rumored to be linked to the project (Shahrukh Khan, Ajay Devgan, Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif).

Coming out on the same day as Dilwale (2015), this marks the third time that a Sanjay Leela Bhansali directed film and Shahrukh Khan starring vehicle were released on the same day after their common Devdas (2002) in July 2002, and later the competing Saawariya (2007) and Om Shanti Om (2007), both released on Diwali 2007.

Production designers created more than 21 sets, which required extensive research.

Priyanka Chopra (star of the ABC drama Quantico) followed a 15 day coaching course to learn the Marathi language as spoken during the time of Peshwas.

The narrator of this film (Irrfan Khan) may sound familiar to some viewers; he has appeared in many American/English language films (including Life of Pi; The Namesake; New York, I Love You).

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Disclaimer

This film begins and ends with a lengthy disclaimer:

The Filmmaker fully acknowledges and respects other perspectives and viewpoints with regard to the subject of the film. The Filmmaker does not intend in any manner to belittle, disrespect, impair or disparage the beliefs, feelings, sentiments and susceptibilities of any person(s), community(ies), society(ies) and their culture(s), custom(s), practice(s) and tradition(s).

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SPOILERS: Don’t read from this point if you don’t want to know details from this film.

Set-Up of the Film

Love is its own religion.

In early 18th century India, a proud/respected/ young warrior Bajirao (Ranveer Singh) is chosen as the new Peshwa (the equivalent of a modern day prime minister) by a Maratha king.

While traveling, an emissary (dressed as a soldier) infiltrates Bajirao’s tent and demands his help in fighting invaders to her land.  She is a bold/gorgeous/warrior princess called Mastani (Deepika Padukone).  The audience soon learns that she is the daughter of a (Hindu) Rajput King and his (Muslim) consort.  Since her parents are of different faiths, their union is illegitimate, as is Mastani herself.   Also, she is considered a Muslim, like her mother.  (Here lies the crux of the controversy of this film-  Muslims  and Hindus in love relationships.) 

Impressed by her skills as a warrior, Bajirao assists her with his army and defeats the invaders to her land.  Mastani and Bajirao develop feelings for each other and he presents her his dagger, which is always at his waist. This is also a symbol of marriage among her people, the Rajputs.  Of course, Bajirao doesn’t know this tradition!

After this battle, Bajirao departs for his opulent estate in Pune, where his beautiful/childlike/adoring wife Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) awaits him.  When they joke about her husband being away so much, she proudly declares to her servants that “he has never looked at another woman.” No wilting wallflower, Mastani (with only one complaining young handmaiden), decides to pursue Bajirao- a love triangle is formed!  

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My Thoughts

I went to see this film in my neighborhood Regal theater (rare to see Bollywood films there) w/ one of my gal pals (also Bangladeshi-American and near my age) and my mom (who rarely watches these types of films; she prefers Indian indies).  The theater was nearly packed- a BIG surprise to us!  Being desis, we knew it was going to be long (duh!) and have dance/singing (a staple), BUT were still VERY impressed w/ the scale of the production, costuming, and even the acting (esp. Chopra in my case).  I’d never seen Singh or Padukone before, but they did a good job w/ the material.  Padukone is very graceful and strong in her role, but also has a VERY innocent/other-wordly aura about her (maybe it’s her FAB skin?); on the other hand, Chopra is more accessible.

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One of my other gal pals (South Indian heritage) LOVED the film and all the 3 leads; she saw it the week after it debuted on DEC 18th. This is one of those epic films that knows it’s an epic, so the music can be bombastic and lines are proclaimed (not merely spoken in a natural manner).  However, I think that it’s a LOT better than Bollywood films I’ve seen in the past (several years ago, so may NOT be the best judge).  I liked the dances, BUT my friend wasn’t impressed w/ the songs (she watches Bollywood films once in a while).  I suggest you check it out IF you have an interest in Bollywood (BUT take it for what it  IS, don’t put TOO much interpretation into this genre)!

Related Links

AFI Latin American Film Festival: How to Win Enemies (Argentina)

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review. 

como-ganar-enemigos-posterLucas Abadi (Martin Slipak), a humble/soft-spoken/kind young lawyer w/ a love for detective novels, is pulled into his OWN real-life crime story in this “neurotic thriller” directed by Gabriel Lichtmann.  The director (in a Q&A after the screening) said that his wife assisted him in writing the final version of the film.  He was influenced by the work of Alfred Hitchcock and Woody Allen, who he thanks in the closing credits.

Como ganar enemigos_brosLuqui (as he is nicknamed by those close to him) has been saving to buy his own apartment.  He’s also to be the best man at his big brother’s (and fellow law partner) wedding.  Luqui is (pleasantly) surprised when a tall/blonde/pretty secretary, Barbara, flirts w/ him, then gives him her card in a local bar.  His friend urges him to go after her.  Of course, drama (and trouble) ensues!

como-ganar-enemigos_spyingThis was a FUN, crowd-pleasing movie (as noted by critics from ALL over the world).  The leading man is VERY likable, even when he gets into shades of gray behavior (to help a needy client).  WHO could be HIS enemy, we think!?  The music suits the film also very well- it’s got a BIT of tension (when needed); that’s a nod to Hitchcock, I’m sure.  Another thing I liked- the Jewish heritage of the main characters is in the background, BUT not a big point in the story.