A view from Cuba: ‘Parasite,’ a political movie?
‘Parasite’ won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 2019.

In 2019, the euphorically intoned question on everyone’s lips that defined the tiny world of cinematography was: Have you seen Parasite yet?

In May last year, the latest film by the South Korean Bong Joon-ho not only unanimously won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but it also got a standing ovation from the audience that went on for eight minutes.

From that moment on, it became the movie “you just gotta see” no matter where you went in the world. The Festival del Nuevo Cine in La Habana—the Havana Film Festival—was proof of that: Have you seen Parasite yet?

The story of a family of ne’er-do-wells who, thanks to their smarts and trickery, manages to insert itself into the way of life of a bourgeois family, increasingly engaged audiences from that moment on and never ceased to sweep the field once the competition reared its head.  A few days ago, when the caustic Bong Joon-ho received the Golden Globe for best foreign film, he quipped: “Once you get over the barrier of an inch of subtitles, you’ll come to know a lot of wonderful movies,” a statement by which he was defending the quality of films produced by different nationalities and cultures which, because they aren’t in English, or in some other of the languages that dominate the big screen, can be totally disregarded by international promoters, or by moviegoers led like sheep through the conventional pastures of the movie industry.

Interviewed by the website Birth.Movies Death, the director pretended to be surprised when they asked him about the social and political connotations of Parasite. He said that his intention was to express a specific sentiment of South Korean culture. “But once the film was shown,” he agreed, “all the responses of distinct audiences were the same, which made me understand that the theme is universal.” Then, he declared conclusively: “Essentially, we all live in one and the same country called ‘capitalism.’”

One thing is for sure: No matter how “smiling and surprised” an image Bong Joon-ho pretends to project, ever since the debut in 2000 of his movie about a dog killer, Barking Dogs Never Bite, specialists have been focusing on the then 29-year-old and his first sketch of social and political commentary which later would establish the omnipresent background of his police-drama plots.

His interest in highlighting the social inequalities and other dark shadows accompanying the capitalist system appears in Memories of Murder (seen on Cuban television in 2003), as well as in his penultimate and most polemical film, Snowpiercer (2013), a dystopia marked by an acerbic sense of humor which, among other themes, singled out the purpose of bourgeois propaganda to reinforce “the necessary” distinctions of classes and the unjust distribution of power, and developed those ideas in a framework of overpowering imagination.

In his film Parasite, the director displays his gift for having viewers move from laughter to shock, transitioning through a plethora of symbolic systems.

The main artistic merit of Parasite lies in its articulation of different genres, each with their entrances and exits, and in a combination of emotions determined by humor, drama (without being dramatic), police drama, powerful social content, thrillers, terror and two endings difficult to define yet which come to crown the conflict in a strange mixture of humanity and rage, which is at once physical and intellectual.

The Kim family, surviving in the midst of a lockout, is poor but intelligent. The Park family, with its arrogant husband and not-so-bright wife, looks down on the have-nots from the vain vantage point of those who have it all. The Kim family lives on the lowest rungs of society, practically in a cave where passers-by stop to urinate, while the Park family, swimming in money, lives in a mansion of dreams. What would happen if the Kim family disguised themselves as a chauffeur, a servant, a professor of English—and went to offer their services to the Park family and in so doing, enjoyed something of what is forbidden to them because of their social class?

Parasite is a masterful production, and it would be a sin for any film lover to miss it.

Translated for People’s World by Jacques LaPere from the Spanish original in Granma, January 13, 2020, (before the Academy Awards).