I went to see Parasite on Sunday. For those of you not in the know, it’s a film and it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Given the title, you could be forgiven for thinking it is about a group of shameless politicians sucking the lifeblood out of a nameless country for their own financial gain, but actually B Johnson, J Rees-Mogg and M Francois didn’t feature at all.
I used to go to the cinema all the time. I was an active member of the National Film Theatre, now the BFI, on the South Bank. Autumn and the LFF (London Film Festival) was the highlight of my year. Oh the films I saw, sitting captivated in the dark, in a cinema where no one ate popcorn or hotdogs, where there were no adverts for ice team or Waitrose before the film began, and the audience watched in respectful silence without needing recourse to mobile ‘phones.
The curse of the addicted. We saw Parasite in a very nice cinema indeed and the seats weren’t cheap. There was even a reminder about turning our ‘phones off. But the people to my left were busy communicating with someone and the light from the screen was an irritant and a distraction. The film was gripping nonetheless, though I should have preferred to watch without my left hand shielding my face. One of the twists was predictable, but not the rest. Beautifully shot, well acted, it deserves the prize. The points it makes about wealth and privilege are thought provoking. I went with three neighbours. I have said before that we are neighbourly in this patch of south London. we are also ethnically, educationally, and most otherly diverse. Or vibrant as the estate agents like to say.
I mention this because prior to going to see Parasite I joined two neighbours in a local café. Café might seem a fairly neutral word, but in this part of SE17 it is loaded. Cafés are a recent phenomonen. We have been an area of caffs. Full English breakfasts fried to within an inch of your life; mugs of builders’ tea. Cheap, cheerful with condensation running down the windows in winter thrown in for free. Uncouth and proud. This café is expensive, cool, and unashamedly middle class. I had a glass of tap water. I ate there once and I still tying to work out why and how my meal cost so much.
One of the neighbours, H. was the one who had invited me to the cinema. The other, C, lives round the corner and we are acquaintances-verging-on-friends. Not unexpectedly, given two of us were off to the cinema, the conversation turned to film. I said how much I had enjoyed The Personal story of David Copperfield. H hasn’t seen it, but C immediately exclaimed that she had hated it; ‘it was all over the place’. When I asked her what she meant, she said that blind casting doesn’t work for her. I had read on Twitter people making disparaging comments about the cast being of actors of different shades and ethnic mixes, but when I saw the film I loved the fact that the cast reflected the multicultural society in which I live, and that actors had been hired for their skill rather than their colour, height or any other reason. My disbelief was completely suspended. I found the film joyous, life enhancing. Now I am asking myself if I should have felt the same way had the cast all been white. And I don’t think I should. It would have been an excluding production, not the inclusive, expansive experience it is. I don’t live in an all white society, I don’t want to live in an all white society. The ethnically, culturally diverse society in which I do live is much more interesting and exciting than the predominantly white one where I grew up. To have that energy, that diversity on screen is, for me at least, something that enhances, that adds value, depth and richness.
All that said, Parasite could be seen as set in a monoculture in South Korea. Except that of course there are differences between people, differences rooted in money or the lack of it, in opportunity, in careers. One of the things Parasite does so well is show the humanity of the rich and privileged and the poor and struggling without putting them into restrictive boxes. I’m tired now and I want to go to bed, so I am not going to try any more to explain the beauty and subtlety of this film. Just go and see it and you’ll know what I am driving at.