Saturday, November 2, 2019

Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” at SIFF Cinema: Oct 25 - Dec 12 | Romanian Film Festival Seattle at SIFF Cinema: Nov 15 - 17

After a lengthy dry period this summer, in which we saw a dearth of compelling offerings at SIFF Cinema, late October and November turn things around significantly. Borrowing much from this fall's Orcas Island Film Festival, SIFF have assembled a calendar brimming with many of the notable films from recent year's Cannes and Venice festivals. In the case of the Romanian New Wave selections, these are films which received international festival accolades at the time, yet never made it to regional screens. Now brought to town for the sixth edition of the Romanian Film Festival, the three day program presents one-time screenings of two of the most notable directors to emerge from the post-Nicolae Ceaușescu cultural landscape. The explosion of cinema issuing from the Romanian New Wave that produced the award winning run of "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days", "12:08 East of Bucharest", "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", "Beyond the Hills", and "Graduation", is finely documented in Dominique Nasta’s, "Contemporary Romanian Cinema: The History of an Unexpected Miracle". All that much more striking for it being born from the conditions of the most overtly and consistently propagandistic cinema in Europe. Late 20th Century Romanian film under Nicolae Ceaușescu was consistently glossy but stale, relaying blatantly communist sympathies through simplistic stories, straightforward narrative linearity, often heavy in metaphor. Freed from state censorship and the narrative restraints of the Soviet era, A.O. Scott hailed the arrival of the movement on the global scene with his New York Times Magazine feature, "New Wave on the Black Sea". The Guardian following with their own critic's roundup, "Romania's New Wave is Riding High" and as a retrospective of it's formative years, "Eastern Promise" for Sight & Sound is essential reading. In the time since, Catalin Mitulescu's "Trafic" took the Short Film Palme d'Or at Cannes and Cristi Puiu's "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu" was awarded the festival's Un Certain Regard.

In 2015, the movement's 10th anniversary was commemorated by Film Society at Lincoln Center presenting their decade of Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema. This year sees one of its central players, Corneliu Porumboiu, returning to the studied cultural critique of his excellent "Police, Adjective". As grimly funny a denouement of the cultural and economic landscape of post-Ceaușescu Romania as anything the movement has produced, “The Whistlers” by this "Accidental Auteurist" adds up to more than a tale of the bent detective who becomes entangled in the crimes that he's investigating. It is not only a prolific time for Sergei Loznitsa, but a highly qualitative one. Two years ago his "A Gentle Creature" premiered in Cannes, following that same year with the documentary "Victory Day" at the Berlin International Film Festival, and then a year later with another documentary on Soviet Era justice, "The Trial", and then returning again to Cannes with "Donbass". Loznitsa's films have always entangled themselves with the complexities of the historic and cultural aftershocks of post-Soviet Russia. But this new stretch has a forcefully dark, absurdist strain to it, that of a voyeur to the tragedy of a history witnessed. In light of the aggressions of Putin's Russia, both at home, toward the Republic of Ukraine, and wider eastern Europe, Loznitsa is not without lack of material in this regard. Channeling the current state of Orwellian unreality which dominates much of the region, and events lifted from real world news, Sergei Loznitsa’s feverish procession of scenes watches as a, "Freakish Fake-news Kaleidoscope of Ukrainian Civil War".

Following the rather bloated special effects entries of "Okja" and "Snowpiercer", distributed by Netflix and the Weinstein Brothers respectively, "Parasite" marks a return to form and more solidly reliable thematic content from South Korea's once great social satirist, Bong Joon-ho. His newest taking home this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes suggested there was more at work than just a off-kilter black comedy of a rich Korean family slowly being subsumed by an impoverish one. The concurrently funny and fierce class conflict tale that "Parasite" tells instead digs its tendrils deep into the desperation produced by modern global wealth disparity in, "Bong Joon-ho's Creepy Invasion of the Lifestyle Snatchers". It's characterization of poverty and the film's upwardly ascending protagonists crystallize a kind of horror in the absurdity of economic inequality in South Korea. Divisions so stark that they watch as dystopic farce. The wealth class is revealed to be woefully under-prepared for life's unexpected twists and turns. Or dietary changes, being without the companionship of their pets, the weather, driving a car, instructing their children, or just about anything remotely nuanced. Concurrently the poor are clever and ruthless, yet also somehow self-sabotaging and sloppily disheveled in their organization of said clever and ruthless plans. All of which Bong Joon-ho exploits with typically Hitchcockian relish as, "The Lower Depths Rise with a Vengeance". More that just a wry doppelgänger setup, Joon-ho's drawing out of the discomfiting complexities of the dependencies and clandestine intimacies between the classes reveals the hidden connections between how the poor view the rich, and the rich view the poor. Seemingly at poles apart, they are instead entangled in a perversely fetishistic dance of correspondence, fascination, and revulsion. After all... "It’s Bong Joon-ho’s Dystopia. We Just Live in It.".