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With Parasite one of the buzziest films as awards season creeps toward its climax, having broken numerous records along the way and turned Bong Joon Ho and his cast into instant celebrities among Hollywood’s A-list, the idea of the South Korean filmmaker interrupting the relentless succession of ceremonies and last-ditch pitches to Academy voters to spend a few days at a film festival in wintery Holland may sound rather peculiar.
But that’s exactly what’s happening this week, as the director jets from L.A. to the International Film Festival Rotterdam, part of an air miles-amassing voyage that will then take him back west to New York, then east to London for the BAFTAs, where Parasite has four nominations, and return him to L.A. for the Oscars, where the film is up for six awards.
But his three-night Dutch detour won’t entirely be a break from it all, with Bong not just giving a masterclass in Rotterdam, but presenting the world premiere of a new black-and-white version of his already Palme d’Or-, SAG Award- and Golden Globe-winning film.
Landing both Bong and the new edition of Parasite — which Neon has recently revealed it will be releasing theatrically in the U.S. — is something of a coup for Rotterdam. But it’s one where the foundations were laid exactly two decades ago, when the Dutch fest welcomed the then-nascent filmmaker to screen his debut feature, Barking Dogs Never Bite.
2000 would actually mark the last time Bong attended IFFR, although it would show his later features, including Memories of Murder and The Host. But programmer Gerwin Tamsma, curator of the IFFR’s Bright Future section, says that, each time the two met, Bong would tell him what a “wonderful time” he had had in Rotterdam and that he hoped to come back to actually watch films.
A few years ago, with Bong’s international profile having been raised significantly, the festival asked if he might like to be on the jury for its main Tiger film competition. At the time, however, he was busy working on a new project, but that he would be available in 2020, when it would be completed and, presumably, he’d be free from promotional obligations. That project was Parasite.
Given its triumph in Cannes and the incredible trajectory the film has been on since, it was clear that Bong wasn’t going to have the opening in his schedule needed to be on the jury this year. But still, despite pressures from L.A., the filmmaker insisted that he at least come to Rotterdam. And, almost as if to make up for matters, he said he would bring the black-and-white cut of his groundbreaking film.
“It’s a gift, it really is a gift,” says Tamsma. “We’re incredibly thankful. It feels like a real sign of support for the festival.”
The new version of Parasite – will have its world premiere on Jan. 29 (the first press screening was on Jan. 26) – Tamsma says was made by Bong before the original, full-color, film first bowed in Cannes.
“They finished the film and quite quickly found some time with a cameraman to create a special black-and-white grading,” he says, adding that the new version is “very particular in what it tries to evoke.”
Bong himself has stated that the first time he watched his new version of the film it “felt more like a fable and gave me the strange sense that I was watching a story from old times. The second time I watched it, the film felt more realistic and sharp as if I was being cut by a blade. It also further highlighted the actors’ performances and seemed to revolve more around the characters.”
Thankfully for Bong, his trip to Rotterdam won’t be all discussions about a film he’s been talking about since May, as Tamsma says he’s made his schedule as clear as possible in the hope he can relive his days as a young, relatively unknown, director.
“They come, they do their Q&A and they go and actually see films,” he says about successful directors coming to Rotterdam. “Because they’re not only filmmakers, they’re cinephiles.”
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