Monday, September 07, 2020

Shoplifters (2018)

Shoplifters kept reminding me of Parasite, which followed it by a year, and I don't think it was a matter of mixing up Asians. Both feature a family living a notch or two above poverty, who are nonetheless a bunch of cheerfully lawless eccentrics. What they do is thieve and grift, and they're pretty good at it. The father in Shoplifters is patiently teaching his son the ins and outs of shoplifting and other low-level smash and grab types of crimes. The mother and grandmother, patiently bemused, have a strangely fraught relationship. They seem to be having an ongoing argument about something. Early on, the family finds a little girl hiding near their home. She has obviously been abused so they adopt her as one of their own, and soon begin training her for crime too, though they worry when they start to see reports on TV about her as a missing child. When the grandmother dies suddenly (but not unexpectedly—she was old) their behavior jumps to another level. It makes no sense, in fact, as they choose to bury her in the basement of the house instead of reporting the death and cremating or burying her properly. In about the last quarter of the movie the reveals and revelations start popping and it is indeed an unusual and disturbing situation. Where Parasite turns the strangeness of its family outward and ultimately into a kind of comic series of exaggerations that work as cerebral social critique of the insane modern world, Shoplifters turns inward, into darker recesses, where even health and family values may just be symptoms of a psychological rot that will never get better. They really are two quite different movies. The revelations of Shoplifters work like depth charges. It's the next day and I'm still trying to make sense of them and even get over them a little. Nothing is what it seems but we knew that from the start. The family is simply too good to be true, and then it turns out they're not that good at all—although even that is not certain, as the brief time these children spend with these two peculiar adults are also arguably the best times in their lives so far. Not sure I'm going to forget this one any time soon.

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