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Cannes 2010: Has class consciousness become the festival through-line?

May 14, 2010 | 10:41 am
 Class consciousness has certainly stormed the Croisette this season.

Housemaid_7 First there was "Robin Hood," or "Robin du Bois," as it's known here, with Russell Crowe playing the mythic figure as a freedom fighter bent to take down King John, who taxes his people indiscriminately to pay for foolish foreign adventures. Then there's Oliver Stone's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," in which the baddies are ethically challenged Wall Street billionaires. Now comes "The Housemaid," a South Korean twist on the same theme, about a young, naive maid who's seduced by her Korean master, a wine-swilling, Beethoven-playing Korean Master of the Universe. 

A piece of lurid fun, "The Housemaid" is actually a remake of a famous 1960 Korean film that stormed that nation the year it premiered. The 2010 edition has a certain kitschy flair, with some exceptionally tony villainess — i.e. the master's doll-like wife and her manipulative mother who have a positively lethal hissy fit when they discover their maid is pregnant. 

Hollywood films tend to finesse class differences to the point of erasure. For instance, in "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," the hero is Shia LaBeouf, who's character ostensibly grew up poor. Yet once the movie actually begins, he's a loaded young trader who loves fast motorcycles. By contrast, "The Housemaid" presents a vision of feudal-like servitude amid modern-day Korean oligarchs, a condition that ultimately enrages those on the lower end of the social spectrum. Director Im Sang-Soo is clearly a devotee of Hitchcock, so the anti-elitist furor goes down with spooky, spine-tingling panache.

— Rachel Abramowitz