Tag: yorgos lanthimos

The Favourite


The Favourite (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

As an admirer of director Yorgos Lanthimos’ palate for the bizarre, I found the period comedy “The Favourite” to be impressive only during the second half, when fortunes have been turned upside down and inside out. It is then we get a chance to observe characters attempt to wriggle themselves out of very sticky situations, to scoff at them, to laugh at them, to consider their unhappy fates to be both ironic and well-deserved. It is clear, as he has shown in his previous pictures, that Lanthimos’ strength lies in looking at human nature through fractured lens and within those tiny crevices is a chance for us to see ourselves and ponder over the world around us.

The first hour is a waiting game as the initial moves of a long chess game are executed. I found them not uninteresting but not superbly inspired either. I liked the casting of Rachel Weisz as Lady Sarah, in charge of governing state matters given that Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is almost always plagued with illness, and Emma Stone as Abigail, Lady Sarah’s cousin whose family has fallen on hard times and so she asks for employment within the estate. Weisz and Stone navigate the barbs of the warring cousins with a certain grace despite the ugly and delicious schemes. Meanwhile, Colman plays a queen who is so pathetic nearly every time we see her and yet the seasoned performer hits a different and fresh note with vigilance and purpose.

Despite the stellar performances, however, I found the machinations of early plotting to be rather generic. For instance, Lady Sarah’s nature of possessiveness and thirst for maintaining power is established right from the moment we meet her. And so when someone younger than her, certainly more likable, moves into the palace, her response is predictable. The same goes for the smart new resident who yearns to climb the social ladder. The standard writing is alleviated by performers who find ways to wrinkle the vanilla characterization. And take away Lanthimos’ proclivity toward awkward camera angles and habit of lingering at a shot for an extra second or two—sometimes ten—the content, at least during the first hour, is not all that special. The exposition is something I have seen from countless period films. The main difference is that the characters make no qualms about expressing their most inappropriate thoughts.

But when the consequences of Lady Sarah and Abigail’s competition is finally brought out to light, it becomes wonderful entertainment. The audience is not required to feel sorry for any of the players. However, we must understand them in order to have a more robust appreciation of double-edged ironies. With the exception of one figure, everyone else is proven to bite off more than what they are able to chew. They are convinced they are so intelligent and so experienced in navigating their way through labyrinthine gambles, the joy comes from seeing their big plans explode in their faces. Lanthimos, with his penchant for well-timed close-ups, ensures to capture the most minuscule facial expressions, at times in succulent slow motion.

The darkly funny farce “The Favourite” might have befitted from bolder screenplay decisions right from the get-go. One can argue that because the content is already for an acquired taste, it might have been stronger work overall had the writers been kind enough to spare us the usual motions and go straight for the jugular, to splash blood on posh, royal costumes.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer


The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)
★★★ / ★★★★

As expected by those familiar with writers Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, the former directing the picture, the film demands its viewers to squint through the fog of allegories and metaphors in order to ascertain what the material is possibly about. Or, perhaps more importantly, what it is saying about ourselves based on the deformed reflection of its characters, how they are treated, what ends up happening to them. For what it’s worth, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” may be frustrating to sit through at times, but I admired that it assumes the audiences are learned, cultured, and curious rather than ignorant, stupid, or incapable like numerous generic and unambitious works lean toward.

Those without or having only a limited knowledge of Greek mythology need not be dissuaded from taking a peek into the strange world offered here. Because despite the detached photography, cold interactions amongst characters, and schizoid manner of delivering lines of dialogue, there are enough pieces presented so that a casual viewer may get a feel of what the story is about. In my case, I thought it was about a man who has failed to take a moral responsibility in his career. And due to this failure, one he thought he got away with, it is demanded again that he take responsibility… but this time his home life becomes involved. Will he take responsibility now?

Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman play Steven and Anna, a cardiothoracic surgeon and ophthalmologist, respectively. It is interesting that while other works demand that the married couple evoke chemistry, it is the complete opposite here. They must not fit due to the bizarre language, both spoken and non-spoken, and the off-key rhythm of the material. It is almost as if we must feel as though the spouses are forced together in their palatial home filled with luxurious but empty decorations. Farrell and Kidman share no romantic chemistry and it is most appropriate. Notice when their characters are supposed to be at their most passionate. There are instances when when the fighting or having sex comes across as somewhat comedic, ludicrous. Strong emotions are expressed with a certain flatness.

There is a breakout performer in this strange but intriguing passion project and that is Barry Keoghan who plays Martin, the sixteen-year-old whose father had died on Steven’s operating table. Less perceptive performers might have played the character as overtly menacing. Keoghan decides to go on the opposite direction and downplays it. His seemingly innocuous physicality oozes an implied threat, a recurring pestilence. The rage of this character is found in those unforgiving eyes as he stares down the person that he believes to be at fault for him no longer having a father.

Drenched in idiosyncrasies, it goes without saying that “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is for select audiences only. In nearly every scene, there is an eccentric detail worth noticing. For instance, during Martin and Steven’s early interactions, it appears as though they are connecting because they are able to talk about the superficial details of their lives. But notice where the camera is placed. It is capturing the back of their heads. Or it is looking up at them from a lower angle, a technique often utilized in horror films before a jump scare. Those who choose to dive into this work should be open and prepared to take notice of details like these for an enriched experience. Do not bother otherwise.

The Lobster


The Lobster (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Viewers with a palate for the bizarre are certain to embrace “The Lobster,” intelligently written by Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Filippou, and yet the piece is not simply for those with an acquired taste because the roots of the humor, curiosities, ironies, and social commentaries are near universal. For instance, all of us have been in a situation where we find ourselves being the only single person in a group of couples, at times even being the subject of conversation (and judgment) as to why we do not yet have a special someone and simply settle down. The picture is packed with a wicked sense of absurdist and satirical humor.

Our protagonist is named David (Colin Farrell), a man informed by his wife that she is leaving him because she has fallen in love with someone else. According to their society, unpaired adults must go to a hotel where they must find a mate within forty-five days. Failure to do so would compel those in charge to turn those without a partner into an animal of his or her choice. A person can gain more days to stay in the hotel by participating in The Hunt—which involves going into the woods, hunting, and tranquilizing escaped single people so they can be turned into animals for their failure to abide by societal rules.

Part of the humor is the carefully modulated performances. It is interesting that just about all characters speak in a robotic tone and feeling and yet none of them are ever boring. On the contrary, each performer’s interpretation of a schizoid-like personality fascinates especially during longer takes where every word uttered, limb moved, and blinking of the eyes must be well-timed or the gamble falls into itself. Or worse—turns into a parody of itself. Notice that every person David meets does not have a name. They are merely referred to as “Nosebleed Woman,” “Loner Leader,” “Hotel Manager,” “Lisping Man,” and the like. They are defined by these names. A case can also be made that their names define them.

We look into a strange world and the writers provide specifics with glee. Particularly compelling is how we come to learn about the lifestyle in the hotel. There is only one lifestyle and everybody is expected to submit to the rules or be punished severely. For example, in order for singles to become more motivated to pair up, masturbation is not allowed at all times. Lisping Man (John C. Reilly) gets caught and the punishment clearly does not fit the so-called felony. As he cries out, begging for the pain to stop, those in the room—his friends, acquaintances, neighbors—simply look down and go about their day. This is a microcosm of our society. I loved and admired its savage angle.

Those with a more ordinary taste will unjustly label the film as pretentious. I have come across numerous pieces of work that fall under this category and “The Lobster,” directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, is absolutely not one of them. The correct word is challenging, perhaps even ambitious, because it engages us by inspiring us to think a little bit about what is shown on screen. The metaphors, symbolisms, and ironies are not at all difficult to figure out. Still, sometimes material offers answers, other times it does not. A delicious example of the latter is the superb final scene. The film ends right where it should. It is a litmus test of how we define love and whether or not we believe in the old adage that love conquers all. After all, does it, really?