Tag Archives: Ariane Labed


Le Vourdalak

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DIRECTED BY: Adrien Beau

FEATURING: , , Grégoire Colin, the voice of Adrien Beau

PLOT: Somewhere in the Balkans, a French nobleman finds himself enduring the hospitality of an isolated peasant family whose patriarch has gone missing.

Still from The Vourdalak (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA: There are too few fish-out-of-water “Horror of manners” films featuring eloquent and sickening man-eating marionette monsters. The Vourdalak does its bit to fill this regrettable gap.

COMMENTS: Pity the poor Marquis Jacques Antoine Saturnin d’Urfé, an emissary de-horsed by roaming Turkish bandits. Pity, also, Jegor and Anya, a poverty-stricken couple forced to provide for Jegor’s ailing father Gorcha, outré sister Sdenka, troubled brother Piotr, and young son Vlad. Pity all of the rest of them, too, while you’re at it—except, perhaps, Gorcha. Or, perhaps you should. After all, he did clearly write in a parting note that if he were to return after the stroke of six o’clock, six days hence, he should immediately be murdered, as it would not actually be his self, but his body as corrupted by an evil, slobbering vourdalak. It may well have been a good, if superannuated, patriarch who went off to fight the bandits, but whatever returned is creepy, creepy, creepy.

The first act of The Vourdalak plays much like a period comedy piece, as the hapless Marquis skates between chagrin at his unlucky circumstances, awkward gratitude toward his lowly hosts, and a growing affection for the fay—and disgraced—Sdenka. He flirts, poorly, recounts go-nowhere anecdotes, and at one point, unprovoked, demonstrates his sarabande steps. (This last item turns out to be something of an important plot point, as the Marquis’ dancing chops end up, perhaps, saving his life later in the film.) The awkward whimsy turns dark at the spontaneous arrival, after six o’clock on the sixth day of absence, of a heavily bound, gaunt form: Gorcha, bearing with him the head of a troublesome Turkish bandit to be “hung above the door to send a message.”

The second and third acts chronicle the family’s downfall, as witnessed by the well-meaning, but regrettably inept, Marquis d’Urfé. Familial drama travels alongside familial dread, and the experience is increasingly peppered by Gorcha, now quite obviously—to everyone but his son Jegor—a sinister vourdalak. I couldn’t hope to do much justice in describing this fiend of legend (or, at least, of Tolstoian devisement), but the monster’s effects on the narrative and cinematic experience are alternately jarring and poetical—though, even when poetical, also rather jarring. A human-sized marionette, the creature is voiced and performed, so to speak, by the director, who has given his creation a personality situated somewhere between a mindless blood-sucker and the charming Uncle Irvin from The City of Lost Children.

Much of The Vourdalak‘s strangeness stems from this puppet creature, but the surrounding family add their own little bits of the bizarre. Piotr, the younger brother, is in the habit of dressing as a woman, something never explained and which, refreshingly, never elicits judgment from his siblings. Anja, the wife, maintains a subdued mania until the surrounding tragedies pile on too strongly. And of course, there’s the mysterious Sdenka, who nurses the most life-positive suicidal ambitions I’ve ever heard. Indeed, with its tight cast and ghoulish flourishes, The Vourdalak feels like a hit-and-run by the weird wagon: briefly dazing the viewer whilst doffing its cap with a “Pardon. Excuse me. Sorry!” as it lurches into the distance.

The Vourdalak is currently in limited release in theaters. We will update once at-home viewing options become available.


“…an intimate, though always dreamlike piece of world-building… what’s key is the strangeness of the setting… the film’s real triumph is in its use of a marionette: it’s absolutely horrible. It makes you recoil, and it’s full of ghastly otherworldliness, just what you need for a Gothic tale like this one.” — Keri O’Shea, Warped Perspective (contemporaneous)


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Flux Gourmet is currently available for VOD rental or purchase.


FEATURING: Makis Papadimitriou, , Gwendoline Christie, Richard Bremmer, Asa Butterfield,

PLOT: A “culinary performance” art troupe undergoes a one-month residency at the “Sonic Catering Institute,” hampered by cutthroat rivalries and a chronic case of flatulence.

Still from Flux Gourmet (2022)

COMMENTS: Covered in tomato pulp, the nameless collective’s lead performer twitches and writhes naked on the floor in front of a select audience. She places a microphone inside her mouth to capture the sounds of her own digestion, then holds the mike to her forehead and repeatedly smacks herself with it, hard. Behind her stand two accompanists dressed in robes of white, manning a sound board connected to a blender and other appliances. They fiddle with knobs, transforming the noises of boiling soup and frying vegetables until the mix emerges as a distorted whale song symphony. Afterwards, the group thinks the performance went badly. But the audience didn’t notice, and is eager to show their appreciation to the performers with the traditional post-show orgy. In her notes the next day, the institute’s patroness complains about the prominence of the flanger in the sonic mix; the group’s leader doesn’t know what that is, but refuses to compromise her vision, on principle.

The absurd conceit of Flux Gourmet is that there is such a thing as “culinary performance,” and that there’s enough of an audience for it so that art institutes dedicated to the practice exist. The social dynamics of the cast, conversely, are believable and played perfectly straight: the manipulative patron, the narcissistic group leader obsessed with her vision, her two argumentative but ultimately submissive followers, the detached “journalist” passionlessly chronicling the affair solely because it’s a paying gig. The group’s rituals are entirely strange: synchronized morning awakenings followed by a one-hour silent walk through the grounds, improv roleplaying sessions where the trio pretend to shop for ingredients, VIP dinners where each of the performers are required to give a ceremonial speech. There’s also a sarcastic, haughty doctor on hand, an inappropriate romantic entanglement built around a fetish, and a group of terrorists sabotaging our crew out of spite because their residency application was rejected. Through it all our narrator, the “docierge” Stones, suffers an undiagnosed digestive problem that’s getting more and more uncomfortable and embarrassing. The primary symptom is constant flatulence.

The subject matter—a surreally unlikely performance art subculture, which gives the director a chance to reflect on his own artistic impulses— makes Strickland’s Flux Gourmet the perfect pairing with ‘s Crimes of the Future (2022) (although I can’t say which should serve as the appetizer, since both contain scenes sure to make you lose your appetite). The aesthetic debates in Flux Gourmet are, at least partially, meta-commentaries on Strickland’s style. The patroness’ complaint about the flanger setting is that “when you alter the sound that much you lose all connection to the activity… the best collectives here stretched the elastic of their culinary sounds as far as they could, but there was always a connection to the source material.” Flux Gourmet‘s leader is obstinately attached to her abstractions; after listening to the minor and reasonable suggestions, she slams her fist on the table and screams “I’m the boss!”

Strickland could be slyly satirizing himself in this scene, remembering conversations with producers and financiers who insisted that he tone down some grotesque or overly weird element from one of his previous films. Nevertheless, the debate address a central issue in his mature style. Strickland picks some subject matter (fashion and retail in In Fabric, performance art here) and stretches it as far as he can—while still maintaining some connection to the source material. That connection is revealed through his eye for a real absurdity of his chosen subject, which he twists into a surreal absurdity. If Flux Gourmet isn’t quite as successful as the immediately preceding In Fabric, was, it’s because it isn’t quite as funny. The satirical target here is a type of self-indulgent performance artist that the audience isn’t likely to have much experience with, other than through parodies in other movies. And although observational moments here elicit a chuckle, In Fabric‘s broad comic relief and insane retail propaganda monologues are sorely missed. Flux Gourmet is more of a sly comedy of manners—Strickland’s private joke on the audience is that the cheap, bawdy fart joke you anticipate never comes. Without enough comedy, the film’s flavor, while bold, is simultaneously off-balance, like a dish that is missing some crucial spice—or a song that needs to turn down the flanging just a notch. Nevertheless, adventurous palettes know they can’t go wrong with a serving of Strickland, even if it only primes their appetites for something more substantial.


It’s a lengthy, languid descent into the weird world of visual arts, but Strickland’s distinct style imbues it all with a sumptuous visual and aural feast… Flux Gourmet offers a smorgasbord of commentary, leaving viewers with a lot to chew on- not all of it so easily digestible. It’s the precise type of strange that’s divisive, but so is art itself.”–Meagan Navarro, Bloody Disgusting (contemporaneous)


245. THE LOBSTER (2015)

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“How do you even act in something like this? It was so bizarre. There’s no human reference that I know of to go, ‘Oh, I remember when something like that happened to me before.’ It’s so out there.”–Colin Farrel on acting in The Lobster

Must See


FEATURING: , , , , Ben Whishah, , , Garry Mountaine, Jessica Barden,

PLOT: In a future dystopia, every adult must be in a mandatory romantic relationship or they are sent to a state-run hotel to find a mate within 45 days, to be turned into an animal of their choice if they fail. David is a short-sighted architect whose wife leaves him for another man, necessitating his visit to the hotel with his dog (formerly brother) Bob. He tries to find a legitimate match, pretend to fall in love with another resident, or failing either of those options, to escape to the forest where a small band of renegade singles live.

Still from The Lobster (2015)


  • This is Greek Giorgos Lanthimos’s first English language feature film.
  • Writer Efthymis Filippou has co-written Giorgos Lanthimos’s last three features (the other two are the Certified Weird Dogtooth and Alps), and actress Aggeliki Papoulia has had a prominent role in each.
  • The Lobster won the Jury Prize (essentially, third place) at Cannes in 2015 (Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan won the Palme D’or, while the holocaust drama and future Academy Award winner Son of Saul took the Grand Prix).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: This is a tough one, because—the beautiful photography of the County Kerry countryside and the classical elegance of the Parknasilla Resort notwithstanding—The Lobster‘s bizarre situations and crazy concepts hit harder than its imagery does. I considered the scene where the woman shoots a donkey in a field, or a subtle scene where the Loner Leader and the Maid are sitting in the forest and a two-humped camel casually saunters by in the background. Ultimately, I chose David and short-sighted woman’s wildly inappropriate makeout scene, which supplies one of this very drily hilarious movie’s biggest belly laughs.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Donkey assassination; Heimlich theater; psychopath trial relationship

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Lobster is Giorgos Lanthimos’s idea of a romantic comedy: a cruel farce with bizarre but relentlessly consistent logic, enacted by a cast who show no emotions. Really, it’s more of a romantic horror/comedy. The style represents one of my favorite types of weird movies: one that takes the world we know, changes one or two of the basic rules, and then runs all the way with its premise to a bizarre conclusion dictated by its world’s rejigged logic.

Original trailer for The Lobster

COMMENTS: The Hotel Manager praises David when he explains Continue reading 245. THE LOBSTER (2015)



FEATURING: , Aris Servetalis, Stavros Psillakis, , Johnny Vekris

PLOT: A group of four people act as stand-ins for deceased loved ones to help families with the grieving process.

Still from Alps (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Alps feels like a faint echo of director ‘ surprise (and Certified Weird) hit debut, Dogtooth. It has weaknesses typical of a sophomore effort: stylistically, it doesn’t distinguish itself from its predecessor, and conceptually it seems second tier, like an idea that was passed over and saved for later.

COMMENTS: There is a plot to Alps, but it’s secondary. This movie is more of a mood. The mood is muted anguish. If you were to watch Alps without reading the one-sentence synopsis, you would go through the early stages of the film baffled by the odd and strained relationships of the characters to each other; even armed with knowledge of the premise, there are moments in the story when you will question what’s “reality” and what’s an act. The slow-developing narrative concerns people who serve as emotional prostitutes for the bereaved, and (predictably) the strange and intense job (or hobby, since the actors’ motivations are never made clear) eventually takes a psychic toll on the chief protagonist. The story doesn’t develop in a particularly interesting way, however; Lanthimos’ interest is more in creating an alienated mise-en-scene than in telling a story about the emotional toll of being a stand-in for deceased loved ones. Alps features flat-affect characters who respond to tragedy with mundane conversation about coffee mugs and lamp taxonomies, awkward hugs and gawky lovemaking, framing that’s deliberately off, with chopped off heads and characters speaking from off-screen, out of focus backgrounds, bilious lighting, and other unnerving effects that, piled on top of each other one after another, create a growing sense of existential nausea. Almost all conversations are clipped and nearly emotionless, but often interrupted by odd behavior—as when the nurse tries to play tennis with a nearly comatose patient or the gymnast suddenly strips topless and stretches her leg above her head while talking to her coach. Aggeliki Papoulia alone of the cast allowed to show any real emotion, and then only pain and desperate despair at the very end. Every character has a perpetual look of buried sadness, and the surrogate loved ones, who perform their substitutions like amateur robots, can hardly supply any comfort to the bereaved when they have no warmth or passion in their own lives. Alps presents us with a depressing, autistic world, where the possibility of a human connection is a bitter joke. But… how does all this social anomie among the living connect back to the movie’s ostensible theme of grief? Is this movie about the way the living remember the dead, or is it about the living dead? In Dogtooth, the isolated children had a reason for acting relentlessly odd, and that movie had a metaphorical conceit that gave it form. Alps radiates a shapeless pessimism that is especially nasty because it has no cause or focus. Where Dogtooth was like a smack in the molar with a brick, Alps is like a throbbing toothache that won’t go away.

If you want to know what it’s like to feel suicidal in Eastern Europe today, try watching a triple feature of the New Weird Greek canon: start with Dogtooth, follow up with Attenberg (starring Labed as an alienated, asexual woman with a dying dad), and use this one as the final nail in the coffin.


“Lanthimos delivers another heady dose of weirdness. Loopier than a frog sandwich but rather wonderful.”–Simon Crook, Empire (contemporaneous)



DIRECTED BY: Athina Rachel Tsangari

FEATURING: , Evangelia Randou, Vangelis Mourikis,

PLOT: A strange young woman tries to cope with her father’s impending death and her disgust at human sexuality with the help of her equally odd but extremely promiscuous best friend.

Still from Attenberg (2010)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Because you can use the first scene, which begins with the least erotic lesbian kiss ever put on screen and ends with the two girls dropping on all fours and hissing at each other like cats in heat, to clear any unwanted squares out of the room.

COMMENTS: “If ever there was a possibility of escaping the human condition and living imaginatively in another creature’s world, it must be with the gorilla,” proclaims Sir David Attenborough from the TV screen—but that’s only because he never met Marina. The conceit in this study of the ineffable otherness of others is that we watch Marina and her friend Bella as if we’re watching a nature documentary about creatures whose rituals we can only dimly grasp, but not entirely understand. To remind us of that fact, the pair will break into weird dances of their own invention, or suddenly slip into animalistic hissing, spitting, and primal chest pounding. Yet, despite these alienating narrative techniques, we still manage to sympathize with strange Marina, thanks to Ariane Labed’s affectingly melancholy performance and confident direction which manages to keep the uncomfortably absurd from sliding into the merely laughable (as many commentators have pointed out, the girls’ dances are reminiscent of outtakes from Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch, only with more crotch-grabbing). Even when the movie avoids experimentation and plays it straight, Marina is one odd bird. She believes herself to be asexual but forces herself to practice French kissing with her best friend, and eventually to seduce a visiting engineer (played by Dogtooth director Lanthimos). The resulting sex scenes are so painfully awkward they make losing your virginity on prom night a model of erotic smoothness by comparison. Marina’s deepest relationship is with her cancer-stricken father. There’s a naturalness and comfortableness to their conversations; it comes across that she’s been in the habit of confessing her bizarre thoughts—like the fact that she imagines her father naked, but without a penis—to him for years, and he’s been in the habit of gently steering her opinions into more conventional channels. When he dies, who will constrain her deranged imagination? If normality and integration into society is the goal for Marina, however, then her only friend Bella is a bad influence, encouraging her in her apparent dream of becoming an avant-garde choreographer for Martians. Bella’s very existence, and her devotion to Marina, is something of a mystery in Attenberg. She is Marina’s mirror image, reversed along the sexuality axis: where Marina imagines fathers without penises, Bella dreams of a forest of phalluses, then worries that “seeing genitals in your sleep is a bad omen.” Attenberg is at its best when it’s spying on these intriguing creatures and their shocking individuality. In those few occasions where it widens its lens to suggest a wider sociopolitical metaphor, as when the dying father pontificates about the death of the twentieth century, Greece’s future, and “petit-bourgeois hysteria,” we politely indulge the discourse as we would the observations of any dying man who’s being used as a director’s mouthpiece, but secretly wish Marina and Bella would get back to dancing like circus monkeys hopped up on fermented bananas. Although “normal” movie audiences will find the casual, naturalistic surrealism of Attenberg insufferable, around here we see it as a case where an infusion of welcome weirdness spices up what otherwise might have been a dreary drama about a disaffected daughter and her dying dad.

First with Dogtooth, and now with Attenberg, it appears that the economic and social crisis in Greece has put national filmmakers in a weird mood; or, at least, that’s what The Guardian believes. Regardless, Greek drama hasn’t achieved this level of weirdness since they were making up stories about guys ripping out their eyes because they accidentally had sex with their moms.


“…each commonplace action has some weird twist… Part of the film’s success comes from Labed’s performance as Marina, who infuses all that weirdness with a barely there vulnerability.”–Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Gnosos, who described it as “another [G]reek weird movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)