Tag Archives: Giorgos Lanthimos

44*. POOR THINGS (2023)

“Nature gives children great emotional resilience to help them survive the oppressions of being small, but these oppressions still make them into slightly insane adults, either mad to seize all the power they once lacked or (more usually) mad to avoid it.”― Alasdair Gray, Poor Things

DIRECTED BY: Yorgos Lanthimos

FEATURING: Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef

PLOT: When a pregnant woman throws herself off a bridge, scientist Godwin Baxter spots an opportunity to conduct an unprecedented science experiment by transplanting the fetal brain into her mother’s body. The result is Bella, a woman with a grown-up physique and an infantile mind, who develops at a rapid rate and soon discovers many adult pleasures not otherwise accessible to an impressionable youth. Speaking with a frankness about herself and others that flies in the face of standards for propriety, she leaves home to explore the world, first in the company of caddish attorney Duncan Wedderburn and later as an employee in a Parisian bordello, returning  home  to discover that a figure from her past has located her.

Still from poor things (2023)

BACKGROUND:

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Bella’s very raison d’etre is to explore the world on her terms, following her bliss and flagrantly disregarding social niceties. Nothing better expresses this impulse than her spin on the dance floor, staggering about in full thrall to the music, limbs flung in every direction, and doing so with such verve and joy that even Mark Ruffalo’s Duncan is compelled to join in.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Bubble burps; “I have to go punch that baby”

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: A spectacular blend of quirky plot, offbeat setting, and demented execution, Poor Things is joyously inappropriate. In a film where virtually nobody behaves according to convention, the heroine is someone who casts aside any semblance of decorum in favor of a life lived as she chooses. The result is an unexpected blend of Frankenstein, Big, Candide, and The Opening of Misty Beethoven.

Official trailer for Poor Things

COMMENTS: The most dreaded phase for parents rearing a child is Continue reading 44*. POOR THINGS (2023)

APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: POOR THINGS (2023)

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Poor Things has been promoted onto the Apocryphally Weird movie list. Please read the official entry.

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , , , Ramy Youssef

PLOT: Bella, a mad scientist’s creation with the mind of a child (literally), runs off with a rakish attorney to explore the world.

Still from Poor Things (2023)

WHY IT MIGHT JOIN THE APOCRYPHA:  A bizarre reanimation of Frankenstein played as a sexually-charged, surreal social satire, Poor Things is packed with mad science and madder art. There’s even a crazy dance scene that trumps the one from Dogtooth.

COMMENTS: In Poor Things, Emma Stone embodies Bella, an experiment of the Frankensteinish Dr. Godwin (whom she calls “God”). She begins the tale with the mind of a child, for extraordinary reasons that may already have been spoiled for you by the online conversation (I won’t spoil things further, in case you’ve somehow managed to avoid them). Since this is a darkly whimsical fantasy/science fiction hybrid, her mind races towards adulthood at an allegorical pace: she goes from throwing tantrums and delighting in the sponginess of a squished frog to sipping gin and studying for anatomy exams in mere months. She begins the film clunking humorously around Godwin’s estate, cared for by the beyond-eccentric doctor and his meek assistant Max, who becomes smitten with the “very pretty retard”; but as she gains self-awareness (including, crucially, awareness of her clitoris), she demands to see the outside world. In the company of hedonistic playboy (a brilliantly foppish and comic Ruffalo), she adventures through a steampunk 19th-century Lisbon, takes a trip on a cruise ship, and interns at Parisian brothel before returning to London a wiser woman, ready to face what she is and to wrap up the first act’s carefully planted plot points.

It’s easy to see why the three supporting males are all mesmerized by Bella in their own ways: she is an utterly unique creation, unburdened by society’s expectations of proper behavior— especially in regards to sex, which she refers to as “furious jumping.” She journeys from childlike innocence to an outsider’s adulthood in the course of two-an-a-half hours. Joining her on her quest of self-discovery are the aforementioned Ruffalo (who will likely earn a best supporting actor nod), Max (Youssef, likable if largely inefficacious, he’s the character using a conventional moral lens to examine the questionable ethics of the entire scenario), and the astoundingly conceived Godwin (Dafoe). The good (?) doctor sports a face crisscrossed with a lattice of scars that makes him look like a mad surgeon gave up trying to make his head into a jigsaw puzzle halfway through, has a gastric disorder that makes him belch large bubbles after eating, and reveals a fancifully cruel backstory that explains his bizarrely empirical outlook on life. Stone, Ruffalo and Dafoe are all great; Youssef is more than adequate; and while a few of the supporting performers have difficulty striking the odd comic tone Lanthimos is going for, the acting in general is astonishingly good. Based on Alasdair Grey’s novel, the script mixes overly-elaborate locutions (“Hence, I seek employment at your musty-smelling establishment of good-time fornication”) with punchy one-liners (like, “I must go punch that baby,”) mostly delivered by Stone—although the increasingly frustrated Ruffalo gets off some fine obscenity-laced tirades.

The production design keeps pace with the acting quality, capturing the insanity of the scenario. Godwin’s mansion is a Victorian cabinet of curiosities (including such curiosities as a chicken-dog); Lisbon has a touch of steampunk with cable cars in the sky; the snowy streets of Paris house brothels with facades like cathedrals. Sets are elaborate, with yellow and blue trompe l’oeil clouds blanketing the sky. The short intertitles separating the chapters are minature works of art. Lanthimos continues to indulge the cinematographic experiments he began in 2018’s The Favourite. Some are purposeful: the film is in black and white while Bella is protected in Godwin’s care, and turns to vivid color once she seizes her independence. Others seem arbitrary: we sometimes view the action through a peephole matte (which sometimes signals imprisonment, but not always), or through an ultra-wide fisheye lens (used for panoramas—I think this look has become part of Lanthimos’ standard toolkit at this point). The visual switches suggest Bella’s disorientation in a world that’s entirely new to her, but I confess I found them sometimes distracting. Jerskin Fendrix’s nearly-atonal score, which sounding like classical snippets designed by avant-garde A.I., played by automatons on faulty pump organs or badly-tuned guitars, accomplishes the same distancing feat more efficiently.

Poor Things is a meticulously-created world, a twisted Victorian fairy tale set inside a fanciful snow globe. Gleefully disdaining polite manners and amoral on its surface, it gradually develops empathy and posits one value as supreme above all: freedom of choice. Like the Portuguese custard tarts Bella learns to scarf in one bite, Poor Things is incredibly rich.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“I’ve heard a few people say that, based on the trailer, Yorgos Lanthimos’s latest film, Poor Things, looks too weird for their tastes. To be honest, the trailer made me think this ‘gender-bending Frankenstein’, as it’s being sold, looked too weird for my tastes… It is weird, no doubt. But it is the sort of weird we can do. And not so weird that I had to Google it afterwards.”–Deborah Ross, The Spectator (contemporaneous)

CAPSULE: KINETTA (2005)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Giorgos Lanthimos

FEATURING: Evangelia Randou, Aris Servetalis, Costas Xikominos

PLOT: “At a Greek hotel in the off-season, a chamber maid, a man obsessed with BMWs, and a photo-store clerk attempt to film and photograph various badly reenacted struggles between a man and a woman.

COMMENTS: If I am reviewing a film I enjoy or respect (or better yet, both), I am often apprehensive when I sit down to write about it. This is because, despite having written hundreds of reviews by now, I am always fearful I won’t find my “window” into the movie: that first sentence, or first idea, that opens up the rest of my thoughts as I write. If I am reviewing a film that I did not care for, this is not a problem, as there’s usually at least one withering put-down that acts as my window. With Kinetta, I was spoiled for choices. A high point in the movie came early on when I was relieved to find that I wouldn’t, as I was fearing, have to make use of “Closed Caption” subtitles: it turned out the film already had standard subtitles pre-rigged in the stream. This resolved, I watched and took notes; to my right, my cat, Goose, did the sensible thing and slept soundly through the entire film.

Whoever provided the summary on IMDb (which I lifted straight from the site, for the second time only), is a very well-spoken person. That is exactly what Kinetta is “about”, and no amount of “walk time” padding or shaky-cam “fight” footage can stop my train of thought from slapping quotations around everything in a vain attempt to convey how mind-numbingly pointless this cinematic exercise is. Of the three leads, the least charismatic (the “BMW”-fanboy, who may be a cop [?]) gets by far and away the most dialogue. Cameraman, with beard, has perhaps half a dozen short lines, but comes across as the only reasonable person of the bunch. The scene in which he saves the hotel maid character from a drug overdose makes for the only worthwhile stretch of movie—right in the final minutes. But well before that point, a question came unbidden to my mind, “Why don’t the MST3K or RiffTrax people make better use of their skills by tearing art-house garbage to pieces?”

I dove into this review because it was put out there by Management toward the top of the to-do pile. Though I’ve seen one of the director’s more recent movies (with other 366ers, no less), I was totally unfamiliar with his name. So I say to you, Mr. Lanthimos, as I am sure you are reading a review of your (kind of) feature debut from fifteen years ago: good job on overcoming the naysayers. While the likes of The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster prove you know how to make really good movies, Kinetta stands as proof-in-celluloid that you can make a really horrible one if you put your mind to it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Viewing ‘Kinetta’ with the benefit of hindsight, you can see inklings of visual and staging ideas that Lanthimos would explore more fully later on… But time hasn’t made it more than a cryptic curiosity.”–Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times (2019 revival)

LIST CANDIDATE: THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic

PLOT: A cardiologist’s odd relationship with a teenage boy reveals a secret about his past, and will lead him to a dilemma in the future.

Still from The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Two-time Certified Weird director Giorgos Lanthimos never fails to deliver weirdness; it’s in his DNA. His first official stab at a horror movie is every bit as disturbing as you might hope—which is to say, every bit as disturbing as his comedies and dramas.

COMMENTS: The Killing of a Sacred Deer flips the script of The Lobster. That was a comedy with terrifying moments, while Deer is an unapologetic horror movie with a few funny bits (most of which come from blasé or inappropriate conversations about weighty or grotesque subjects). As is always the case with Lanthimos, what you notice first is the anti-acting acting style: the characters barely register emotions, and when they do express, say, marital tenderness, it’s strained, like they’re pod people trying to fake it to fool the humans. That’s the case here, where Steven, Colin Farrel’s cardiac surgeon, trudges through relationships with both Martin, a pleasant but mysterious teen boy, and his own family with the usual Lanthimos-imposed rigidity. This lack of humanity magnifies the mundanity of the family’s suburban existence. The drama is accented by heavy, obtrusive bursts of dissonant classical music (e.g., cue a Ligeti chord at the conclusion of mother/daughter conversation re: smartphones) to give it that ominous horror film feel. It sounds forced, but it’s effective; combined with the awkward interpersonal relations, the technique creates a real sense of dread that rises for nearly an hour before the first major revelation.

Despite the initially repressed thesping, an interesting thing happens in Deer. Delving into horror forces the director to allow his actors to reveal genuine feelings, however briefly. You can’t remain restrained and unreactive when faced with immediately horrific situations like mental or physical torture, however absurd the premise from which they flow might be. Farrell (and Kidman, but mainly Farrel) gets to play furious, frightened and bereaved here. The further into the plot they venture, the more emotions are unleashed, an unexpected progression that feels natural and satisfying.

Although this isn’t a thriller that depends on a twist, I still don’t want to give away too much of the plot. I think it will be more rewarding if the viewer is in the same position as Steven when Martin quickly and casually recites the rules of the game at a cafeteria. I will say that the tale involves a moral dilemma, of sorts. I also feel obliged to say that I found the final resolution unsatisfying, for reasons I can’t discuss in detail without crossing the border into spoiler territory. Let’s simply say that the way Lanthimos resolves the situation, though perhaps the only reasonable solution, allows the protagonist to avoid responsibility for his choices—a surprising cop-out in a movie otherwise so uncompromising, both formally and in its cruelty.

Before sailing to Troy, Agamemnon, the high king of the Greeks, unknowingly killed a deer that was sacred to the goddess Artemis. Angry, the goddess calmed the winds so that the fleets could not sail. To atone for his sin, she demanded that Agamemnon sacrifice his own beloved daughter, Iphigenia. Even though Steven’s daughter Kim got an “A” on her presentation on Iphigenia in class, it’s not necessary to know how that story ends (versions of the myth differ, anyway) to understand Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer. But the title is intentional foreshadowing that lets you know you’re in for something approaching classical tragedy—and if you know your ancient Greeks, you know they liked their tragedy gruesome. So do modern Greeks. They also like it a little weird.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…as things spun out of control, getting ever stranger, I started to wonder if the director had merely written himself into a corner and was doubling down on weirdness to get himself out. And yet the film never quite loses its mythic drive. You walk out feeling like you’ve truly had an experience.”–Bilge Ebiri, The Village Voice (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

DIRECTED BY:

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)

BACKGROUND:

  • 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)