Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Favourite

 

Charline Fernandez takes a break from duck racing and pineapple eating to send us this review of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite from the Cork Film Festival.

 

Royal satire The Favourite is a brilliant dark comedy, shattering notions of aristocratic decency with glee. Screening as part of Cork Film Festival, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest had its audience at the Everyman Theatre on Saturday in howls of laughter.

Set in the early 18th century, England and France are at war. However, the real battle is taking place in the Royal Palace. Two cousins are fighting for the attention of the childish and ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman – The Iron Lady, The Lobster). Her closest friend is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz – Youth, Disobedience), a strong, determined woman with a sharp tongue. Sarah’s distant cousin Abigail (Emma Stone – La La Land) is a former noble fallen on hard times attempting to social climb.

Although one could expect a formal atmosphere stressing a rigid and romanticized type of life, The Favourite subverts all expectations of typical historical drama, feeling like a breath of fresh air. Oscillating between tense and grotesque moments, the narrative keeps surprising the viewer. A recurrent element playing on these contrasts is the presence of tamed ducks – who race for the court’s pleasure – punctuating the conversations with their quacks.

Breaking the stereotype of the old princess movies, one scene shows new servant Abigail in a wood picking up plant medicine. Suddenly, a charismatic young man appears on his horse looking at the beautiful seemingly innocent person. However, the tables are soon turned when the lady bites the lip of the noble in her bedroom and literally kicks his ass during a twisted sort of role play in the same forest.

The subversion even extends into the editing as The Favourite is happy playing with the codes of filmmaking. Scenes fade in on one another resulting in a corny superimposition of images, which creates a dissonance between old-school historical drama and Lanthimos’ use of more provocative elements of modern filmmaking. Divided into several acts, the titles are often taken from a character’s venomous line.

Some of the humour even dares to cross the line of historical inaccuracies. Sofia Coppola had already challenged the conventional ballroom scene in Marie-Antoinette, having its central royal figures dancing to punk-rock band Siouxsie and The Banshees. Here, Lanthimos takes it further with a dance between Lady Sarah and a noble that starts old-school but quickly switches hilariously into more contemporary choreography with break dance and hip-hop movements.

The script is just one verbal swordplay after another, particularly the scenes involving Nicholas Hoult’s Robert Harley, a master manipulator campaigning for lower taxes. While its three central women shine throughout, the X-Men actor has his fair share of the screenplay’s provocative lines. When Abigail asks him for a favour, he dryly replies: “Favour is a breeze that shifts direction all the time. Then in an instant you’re back to sleeping with a bunch of scabrous whores.”

The cinematography from Robbie Ryan adds to the non-conformity of the film. Fish-eye lenses are strategically placed in the corner of the enormous rooms while low-angle shots breeze through endless corridors. These two combined elements create a sense of distorted reality. The same goes for the soundtrack announcing the tone from the beginning. Although it is a classical score in the opening scene, the long silences in the melody create some dissonance. As the film continues, electronic notes become more discordant.

While The Favourite is hysterically funny, Lanthimos’ does not skirt over the darkness of the story he is telling, leaving it to linger heavily in the last act. The decadence of the members of the court leads to a tragic ending where all protagonists are prisoners – for better or worse – of their own condition despite all their efforts to escape.

In Lanthimos’ satire, power corrupts. Yet, to his credit he never forgets the people caught in the power plays.

 

The Favourite screened on Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Lobster

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DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Filippou • PRO: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday • DOP: Thimios Bakatakis • ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Jacqueline Abrahams • CAST: Colin Farrell, Léa Seydoux, Rachel Weisz

 

Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster can be perceived to be any number of things – surreal comedy,  dystopian sci-fi, romance, drama, prison thriller – and all these genres it may be, but these are just the surface stylings of a director who has given one of the sharpest relationship satires in recent years. It’s like an Owen Wilson rom-com, doused in David Lynch’s bitter coffee and peppered with British absurdist humour. The movie is silly and ridiculous, but at times can demonstrate subtle poignancy and moments of graphic violence. It’s a postmodern dark comedy, where the world has fallen under a sort of Tinder fascism. It’s as if the dating app got sponsored by Hugo Boss and started whistling Wagner, wingmen becoming spies, and mothers Gestapo. A world where being single is a crime and if your relationship is on the rocks, you’re sentenced to be a parent. This is the world that Lanthimos has created for us and it’s a riot.

It takes a while for The Lobster to break out of its shell because it’s so different from conventional relationship comedies; heck, it’s even off the wall for most offbeat comedies. You start to wonder if it is trying too hard, using its quirkiness as compensation for humour, but soon you succumb to Lanthimos’ charm and it’s hard to deny his sheer dedication to his vision. He goes all the way with it unapologetically and that in itself becomes admirable.

The Lobster stars Colin Farrell as David, the only character given a Christian name as the rest of the cast are merely named after their job role or physical attribute. The film is narrated by Rachel Weisz, who doesn’t actually appear in the story until well into the second act. David is a tubby shell of a man with a thick moustache that suits his introvert personality. His wife has left him for another man, and in the world of The Lobster this now disqualifies David from living in general society and he is relocated to a hotel outside the city.

At the hotel he has 45 days to find a partner or he will be downgraded to another species of his choice. He chooses a lobster, which is an excellent choice according to the Hotel Manager (Olivia Colman), who explains most singletons choose dogs, hence why dogs are so common. The hotel boasts an array of eccentric characters – Lisping Man (John C. Reilly), Limping Man (Ben Whishaw), Biscuit Woman (Ashley Jensen) and Heartless Woman (Angeliki Papoulia) – all of which add to the bizarre.

Their activities include swimming, dancing, seminars and hunting the Loners in the woods. The Loners are people, who refuse to conform to society’s relationship pressures. They are single fundamentalists, who are planning a revolt. Both the Loners in the forest and the guests/inmates of the hotel must abide to a strict set of rules. In the Loner tribe one must not kiss or they shall have their lips cut off. In fact they don’t allow any fraternising at all, only a healthy diet of techno music and masturbation. Reminds me of college… hell it reminds me of last weekend. The hotel on the other hand forbids masturbation, which the Lisping Man finds out in a sadistic way involving a toaster.

There’s also forms of torture carried out every morning for the male inmates. Torture by grind. The maids grind up against the men to the moment right before they make spectacles of themselves and then stop. This is obviously why so many find it difficult to get around rule no.1. There are scenes of disturbing violence involving toasters, suicides and nosebleeds that are more effective than some horror movies. The film’s surreal humour delivered in deadpan dialogue might go over some people’s heads, especially when blended with the moments of extreme violence. However, if you’re a fan of British absurd comedy such as Brass Eye or Look Around You, then you’ll feel right at home.

Although, it isn’t necessarily the abstract that gets the biggest laughs. The biting satire and attention to detail is what rates high on the LOL scale. The focus of a relationship built on lies marks the funniest moments in The Lobster. Like when the Limping Man, out of sheer desperation, smashes his face off hard objects so it appears he has more in common with the Nosebleed Woman (Jessica Barden). Or when David must pretend to be a despicable and cynical human being in order to match up with the Heartless Woman. The surreal and extreme circumstances reflect a certain breed of people in our society. It illustrates insecurity among us, who pretend to be someone we’re not in order to escape loneliness.

When David is caught for his deceptions he escapes the hotel and joins the Loners. This is where we finally meet our narrator, the Shortsighted Woman, who David becomes extremely fond of. During their routine drills, preparing for the revolt, Shortsighted Woman and David genuinely fall in love, naturally in a loveless community. They must reserve their feelings or they could face a worse fate than slashed lips. The Loner Leader (Lea Seydoux) is a French Resistance type commander, who keeps a close eye on the secret couple. David and Shortsighted woman disguise their emotions through a communication of complex sign language. They camouflage themselves against the damp bark of the forest trees, as more and more animals pass them by as if they were in the Garden of Eden.

The Loners sometimes take trips to the city. Actually, they’re more like secret missions as they go undercover as couples to blend in with society. These scenes are reminiscent of science fiction such as The Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Soylent Green. Between moments of outlandish humour, disturbing violence and Big Brother-style paranoia, The Lobster still finds time for occasional tenderness between David and Shortsighted Woman, as their battle against everyone makes their love enduring.

It is quite a miracle Lanthimos got this film to work. Not because of how leftfield it is, but because of the amount of international input that excels in it. A Greek director, British, Irish, American and Dutch producers, shot in Ireland and with a plateau of multinational actors. The question isn’t really how did a film like this get made, but rather how could a film like this be so funny.

Going into The Lobster, I was slightly pessimistic and, truth be told, it took some time for me to warm up to it. Not that I didn’t get it, but my confidence in Colin Farrell was shaky at best. In my experience, he can be hit or miss with comedy, unless he has a strong writer behind him. Admittedly, not knowing much anything about Yorgos Lanthimos only served to heighten my suspicions. But I fell victim to its charm, and although it demands a second viewing, The Lobster will remain one of the most interesting movies of the year and originally fresh comedy in years.

   Cormac O’Meara

15A (see IFCO for details)

118minutes

The Lobster is released 16th October 2015

 

 

 

 

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Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos at the Light House Cinema

The Light House Cinema, Smithfield, welcomes Oscar®-nominated filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (Kinetta, Dogtooth) on Wednesday, 7th November. There will be a special advanced preview of his new film ALPS at 20.30 followed by a Q&A with the director.

 

Yorgos Lanthimos was born in Athens, where he studied directing for Film and Television. Throughout the 90’s he directed a series of videos for Greek dance-theatre companies.

 

Since 1995, he has directed a number of TV commercials in addition to music videos, short films and theatre plays. In 2011 he staged Chekhovs’ Platonov at the Greek National Theatre.

 

Kinetta, his first film, played at Toronto and Berlin film festivals to critical acclaim. His second feature Dogtooth (Kynodontas), won the Un Certain Regard prize at the 2009 Cannes film festival, followed by numerous awards at festivals worldwide. It was nominated for a Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2011. He was also named Best Director by the Dublin Film Critics Circle at the 2010 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

His latest film, ALPS tells the story of a group of people who offer a very unorthodox service to the community – A Nurse, a Paramedic, a Gymnast and her Coach have formed a service for hire. They stand in for dead people by appointment, hired by the relatives, friends, or colleagues of the deceased. The company is called Alps while their leader, the Paramedic, calls himself Mont Blanc. Although the Alps members operate under a discipline regime demanded by their leader, the Nurse doesn’t…

 

ALPS won the Osella for best screenplay at the 2011 Venice Film Festival and Best Film at the Sydney Film Festival in 2012.

 

Tickets for this one-off event are on sale now. To book tickets, log on to http://www.lighthousecinema.ie or call 01 872 8006

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