Bizarre is the word from the latest by Lanthimos, whose uneven English-language debut intrigues and wanes in what is a morbid if deadpan comedy about loneliness and companionship.
Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos
2015 | Ireland/UK | Comedy/Romance/Sci-Fi | 108 mins | 1.85:1 | English, French & Greek
M18 (passed clean) for sexual content including dialogue, and some violence.
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux
Plot: In a dystopian near future, single people, according to the laws of The City, are taken to The Hotel, where they are obliged to find a romantic partner in 45 days or are transformed into beasts and sent off into The Woods.
Awards: Won Jury Prize and Queer Palm (Cannes). Nom. for Best Original Screenplay (Oscars)
International Sales: Protagonist Pictures
Subject Matter: Dark
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow/Uneven
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at Singapore International Film Festival ’15 – first published 31 Dec 2015)
Another film, another curiously bizarre plot. That seems to be Greek arthouse director Yorgos Lanthimos’ modus operandi. His international breakthrough came from Dogtooth (2009), a film about a couple who ‘imprisons’ their children since birth in their home, setting strict boundaries and new language codes. It is disturbing but bold filmmaking, with a potent dose of dark irony.
In The Lobster, Lanthimos fashions another new world order system, where if you are single, you would be sent to a hotel to find a compatible mate in 45 days, failing which you would be turned into an animal of your choosing.
Now that is intriguing enough to get people in droves into the theatres. However, the caveat is that despite the film being Lanthimos’ first English-language picture, headlined by stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz, mainstream moviegoers are probably going to find that it is not quite their cup of tea.
“We dance alone. That’s why we only play electronic music.”
Employing morbid humour, sometimes coming off as distasteful, The Lobster challenges viewers to do two things at once: to believe in the film’s ludicrous system (two systems in fact), and to find that our world is no less different. The social and political machinations of The Lobster do build upon what was conceived in Dogtooth, though I wouldn’t say that the former has done it as effectively.
The pacing of The Lobster is uneven, alternating between stretches of fascinating content and scenes that feel uninspired. The film intrigues and wanes, though what stays constant is Farrell’s performance, channeling an emotionless and deadpan approach to delivering the drama and comedy.
I think the consensus (or irony) is that the film works better when the characters are isolated in either of the two authoritarian systems – the couples’ hotel or the loners’ forest. When they visit the city, the sense of normalcy becomes boring and apparent, not to mention from the storytelling perspective, these segments pose more questions than answers, and not necessarily of the thought-provoking kind.
All in all, The Lobster will go down as one of the more interesting experiments of the year – its Jury Prize win at Cannes was probably awarded not because it is a great film, but to celebrate Lanthimos’ audacity in making a film that challenges our thinking about loneliness and companionship in ways perhaps not explored in cinema before. I applaud the film, and look forward to seeing more bewildering stuff from a director that I’m sure will continue to make waves in the festival circuit in years to come.
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