“ The Favourite”

Unlike “ The Lobster” ( reviewed here June 19, 2016 ) and “ The Killing of A Sacred Deer” ( Jan. 26, 2018), the new Yorgos Lanthimos film is not written by him. Writers Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara are less ambiguous in intent;and therefore,the theme of “The Favourite” is much easier to discern than Lanthimos’ other films. The nilhilistic elements softened.

His new film is a parody of sorts about power and self-interest. “How goes the kingdom?” comes in second to “How goes me?”. Self-indulgence is rampant. The sub-text may be “entitlement sucks”. “The Favourite” leaves the entitled wallowing in self-pity, anyway.

Part historical period piece, “The Favourite” centers on personal relationships and how these relationships impact the larger world, especially when our actors are women balancing world power. Our setting here is early eighteenth-century England. The last of the Stuart monarchs, Queen Anne is in her six-year-reign ( 1702-1707 ). Olivia Colman embodies the gout-ridden dyspeptic, who has not been able to produce an heir though she has been pregnant seventeen times. She comforts herself with cages of rabbits, one for each lost child.

Her childhood friend, Sarah Jennings Churchill, an ancestor of Winston, wheedles her way into becoming “Keeper of the Privy Purse”. Rachel Weisz continues her work under Director Lanthimos in the part of the wily Sarah, now The Duchess of Marlborough. We see her handling the affairs of state as well as the Queen. Sex and nostalgia are used to stay in favor.

Conflict begins when Sarah’s poor cousin, Abigail Hill ( Emma Stone ) rides into court hoping for a secure position. Competition ensues as both vie for being the Queen’s best bud.

Abigail begins as a scullery maid and her colleagues gloat in her mistakes. When she oversteps her station, we see her taking “ six of the birch” and sharing soap on a rope to cleanse her stripped and whipped back.

Hazy natural light meshes with candlelabra glow to give viewers tapestry delights of manor house grace. There are plenty of close-ups and fish-eye views of cupid-bow lips and wheel-chair races. Bathing in chocolate, throwing persimmons at naked men, and dancing between venison puffs and pineapples highlights the excess. When the war with France is equated with a party, we understand selfish displays and the toll.

Lanthimos is king of the visual. The cinematography of
Robbie Ryan is a joy. Horseback riding never looked more freeing even if the gallop ends with pulling mushrooms for a fungal paste to be slathered on the Queen’s swollen legs. Ryan’s camera‘s whip-pan movement is both stylized and modern. Sixteen century estates are panoramic yet intimate. Fish-eye lens give close-ups a character-penetrating feel. Movement and light are used beautifully.

The bunny squashing and the superimposed rabbits over the faces of our female lovers is creepy and wierd, but it works as oddball humor that is emotionally affecting. Likewise, the fabulous score underscores each character’s movement, both physically and emotionally. ( My one critique being the final- almost country western- song as the credits rolled. What was that?)

The dialogue is sharp. Lady Marlborough’s “Let’s shoot something!” And the Queen’s “ Rub my legs.” belies the manipulation and palace intrigue. Once Abigail “wins” and the Marlboroughs are banished, we are left with ermine studded garb, duck liver, and no ecstasy whatsoever.

In the final shot, Queen Anne’s loveless face equates with sad meaninglessness. Abigail produces one tear and one nostril drip for her trouble, and the bunnies just keep copulating. Prepare for creative debauchery of the female sort with a sad/funny tone akin to our times.

“ The Killing Of A Sacred Deer”

Ambiguity reigns again in this macabre, but seemingly normal present day rendition of “an eye for an eye” revenge film. “The Killing Of A Sacred Deer” alludes to the Greek myth of Agamemnon where he is told to murder his daughter Iphigenia. Writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos (“The Lobster” reviewed  June 21, 2016 ) begins his new film with a beating heart surgically opened and displayed. Colin Farrell is Steven, not David. And, Steven gets no second chances. In this chilling film, Steven Murphy, our cardiac surgeon has messed up. He has symbolically killed a “dear” in the wrong garden, but we don’t learn this immediately.

From surgery to restaurant booth, Steven is late for a meeting with a young boy he seems to be mentoring. He asks awkwardly if he can give him a hug. He presents a present over the boy’s wings and fries and apple pie.  Next, we are in a sterile dining room with Steven, his wife, daughter, son, and  dog. In strange zombie-like fashion, wife Anna ( Nicole Kidman) intones,” Black dress you like; lemon cake just for you.” Dinner finished, we watch a weird sex game where wife Anna is to tumble into their bed and play like she is under general  anesthetic. What fun! The next numbing sequence is again in the hospital theater. Our restaurant boy appears uninvited. His name we learn is “Martin”.

Duplicity reigns as Steven admonishes Martin for surprising him. Martin is falsely introduced as his daughter’s school friend who wishes to be a doctor. The audience stays with the slowly unfolding story. There is a premonition of evil, sexual tension, and odd-ball humor. We fear this man may be a child predator, but the opposite is the case.

Martin is played imperiously by Barry Keoghan. Martin insinuates himself into the family’s life, dating Steven’s daughter, and  appearing at the door unannounced. Creepy and vindictive, he will avenge his father’s death under our once drunken surgeon’s knife by demanding that Steven kill one of his own family members. His tone is deadpan. He stuffs a donut into his mouth. He tells all that bleeding from the eye is a sign of imminent death. Martin’s short declarative sentences contrast to  the unfiltered information that Steven babbles at home. The daughters try to be the “unchosen”. Their principal compares their strengths. Steven’s daughter has written an essay on Iphigenia. We wish we could read it for enlightenment.

More absurdist frames include food: fish is filleted, ketchup is squeezed while blood runs down a tee shirt, mashed potatoes are prepared, and apple pie served. There is foreboding and unease everywhere. Yet, the score is infused with religious music.

Free will seems to give way to puppetry. Someone else seems to be in control of this family’s universe. Cinematography aids this by shots of high walls and robotic movements~ almost dollhouse views looking down. The children develop strange symptoms. They can no longer walk. A psychological horror film masked in an ancient justice system gets more and more absurd. Are we to laugh at the display? I was intrigued, but not given to put too much effort into decoding another Lanthimos film that makes his audience work way too hard to figure out his intent.



“The Lobster”

The initial shot tells us to watch for determined meanness. Who would shoot a grazing donkey amidst its family  in a place as peacefully idyllic as Connemara?  Whether we are really in County Galway does not really matter, but the upscale Cashel House-like environs sets up a bizarre idea where people who can not successfully find a mate get a last chance to do so before they lose their humanity and are turned into the animal of their choosing. The premise being that one may have a better chance at the mating game as another species.

A voice over narrative introduces us to  David   (Colin Farrell ) and his personal history. He was married eleven years then  divorced. His brother has been here before him, but he did not find his soul mate and chose to become a dog.   David  brings his bro, now a canine with him. Neither fair well.

The writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has been praised for “The Lobster”. Critics speak of the forty-three-year-old  as a  creative fabulist, but the lengendary Greek Aesop he is not. His  film’s open-ending is too ambiguous to give any declamation. Is romantic love a lie ?  Is it delusional to think that everyone must have a life partner ?

The worst proclamation comes as partnering ” matchy matchy” traits. Whatever happened to the old saw that opposites attract?  In ” The Lobster” there is no randomness of encounter. People with limps  and lisps are foisted together. The biscuit lady, the heartless woman, the ugly man, the bleeding-nose woman~ all have their flaws. While this can be humorous in a juvenile way, these pairings are never the basis for life-long commitment. When marriage is modeled, the hotel manager’s husband is willing  to shoot his wife rather than protecting her by giving his own.

One of the funniest parts of “The Lobster” was the hotel entertainment masking the instructional message. With subtitles like ” Man Eats Alone” versus ” Man Eats With Woman” , and “Woman Walks Alone” and ” Woman Walks With Man”, we get cliched warnings that look more absurd than commonsensical .  Our narrator, who turns out to be the short-sighted woman ( Rachel Weisz), uses the “she then told him” to hysterical effect. We have shimmering back strokes mixed with urban legends ,and rules  against masterbation and punishments like placing the offending hand into a hot toaster slat. On the last day, day 45, you are allowed to choose whatever you wish to do, but you are instructed to choose something an animal can not do.

Offbeat  and  creative, but rather lazy , writer  Lanthimos demands that the viewer do too much work. Yes, society places lots of pressure for people to pair up. And it is funny that this dystopian future tries to control the uncontrollable : one has a mere 45 days to hook-up permanently! But the ending is baffling. Does David use a steak knife to dislodge his eyeballs ? Does the now  sightless Rachel Weisz, previously the “short-sighted woman”, wait through endless refillings of her water glass? Does David come crawling back to the booth ? Does romantic love demand this self- multilation?  What does Lanthimos think ? He doesn’t bother to tell us.

The most understated acting or breathing I have ever seen in  Farrell. Lea Seydoux, as the loner rebel leader, and Rachel Weisz, as David ‘s rabbit eating girl friend seem to understand  their part in this half comedy half diatribe. I enjoyed catching glimpses of camels and gorillas walking through the forest, but winced at the dog and rabbit violence. The script was terribly fragmented and metaphors like digging your own grave made sense only if the premise is it is better to die than resort to  the bogus matching of traits. Cover yourself with soil ,dance in the woods alone, or kill whomever will be able to live better alone? I don’t like being given an assignment to figure out what the director ‘s intention is, and I have enough to think about without thinking of having a hot-boiled egg placed in my arm pit.