Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is not the most accessible filmmaker for your average audience. To begin, his characters don’t behave as if they are bound to the same cultural norms that we are. Conversations that would be utterly taboo in our society are discussed with abandon, like Steven (Colin Farrell) in The Killing of a Sacred Deer casually telling a colleague that his daughter has started her period. Lanthimos’ worlds run parallel to our own, but they offer a unique and sometimes disturbing vision of our darker desires.
In The Favourite, now in limited release, Lanthimos pits Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and servant Abigail (Emma Stone) against one another for Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) affections. While The Favourite is the first Lanthimos film he didn’t at least co-author himself (the screenplay is credited to Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara), it’s sure to have lots of quirks peculiar to this avant-garde director. To prepare for The Favourite or just find out more about this rising auteur, we have prepared a primer.
Bio: Yorgos Lanthimos was born in Athens, Greece, in 1973. He is married to French actress Ariane Labed. His career began in Greek dance theater. He moved into commercials, music videos, short films, and experimental theater before taking the jump to feature films in 2001.
- Surrealist dark humor
- Uncomfortable sex scenes
- Shocking, sudden scenes of violence
- Absurd alternate realities and fantastical concepts applied to mundane experiences
- Awkward dialogue
- Cold or sterile environments and cinematography
Frequent Collaborators: Most of Lanthimos’ films were co-written by Lanthimos and fellow Greek screenwriter Efthymis Filippou. Cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis was the director of photography on Dogtooth, The Lobster, and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. He has cast Rachel Weisz, Colin Farrell, and Angeliki Papoulia multiple times.
My Best Friend and Kinetta
Despite his films being absurd and often disturbing, all of the major releases have found critical acclaim. Unfortunately, his first two films, My Best Friend (2001), and Kinetta (2005) are extremely difficult to find in the United States.
Lanthimos co-directed My Best Friend with Greek playwright Lakis Lazopoulos. There isn’t much information available other than it is a comedy and it did well in Greek theaters. Kinetta is Lanthimos’ true debut, and it features many of his trademarks. The movie follows some unusual strangers as they re-enact murders in a hotel closed for the off-season. It’s macabre, features a cast of total weirdos, and has a strange sense of humor to it. Kinetta isn’t easy to find, but thankfully the rest of his features are!
The Plot: A mother and father keep their three teenaged children isolated on a remote country estate. Their parents tell them that they can only leave when their dogtooth (incisor) falls out. Their vocabulary was constructed by their parents so that anything that comes from outside of the home has a new meaning assigned. (For example, “zombies” are little yellow flowers.) The father is the only one allowed to leave. One day he starts bringing back a work colleague, Christina, who he has hired for the son to have sex with. Christina begins teaching the teens about the outside world, putting cracks in their parent’s perfectly manufactured existence. As she manipulates the teens, they begin to awaken to new concepts, including independence.
What It’s Actually About: Dogtooth is a coming-of-age story for the horribly sheltered. It’s occasionally perverse, often uncomfortable, and always brutally funny. The parents’ motives also aren’t as benign as they seem, and they’ve forced their children to remain ignorant as a means of protection. While the estate itself could be described as a jail, Dogtooth shows us that family can be a prison all its own.
Best Line Out of Context: “I hope your kids have bad influences and develop bad personalities. I wish this with all my heart.”
Best WTF Moment: The daughters put on a dance to entertain the family and it goes awry due to the eldest sister discovering cinema through VHS tapes Christina gave her. She re-enacts a portion of Flashdance, much to her parents’ horror, and it’s as cringe-worthy as it is hilarious.
The Plot: A group of professional stand-ins offer a unique service, taking the place of lost loved ones for money. Their organization, Alps, has a strict set of rules that governs their bizarre vocation. All Alps members have a nickname, and they are not allowed to talk about Alps outside of the organization. (It’s like Fight Club for mourners!) The stand-ins take the place of everyone from pets to spouses, for a variety of durations. It, understandably, gets weird.
What It’s Actually About: Alps focuses on four members of the Alps secret society, and most especially on Monte Rosa (Angeliki Papoulia, who played the eldest daughter in Dogtooth). Monte Rose is a nurse with a dark sense of humor, and Alps follows her as she becomes obsessed with filling the role of a teenage girl who died in a traffic accident. She begins to confuse which of her lives are real and which are scripted, and the film examines her loss of identity.
Best Line Out of Context: “Don’t stop. It feels like paradise.”
Best WTF Moment: Four words: Lamp shop basement sex.
Watch it: Streaming on Amazon Prime.
The Plot: In a dystopian near-future, single people are sent to a hotel where they must find a partner in 45 days or get turned into the wild animal of their choosing. David (Colin Farrell) is newly single after his wife of 11 years leaves him, and he chooses to be a lobster if he cannot find another partner. His rationale? Lobsters live essentially forever and that means he’ll have plenty of time to find love as a lobster. Meanwhile, a large group of escapees from the hotel live in the woods. The escapees are completely anti-coupling, rebelling against monogamous love as much as they are against the society that promotes it. David must decide where he belongs: in a society that enforces love, or a society that forbids it.
What It’s Actually About: David tries to find love (or something like it) within the confines of the hotel. Unfortunately, the person he picks is nearly sociopathic and forces David to lose the last remaining thing that mattered to him. When David does find love, it’s with someone who will require great sacrifices of him. The Lobster explores what it means to love, how society’s concepts of love shape our own views of it, and the lengths people will go to in order to love and be loved in return.
Best Line Out of Context: “I was playing golf, and the last thing I need is some woman dying slowly and loudly.”
Best WTF Moment: The Limping Man (Ben Whishaw) describing how he got his limp when he tried to hug his mother, who had turned into a wolf and had been relocated to a zoo.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
The Plot: Steven (Colin Farrell) is an expert heart surgeon. He begins mentoring a 16-year-old named Martin (Barry Keoghan) who is interested in becoming a cardiologist. Martin’s father recently died of tragic circumstances, and Steven becomes a sort of father figure for him. The only problem is that Martin’s motives aren’t what they seem, and his intentions toward the family are all but benign.
What It’s Actually About: The Killing of a Sacred Deer, at its core, is about guilt/sin and the poisoning effect it can have on our lives and our loved ones. The sins of the father are sometimes passed down to his children. This is Lanthimos’ most easily digestible work so far, but it works best when you know as little going in as possible.
Best Line Out of Context: “All we need to do is find the tooth of a baby crocodile, the blood of a pigeon and the pubes of a virgin. And then we just have to burn them all before sunset.”
Best WTF Moment: David and his wife’s (Nicole Kidman) unusual, slightly necrophilia-based sexcapades.
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