Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Lobster

Directed by: Yorgos Lanthimos

Produced by: Ceci Dempsey
Ed Guiney
Yorgos Lanthimos
Lee Magiday

Screenplay by: Efthimis Filippou
Yorgos Lanthimos

Starring: Colin Farrell
Rachel Weisz
Jessica Barden
Olivia Colman
Ashley Jensen
Ariane Labed
Angeliki Papoulia
John C. Reilly
Lea Seydoux
Michael Smiley
Ben Whishaw

Cinematography by: Thimios Bakatakis

Editing by: Yorgos Mavropsaridis

Studio(s): Element Pictures
Scarlet Films
Faliro House Productions
Haut et Court
Lemming Film

Distributed by: Feelgood Entertainment (Greece)
Haut et Court (France)
Element Pictures (Ireland)
De Filmfreak (Netherlands)
Picturehouse Entertainment (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): May 15, 2015 (Cannes Film Festival)
September 27, 2015 (New York Film Festival)
October 13, 2015 (BFI London Film Festival)
October 16, 2015 (United Kingdom and Ireland)
October 22, 2015 (Greece)
October 28, 2015 (France)
March 11, 2016 (United States)

Running time: 118 minutes

Country(s): Ireland
United Kingdom

Language(s): English

Production budget: €4 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $5, 738, 483

This'll probably be my last post for the year of 2015, given the time at hand. That said, I am going to keep reviewing films right up until Oscar night, which will include not only the films released in 2015, but of course my annual Hall Of Fame inductees, finishing off with my 9th Best and Worst of the Year awards. I'll probably end up having to compress down my reviews as far as the words are concerned, given I haven't done as much as normal this year, and that I still have a whole stack worth of stuff to get through. After this review, I'll be looking at The Human Centipede 3 (Full Sequence), Criminal Activities and Black Mass for this particular bracket of films, and then I'll shoot into December, beginning with the sure-to-be awards contender, Todd Hayne's Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. So, for all the latest and greatest as regards the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is The Lobster, the latest film from Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos. This is the English-language debut feature for the film and theatre director, whose work includes 2010's Dogtooth, which I remember as being uniquely disturbing atmospherically and quite an interesting film I wouldn't mind seeing again at some point. Since then he has directed one other film, 2011's Alps and co-produced and starred 2010's Attenberg. There's a long road behind the production history of this film. Lanthimos and Efthimis Filippou's screenplay was awarded the ARTE International Award as Best CineMart Project for 2013 at the 42nd Rotterdam International Film Festival, and no less than five different countries have invested their capital in this international co-production. It was shot between March 24th and May 9th of last Spring, primarily in Dublin, Ireland, but in various different in and around County Kerry, including Sneem, Dromore Woods and Kenmare. The film has picked up various awards in the international film festival circuit, such as three at the Cannes Film Festival (Jury Prize, Queer Palm - Special Mention and the Palm Dog Award), collecting two gongs at the European Film Awards (Best European Screenwriter and Best Costume Designer), and a bevy of nominations at this year's BIFAs (with Olivia Colman winning one for Best Supporting Actress, bless her!). So, story goes (and believe me when I say you'll understand it better if you see the film) that according to the rules of the City which the film's characters inhabit, if you are single you are taken to a hotel along with other singletons to find a partner within forty-five days and if you fail to do so you are turned into an animal of your choice and are released to fend for yourself into the forest. Whenever his wife leaves him for another man, David (Colin Farrell) with his brother Bob in tow, who was turned into a dog after failing to find a partner, arrives at the hotel to seek out a partner. Got it? Whether you do or don't, good!

Starting off with the good about The Lobster, I have to praise the cast. Don't get me wrong, I know it's an international co-production with an international cast from various national backgrounds, but the casting itself sees every minor character in the film cast perfectly. Most characters in the film are known and defined by characteristics such as Nosebleed Woman, Limping Man and so on and so forth, but even though they could come across as two-dimensional, the actors portraying them are capable and intelligent enough to overcome any potential problems. There are so many standouts it's hard to pick and choose, but I would like to flag up a few; Lea Seydoux, who though being bestowed with a beautifully elliptical facial structure has the hardest expression of calm, ruthless menace about her; Rachel Weisz's Short Sighted Woman, a performance that relies on doing so much with so little in terms of subtlety; Olivia Colman's Hotel Manager, whose voice of reason convinces us of the absolute plausibility of these strange circumstances; Ashley Jensen's eccentric, socially awkward (and funny) Biscuit Woman; Angeliki Papoulia's terrifying Heartless Woman; John C. Reilly's slow but friendly Lisping Man. All of these create a strong framework for the excellent lead performance of Colin Farrell, whose David is the heart of this bizarre world. Far from the confident and intense fast-talker we've come to know, Farrell's David is a soft-spoken thinking man, full of melancholy and existential questions about the world, with so much inside of him that he occasionally stumbles and trips over his own thoughts. Farrell is known for eloquence and rapid-fire delivery, so it's a delight to notice the subtleties he shows here and the restraint he puts on. He has grown a moustache over his handsome features, looks like he's put on the guts of twenty-to-thirty pounds (one of the first things I noticed was how portly he looked, with his paunch rising up and down underneath his shirts). Just the whole way he carries himself, moving as though in a mood of permanent caution and gingerly trepidation, is in keeping with the character. Even when there's borderline meta-moments, such as him half-talking/half-singing Where The Wild Roses Grow, which with anyone else would be embarrassing, it's a touching turn. You never buy him as anything but the character. While I haven't seen much this year, I've seen a decent amount, and Farrell may subtly have the best male lead performance of 2015. Now, enough about the cast, because in order to attract such a cast to a film to work at such a low salary generally you have to have a great script, and the case is no exception here. Similar in nature to the development of the world in Dogtooth, the diegesis constructed around these characters is a work of brilliance. Instead of going for the basil expository nonsense of trying to over-explain things to the audience, it is taken as a given that this is the way things are. Not only does that appeal to different scenarios surrounding the film's surrealist, almost Bunuelian sense of humour, it enables the film use metaphor, under the guise of comedy, to speak about matters of the heart, relationships and how we as human being interact with another. In that vein, the dialogue of the film is lyrical, perky and hilarious. I mean, in what other world would you be able to pull off an exchange about most people choosing dogs as the animal they wish to be turned into ("it is why the world is full of dogs.") and have it be both completely ridiculous and make perfect sense. Speaking of Bunuel, I loved the way the cinematography and editing, the visual aspect of the film, interacting with the aural elements of sound design and music. Although it is at time a very wordy kind of film, there are also extended sequences involving no dialogue with extracts of different musical pieces over the top. This is best exemplified during the film's slow-motion sequences, such as the different 'hunts' that the hotel residents go on for 'loners,' and various exchanges, in which the minutest of facial expressions or lack thereof are captured. They provide for sight gags when juxtaposed with the music and deeper exploration into the characters' nature. Finally, not to put it all on one man's vision, because this is most definitely a collaborative effort, but director Yorgos Lanthimos has delivered a confident work of real artistic integrity. Successfully bringing the theatre of the absurd over to cinema, there no botch-work here, and this is one of those cases where bouldering on ahead works wonders, without all the potential fourth-wall breaking gimmickry that could have been in there to make it 'more watchable'. Balancing between restraint and intent, this is how you make something distinctive, unique and interesting. And a damn fine comedy to boot!

I loved The Lobster. I've seen it twice now and both times it offered up a lot for me to digest and take away from it. That being said, I do also have to say that I don't think the film is a masterpiece. Once again, it has come down to one of those cases of finding some aesthetics troublesome. I agree wholly with what my friend over at Danland Movies said when we saw it about how the first half of the movie is excellent, the second half is slightly inferior, and however slight that may be, it means that the film itself feels unbalanced. Furthermore, at one-hundred and eighteen minutes, it starts to feel like the concept is getting stretched. Any more than two hours would have really been taking the mick and making it incredibly self-indulgent. I think it's a better film than Dogtooth and despite appearances actually has a heart, but Dogtooth was about twenty minutes shorter, and I think a happy medium which would see the film being trimmed by about ten to fifteen minutes would take some of the excess flab out of the film.

The Lobster is denied from being a masterpiece by slight issues of an imbalanced narrative and a running time that could be trimmed a bit. Nevertheless, I found it to be highly enjoyable film. It's a terrifically well-cast film, with every part, right down to the smallest played intelligently, fronted by an excellent standout performance from Colin Farrell as David, in what might well be the best work of his career so far. To attract such a cast, you'd need to have a strong script, which is certainly the case here. I love the way the basil exposition is not over-explained and it is just taken that this is just the way things are in this strange world. It also enables the smart use of metaphor and the genre of comedy to address matters of the heart, relationships and the way people interact with one another. The dialogue too is multi-faceted. Only would a film like this, oh so bizarrely Bunuelian in nature, be able to have some of the scenarios seem both completely outrageous and make common sense within the diegesis. It also features some expressive cinematography and editing, which interacts wonderfully with the sound design and music. Yorgo Lanthimos has made a distinctive, unique and interesting picture, and a damn fine comedy to boot!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 8.8/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Bangin'

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