With the release of his new film The Killing of a Sacred Deer, we take a look at the films of Yorgos Lanthimos with a guest piece by Michael Fowler from Picturehouse at Fact.
A director of recent cinema’s most bizarre, darkly comic and captivating films, including Dogtooth and newly released The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Yorgos Lanthimos has an eye for creating some of the most real and unsettling worlds.
Lanthimos’ first English language feature, The Lobster, focused on a hotel designed to help people find a romantic partner in 45 days or face being transformed into an animal of their choosing. Like in many of his films, the ideas could so easily become outlandish and unbelievable but they never do. Grounded in the banality of everyday life passing and the gloriously deadpan delivery of his actors, he can get away with telling us that the lead character’s Border Collie is also his brother.
Lanthimos’ early films, Kinetta, Dogtooth and Alps, were made in his native Greece, released during the financial crisis, as Greek cinema began to creatively thrive with odd and offbeat films such as Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg and Chevalier. Lanthimos’ early films deal with grief, boredom and taking back control, themes that echo the stark economical climate of the time. Hard times maketh good art.
Dogtooth, the better known of his first films is the story of three adults raised solely in the confines of their family home, blissfully unaware they are being kept captive by their controlling father. On paper this sounds like a tragic story of abuse, and it is a tragic story of abuse, it’s just that Lanthimos’ depiction of their upbringing is also absurdly funny. They believe Frank Sinatra is their uncle, that the word for little flower is ‘zombie’ and they dance like they’ve never seen dancing before. Though the horror of their situation remains intact, the humour creates an unnerving reality that also makes you question what it is you’re laughing at.
As you can imagine Yorgos tends to divide audiences. His most recent film, The Killing of A Sacred Deer, caused equal measures of cheers and boos at Cannes, receiving the prize for best screenplay amongst yelps of disapproval.
It seemed that even the people that enjoyed the film left with a fully intended ill-feeling, as the very first scene welcomes the viewer to a nauseating top down view of open heart surgery. Real life open heart surgery of a patient who was undergoing a quadruple bypass. If the image weren’t so mesmerising, you might begin to wonder how they began the casting call for that one, and as a cast goes, the film boasts Nicole Kidman along with Barry Keoghan from Dunkirk.
It also marks the second collaboration between Lanthimos and Colin Farrell, after their work on The Lobster. Farrell plays a surgeon with a strange sexual appetite and a fascination for watches, he has a curious wife, a distant relationship with his daughter and he mentors a blank faced teenager. It’s as seriously odd and wickedly funny as we’ve come to expect Lanthimos’ films to be.
Delving into the worlds of Yorgos Lanthimos is no easygoing experience, the intense weirdness of it all can be overwhelming but just as the mortal dread and discomfort starts to peak, the absurdity of it all kicks in and the laughs will too. So stick with him, let it all go wrong, you’ll feel better for it later.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer is out now.