Monthly Archives: January 2019

  • The Favourite Yorgos Lanthimos (UK 2018)

    The Favourite Yorgos Lanthimos (UK 2018) Olivia Coleman, Emma Stone Rachel Weisz

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 2nd Jan 2019; ticket £9.75

    fable for the times

    Lanthimos’ script weaves its narrative as a web of relations between three women, Queen Anne, and her two favourites. Sarah and Abigail, transposing an eighteenth century event into the realm of contemporary filmic drama.   The problem with period settings is that often the backgrounds the costumes and appurtenances get to take centre stage. This can leave the content visually overwhelmed causing it to meld into inconsequentiality. A case of style taking precedence over substance.

    Lanthimos’s movie doesn’t fall into the latter category. But Lanthimos seems to have fallen foul of the English Country House Syndrome in as much as filmmakers have often found it difficult to connect to these artificially preserved domains that represent lives now alien to us.

    Lanthimos’ previous movie ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’ was enjoyable for the way in which he conscripted the American settings, the hospital, the suburbs, into the film’s mythic structure. These settings, depicted as emptied out space culturally evacuated of human drama, were transformed into satirised locations in which the black comedy of a ritual meaningful death was played out.

    This fusing of setting and theme is also remarkable in films like Petri’s ‘Property is No Longer a Theft’ and Resnais’ ‘Last Year in Marienbad’.   As in ‘The Favourite’ the settings of these films are of an historical provenance; the rich decoration of the interiors is given force by complex camera choreography lending to Petri and Resnais’ films another layer of cinematic immanence to their themes.

    “The Favourite’ for all Lanthimos’ tracks, long shots and fish-eye wide angle shots (ugly and distracting to my eye; but perhaps Lanthimos in using this lens wanted to point to artifice) he creates neither feelings of immersion nor possession; only the feeling that these long galleries, these wainscoted chambers, these high ceilinged salons, are ultimately nothing more than backdrops.   For all he tries Lanthimos just seems to be stuck with the space. Anne Sarah Abigail are all detached from the spaces in which they move, not enveloped.  The built structures and their embellishment play no actual part in psychic dynamic of the film. It is melodrama that envelopes the women.

    But whilst the script uses a classic melodrama engine to drive the scenario, ‘The Favourite’ is more about form than content, form that is based on opposition.   The opposition of the male and the female is the key proposition.   The melodramatic goings on, the power play between the three protagonists, takes second place to their relationship and confrontation with the male dominated world.

    The trio of woman are all anachronistically wig-free. Their freedom of expression and their modernity expressed by the free locks of their hair. Contrarily the men are grounded in the times, bewigged and emotionally straightened and symbolically condemned to immobility by the artificiality of their headwear. When Abigail asks Harley to remove his wig so that she can see who he is, he is abashed, reluctant to remove this totemic symbol of his male power.

    Sarah and Abigail (in particular) are represented as modern women ready to pick up the baton of power from men who are unable to move foreword into our times.     The women are self confident, through their own internal force they are the equal of men: they can shoot like men, ride a horse like men, take a tumble like a man, swear like men and fight.  And they are sexually self sufficient, able and able to satisfy their physical sexual needs by themselves or through the ministration of woman.

    The actual historical elements of The Favourite are unimportant. the film is a modern parable, a statement of today’s oppositional gender politics. A point concentrated in the ball room sequence where instead of moving to the restrained conventions of the baroque, the women launch into a wild unrestrained Greek taverna dance. It might be said that the the Favourite depicts a female zero sum competition, but it does so within a world where the power play is between women. It’s a film that points to a future that is governed by female not male humours.

    As far as I am aware this is the first movie Lanthimos has made that he has not himself co-scripted with Fillipou.   I think the film reflects his lack of ownership of the script. His difficulty handling the locations and sets, the reliance on a trite melodramatic device (similar to All about Eve but less effective), the use of the current directorial fad for dividing the script up into little chaptered sections that are meaningless, all add up to a film that is curiously vacuous. This contrasts with the impression left after seeing The Killing of a Sacred Deer, scripted by Lanthimos and Fillipou. Coming out of this movie the feeling was that this film conveyed something the director has seen, that there are forces at work beneath the surfaces of life. IN the Favourate there is only surface, and excepting its oppositional form there is little impression. But the Favourite plays out well to the taste and conceits of the day, and will probably be festooned with the appropriate garlands.

    Adrin Neatrour










  • The House that Jack Built Lars von Trier (Dmk, Europudding 2018)

    The House that Jack Built   Lars von Trier (Dmk, Europudding 2018) Matt Dillon, Uma Thurman, Bruno Ganz

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 23 Dec 2018; ticket £9.75

    it’s a wrap around

    Serial film maker Lars Von Trier wraps his gore fest around a dialogue with Verge (This character played by Bruno Ganz, representing the Virgil of Dante’s Inferno) as he guides eponymous Jack down through the caves towards the gates of hell.

    In fact most of the dialogue, spoken to Bruno Ganz by Dillon in a po-faced de-flected sort of monotone, is the obverse of the pseudo-philosophical twaddle that permeates the films of Terrence Mallick and his numerous imitators. During one sequence, Jack talks to Verge about Blake’s vision of a humanity divided into the Tygers and the Lambs, seeing the Tyger as the creative artist to whom all is permitted. But just because Jack’s lines veer towards a psychopathic demonic logic, this lends them no more than a specious authenticity comparible to the moronic insights dropped from the Tree of Life.

    In fact a lot of the dialogue between Jack and Verge (Their voices are given a synthetic deep bass treatment with heavy reverb) is densely expressed and difficult to decipher, but you get the general drift. Jack is smart, self satisfied but occassionaly mildly self critical, solipsistic and pleased with the logic he has contructed to justify his deeds.

    Jack’s character as a serial killer was apparently deeply researched by von Trier who as a result has come up with a movie-fit protagonist, an assembly line character who combines all the traits of out favourite movie killers. Jack doesn’t do empathy, in particular when he is on the job; he has OCD which not only lends a few moments of levity to the goings-on in particular in the penultimate section, but also gives him lines to feed to Verge about his need for meticulous order and attention to detail. Jack through killing discovers he is an Schlachtkunstler (slaughter artist) who expresses himself through the creativity of his chosen mode of expression. In particular he is driven to photographing and then freezing the people he has killed.

    With the bodies frozen, he takes to arranging the bodies in increasingly complex tableaux. This might be seen as a savage satire on the cancerous spread of the narcissistic art ethos through the social body of USA and Europe (and also beyond). But this insight into the theory and practice of contemporary art was better expressed in Ostlund’s ‘The Square’. Von Trier’s satire (if satire it is) is highly derivative. In relation to Jack’s scene of crime photographs (which he fashionably captures on an old camera with analogue film {though we are spared wtinessing the development and printing of the images} ) combined with the grotesque posing of his victims for the shots, the effect is that it is all too familiar: we have seen stuff like this before. The final coup de film the frozen house of corpses (a concept credited to Lars von Trier – how desperate is he for recognition?) IS anti-climatic because its appearance as a construct has been so OBVIOUSLY telegraphed.

    It might be Von Trier’s point that the House of Jack Built is intended as parody. His intention being to demonstrate the desensitising and distancing effects of this type of film.   As if we hadn’t noticed. But if so this is an inconsequential intention as by now movies made in this killer genre mode, can only be parodies. And you can’t parody a parody; you produce just another parody and there is no enlightenment or seeing from the light thrown by this type of candle.

    From the manner in which events develop by way of Jack’s film career, it appears at first that von Trier might be contriving a filmic vehicle that implies some moral coda governing Jack’s decisions.   Von Trier films have a muscular morality in the sense that many of his characters actions follow an unwavering and undeviating conceptual and behavioural logic, at whatever the cost. His character’s behaviour is moral according to their own code.   In the first incident, his victim incites her own demise by invoking the curse of Genet. In accusing Jack of being a serial killer, she opens the box and he becomes one. The greed of the second victim brings about her downfall and the third victim together with her two young boys is gunned down by the gun she had hoped the boys themselves would learn to use to kill. But when Von Trier gets to the point in his script where Jack mutilates and murders his prostitute girlfriend (who’s weakness is to be blind to the warning signs), and the final set up where Jack plans to kill half a dozen men with a single full metal jacket bullet, all we are left with as a source of moral justification is Jack’s narcissistic self importance as rattles off to Verge the sort of mumbo-jumbo you find in neo-Nietzschian self help manuals: that which does not kill me makes me stronger….etc.

    Who’s the little boy at the piano?

    The House that Jack Built has elements within it that suggested to me, a level of identification on Von Trier’s part with his material. One of von Trier’s structural devices (another is his now fashionable division of the movie into ‘incidents” or chapters. Hardly a film is made today without the director borrowing from this litterary device) is to insert into the scenario a series of flashbacks to Jack’s childhood. On what looks like 8mm footage, we see the image of an isolated talented boy obsessively practicing the piano; we see the same boy trapped like a prisoner in the clutches of a certain kind of bourgeois family bent on keeping up appearances. I wondered if this material was the director’s re-creation of a filmic substitute past for himself; Von Trier’s compensatory in-filling into the House that Jack Built, of his own re-imagined childhood. The fabrication of the missing past of the serial film maker as the serial killer he might have been.

    Just a thought.

    adrin neatrour