By Sean Boelman
Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos received a great deal of attention as the director of the critical darling The Favourite, but even before that, he was an amazing filmmaker who defined an entire movement in Greek film. His first solo feature Kinetta is finally making its way to American audiences, so now seems to be the perfect time to trace the development of his unique and darkly comedic style of cinema.
The zany premises of Lanthimos’s movies are a big part of what has gained him such a big cult following. Over the course of his career, the concepts of his films have gotten more and more bizarre (and increasingly insightful, in effect), starting with Kinetta, his most grounded, all the way to The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which leans fully into fantasy. (The Favourite was not written by Lanthimos, hence its exclusion.)
Much of the charm of these dark satires lies in the fact that they are so unabashedly odd that they are impossible to ignore. There may or may not be reason to be concerned about the filmmaker’s state of mental health given some of the more disturbing and demented elements of some of his movies, but there is something impressive about the fact that he can find the humor in these dark situations.
Lanthimos’s solo debut Kinetta is undeniably his most subtle in terms of humor, but it still shows many of his hallmarks that would develop over the course of his filmography. The movie’s repeated use of purposefully rough film-within-a-film footage may be among the most disturbing moments of any of his movies (incest included), but there’s still something uncomfortably funny about it.
This would soon be taken to the extreme in his follow-up Dogtooth, which has the most taboo subject matter that Lanthimos has tackled to this point. Still, Lanthimos doesn’t shy away from mining the hilarity out of the awkward atmosphere, delivering situational humor that will linger for a long time in the mind of the viewer.
Dogtooth also shows how Lanthimos would eventually master the art of dialogue. The filmmaker’s gift with words is never more evident than when he inserts common words and phrases into sentences out-of-context to make the characters lovably out-of-touch. This simple but inspired action on his part goes to show how much of a comedic genius he really is.
When Lanthimos would truly become a master of dark absurdity is when he could translate it into topicality, and that happens in The Lobster. Although Kinetta, Dogtooth, and Alps all have something to say, The Lobster is his first film that feels urgent. It is the perfect culmination of all the humor he has been working up to build, all of it having started with three people in a Greek hotel.
It is interesting to see how Lanthimos evolved as a filmmaker from Kinetta through his English-language masterpieces. Each movie builds upon its predecessor, forming Yorgos Lanthimos into one of the most prolific voices working in film today, and hopefully, he has plenty more to say.
Yorgos Lanthimos’s solo directorial debut, Kinetta, is now streaming on Criterion Channel.
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