Yorgos has been refining his bold visual style from Alps to Lobster to Sacred Deer, but it’s hard to notice while you’re busy making sense of his oddball characters and dialogue. So now something amazing has happened, and he’s applied those bold visuals (now featuring more fisheye lens than I’ve ever seen in a movie theater) to someone else’s script, a period comedy about women in high court behaving badly. The result wipes the floor with last year’s The Death of Stalin. And YL’s actors have always been splendid, but it’s been hard to tell since they fall into an uncanny valley of almost-not-quite human behavior, so now that they’re playing recognizable humans with killer comic insult dialogue, they’re all getting award nominations.
Queen Olivia Colman’s best friend Rachel Weisz handles all the complex policy issues while the queen hides away in her rabbit room, and this is fine until Rachel’s cousin Emma Stone shows up and starts insinuating herself. These are all based on real people according to the wiki, though it doesn’t mention whether the real Queen had 17 pet rabbits representing all her miscarried children. Nicholas “Beast/Nux” Hoult plays a parliament member who tries to get Emma to spy for him, and maybe if I see him in a few more movies I’ll start to recognize him, but probably not. Premiered at Venice with Roma, Buster Scruggs, Suspiria and Vox Lux, and sold out Phipps on a Sunday matinee, which I thought was impressive until I realized Phipps got those gigantic lounge seats and now only 24 people can fit in their tiny theaters.
I love when an absurd movie by a foreign filmmaker starring a pile of my favorite current international actors opens in town… and plays the multiplex. Judging from the turnout, they won’t be making that mistake again.
We open with the situation I knew from the trailer: Colin Farrell and acquaintance-turned-rival John C. Reilly are at a hotel where they are given thirty days to find a compatible mate or else they’ll be turned into an animal of their choosing. They go for daily treks in the woods to shoot escaped loners – for each one they bag, they’re given an extension of their hotel stay. In desperation, each man tries to fake compatibility with a woman – Reilly gives himself nosebleeds to get paired with pretty young nosebleed-prone Jessica Barden (because these are the kinds of surface similarities that make successful couples) and Farrell acts heartless to get matched with champion hunter Angeliki Papoulia. After this fails catastrophically and she murders his brother (a dog), he escapes into the woods, later returning to forcibly turn her into an animal (he also murders double-agent maid Ariane Labed, which means he dispatches both stars of Alps).
It’s no better in the woods, as leader Lea Seydoux has even stricter rules against coupling. Unfortunately, during their covert trips to the city (where Seydoux is pretend-paired with Michael Smiley of Kill List), he and his travel companion Rachel Weisz fall in love, and she is blinded as punishment, which leads to a hilarious/horrifying finale (remember the nosebleeds).
Also at the hotel: Peep Show star Olivia Colman as the manager, Ashley Jensen (Extras) as a sad woman who fails to get Farrell to like her, and Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas) as the “limping man”. I’ll have to watch again – when listing islands, did someone say “Chevalier”?
Combined, [the film’s segments] add up to this cautionary tale about the way rigid governments impose their values on their citizens, and how close-minded people try to convince others (and often themselves) that their beliefs are not only the correct ones but the only ones. In the end, that sort of thinking can leave you blind to the truth that happiness can’t be regimented or regulated. And right now, that feels like a pretty timely message.