By Raquel Stecher
Greek film director Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most exciting filmmakers working today. His unorthodox approach to storytelling makes his work feel fresh and new even to a well-versed audience. In an interview with The Independent, Lanthimos said “I don’t know how to make a straightforward film.” And it’s true. Every single one of his films breaks the mold in one way or another. They’re thought-provoking and unnerving. They stir up deep philosophical questions about how humans function in society. These stories will get under your skin and make you uncomfortable.
Because of that, Lanthimos’ films can be polarizing. You’ll love them or you’ll hate them, but you can’t deny that Lanthimos is a brilliant filmmaker. If anything, these films are great conversation starters. You can’t watch The Lobster or The Killing of a Sacred Deer and not immediately want to find somebody to talk to about them. After I saw Dogtooth for the first time, I would find every possible excuse to bring it up in conversation.
Born in 1973 in Athens, Greece, Lanthimos got his start directing dance videos, music videos, TV commercials, short films, and theatrical productions. His feature film Kinetta was released in 2005 and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival to much acclaim. He continued to make films in Greece until he transitioned to English-language films starting with The Lobster in 2016. His frequent collaborators include writer by Efthymis Filippou and his wife, actress and dancer Ariane Labed. Lanthimos’ most recent film The Favourite earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director and he’s currently working on a Western, Pop. 1280.
Not familiar with Lanthimos? Dive into this filmography with these titles available to rent from DVD Netflix.
Isolation is a common theme in Lanthimos’ films and never more so than in Dogtooth. The story centers on a family of five who live in a sealed compound. The parents have kept their three adult children – two daughters (Angeliki Papoulia and Mary Tsoni) and son (Hristos Passalis) – in confinement with little exposure to and hardly any knowledge of the outside world. Only the father is allowed to leave the compound so he can make an income to maintain their lifestyle. The siblings are bored and often play violent games to pass the time. When the father brings home fellow coworker Christina (Anna Kalaitzidou), the only character with an actual name, to take care of their son’s sexual needs, their isolated existence is thrown off kilter.
This is one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. I love how it explores the dangers of an insulated existence. Lanthimos took an unusual approach in casting the project by selecting actors who had no prior film experience.
What if society made it illegal to be single? This is the basis of Lanthimos’ English-language debut The Lobster which stars Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, John C. Reilly, Lea Seydoux, Olivia Colman, and Ariane Labed. In this dystopian world, single people are sent to a resort where they’re given a mere 45 days to find their mate. They can earn more time through some unusual activities. When their time runs out, the punishment for remaining single is to be transformed into an animal for the rest of their natural lives. Love is not necessary in finding a mate and emotions discouraged.
The story focuses on Farrell’s character David, who discovers a secret community of singles who live in the forest between the resort and the big city. All of the characters speak in a disturbing monotone voice that’s devoid of any emotion, making this film even more unsettling.
That emotionless monotone delivery continues with the characters of Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which also stars Colin Farrell. Inspired by the ancient Greek play Iphigenia at Aulis by Euripedis, Farrell stars as a heart surgeon who must make a seemingly impossible decision to save his family. After a failed surgery, the doctor befriends his deceased patient’s teenage son (Barry Keoghan) out of pity. The teen worms his way into the surgeon’s life and places a curse on the family. To pay penance for the death of the teenage boy’s dad, the surgeon must sacrifice one family member. If he doesn’t, they’ll all die a slow horrible death.
Nicole Kidman co-stars as the surgeon’s wife and Alicia Silverstone plays the teenage boy’s mom. This psychological thriller will have you squirming in your seat. It’s a fascinating film; one of Lanthimos’ best. The central theme focuses on how narcissism makes us lose our sense of empathy.
The Favourite put Lanthimos on the map. This period drama was a hit with both critics and audiences alike. While this was a clear departure from Lanthimos’ previous work, it still has his brand of unusual storytelling and an exploration of the absurd. The film is based on the true story of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) and the two women who vie for the coveted spot of being the Queen’s “favourite.” Rachel Weisz plays the headstrong Sarah, the Duchess of Marlborough, and Emma Stone plays Abigail, Sarah’s poorer cousin and an eager social climber. As the two battle for the Queen’s attention, a contentious love triangle emerges.
The film features a unique approach to both period costumes and cinematography. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for both Weisz and Stone. Olivia Colman won for Best Actress and her acceptance speech was one of the highlights of the ceremony.
The concept of this film will hook you but it will ultimately try your patience. Alps is a story about a group of individuals who offer grieving families an unusual service. They’ll pretend to be a deceased loved one by acting out final goodbyes, resolving arguments, or exploring scenarios that never came to fruition when the person was alive. This service is meant to be therapeutic and help family members find closure. However, the scenarios can go too far, especially when both parties are unable to separate fiction from reality. Ariane Labed stars as a gymnast/hired actor. Efthymis Filippou co-wrote the script with Lanthimos and appears in the movie as a lighting shop owner who runs the service.
Lanthimos gets in front of the camera for Greek director Athina Rachel Tsangari’s film Attenberg. Ariane Labed stars as Marina, a virginal recluse who spends most of her time with her dying father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis) and her best friend Bella (Evangelia Randou). Bella and Marina have an incredibly close bond. They wear matching outfits, practice kissing together, and do choreographed dances and walks on their way to work. Lanthimos plays an engineer and Marina’s first real boyfriend. The film is essentially an exploration on first and last sexual experiences. Marina has her sexual awakening and arranges for her father to have his last encounter. It’s a quiet and quirky film. This would be a good double bill with Lanthimos’ Dogtooth.
Raquel Stecher has been writing about classic films for the past decade on her blog Out of the Past. She attends the TCM Classic Film Festival as well as other events where old movie fanatics get together to geek out. Raquel has been a devoted DVD Netflix member since 2002! Follow her on her blog Out of the Past, or find her on Twitter @RaquelStecher and @ClassicFilmRead, Facebook, and Instagram.