The Favourite (2018)

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Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Country: UK / USA / Ireland

Magnificently directed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth; The Lobster; The Killing of a Sacred Deer), The Favourite is a sumptuous historical comedy-drama and feminist extravaganza. It narrates the unmeasurable thirst for power of two cousins, Lady Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), who engage in a battle with each other to earn the favoritism of the whimsical Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) of Great Britain in the early 18th century.

When Abigail, a former aristocrat turned servant, arrives at the royal house, she finds her duchess cousin Sarah enjoying all the authority bestowed by the queen, who, besides insecure and unstable in regard to the country’s affairs - England is at war with France - is also suffering from both physical and psychological illnesses. After finding out that Sarah and the queen maintain a secret affair, Abigail sets a strategy to conquer the power and get rid of her cousin, whose absence related to important war deliberations only expedites her plan. Jealousy and hatred play big in a film where men are relegated to a second plan.

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Broadening his vision and maturing his signature style, Lanthimos skillfully weaves the threads of a story that never stops to amuse us in a sort of mundanity-meets-elegance. The pair of writers, Tony McNamara and Deborah Davis, thoughtfully crafted a story whose wittiness, cynicism, and madness helped to transform The Favourite in one of the most impressive works of 2018.

Shot with sophistication, this unconventional period film is a triumph in many ways. It showcases an off-kilter sense of humor and a special conglomeration of carnality, darkness, fragility, and opulence. The superlative performances from the ensemble cast set this venomous female triangle on fire. If Stone and Weisz are extremely qualified in their roles, Colman is a marvel, playing the childish, solitary queen with so much artfulness and brilliance.

The production values are absolutely formidable, including the set and custom designs, the convenient soundtrack with Baroque, Romantic, and contemporary classical music, and the stunning cinematography by Robbie Ryan (I, Daniel Blake; Fish Tank). Furthermore, I’m glad that the bold, inimitable Lanthimos didn’t lose the power to shock and captivate at the same time, a staple in his filmography.

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The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

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Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos
Country: USA

Do you like being psychologically disturbed and at the same time poked by wry humor while you're watching a movie? Do you feel compelled to explore dark paths and search for logic connections when you have no idea where an odd story is going to take you? If you answered affirmatively to these questions, I urge you to watch “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”, the latest ingenious and tragic brain-teaser from Greek helmer Yorgos Lanthimos, author of “Dogtooth”, “Alps”, and “The Lobster”.

Laden with a painfully perverse eeriness and strategic circumspection, this unearthly tale, co-written by Lanthimos and his creative right-hand partner Efthymis Filippou, was inspired by Euripides’ ancient play Iphigenia at Aulis.

Acting convincingly, Collin Farrell and Nicole Kidman pair up once again after having collaborated recently in Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled”. He is Stephen Murphy, a successful cardiac surgeon who conquered a drinking problem in a recent past. She is Anna, his wife, and a dedicated mother of two, Kim (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob (Sunny Suljic), 14 and 12, respectively. The couple is solidly married for sixteen years, living in a beautiful house that accommodates their quirky, libido-sparkling sexual games - “general anesthetic?”, she asks. Their concerns, sometimes turned into slight disagreements, are mostly related to giving a proper education to their children and assign them common household chores to reinforce their responsibility.

The family's serenity is shattered when Stephen invites an atypical teenage friend, Martin (Barry Keoghan), to dinner and meet his family. The kid, acting in a very considerate way, makes a good impression, especially on Kim, with whom he develops an instinctive chemistry. The unlikely relationship between Stephen and Martin is not immediately clarified and we only learn that the boy’s father died three years before during a delicate heart operation conducted by Stephen. Since that dinner, Martin has become pushier in an obsessive way, popping up everywhere without notice and making Stephen uncomfortable with his presence. The most awkward moment occurs when the doctor meets his friend's brazen mother (Alicia Silverstone), after accepting a scheming invitation to dinner at his place as a form of retribution. 

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Despite injurious, this disagreeable episode had almost no expression to Stephen when compared with the adversity that stemmed from the unexplainable illness of his two children. All of a sudden, they got both legs unaccountably paralyzed. An intransigent impudence grows in the diabolical Martin as he reveals part of his occult plan, casting a four-stage curse upon Stephen’s children as a punishment for the death of his father. The malediction will affect the members of his direct family, who will all perish if he doesn't pick one to be killed at his own hands.

Lanthimos can easily flip between quiet uneasiness and maniacal violence, but he mostly sticks to the former option, giving a cerebral course to the twisted emotions, in the same line of “Dogtooth”, rather than embracing the spirited subversion that outlined “The Lobster”. It’s quite perplexing how this talented filmmaker manages to depict darkness and mischief by embedding so much light in the geometrically composed shots, conveying not fear, but more of a calculated and almost fragile profanity. 

Provocative, transgressive, and predominantly off-the-wall, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” bites with cinematic decorum and also throbs with an opportune, startling score.

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