L Movie Review 2

Despite the global success of Yorgos Lanthimos’s Poor Things last year, I don’t think we are all quite yet full-on Lanthimosians, and his new film, the tripartite stealth-brawl Kinds of Kindness, is hard proof. I’m on board, but I can easily imagine a sizable pie slice of filmgoers smitten by the earlier film’s Gilliamesque hijinks sitting down to this new, far cooler and far rougher provocation — a movie that virtually licks its fangs over your discomfort — and wondering how they got set up. It’s not our problem, in the end; if you’ve been paying attention, you’d know to expect from Lanthimos an obstacle-course challenge, not a foot massage, and in turn that rare thing nowadays, a movie experience that burns like a flight of tequila shots.

That is all to say that we are, without much ado, right back in the uneasy, metaphor-minefield country of the filmmaker’s best films — Dogtooth (2009), Alps (2011), The Lobster (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) — with their creepy repressed deadpan, infinitely unpackable symbolic payloads, icily restrained visual scheme (no more fish-eyes), and queasy fascination with top-down systems of control and abuse. Grade A Lanthimos can be terrifying in its precision and gall; Poor Things, by comparison, was a bit of an outlier, a zesty freakshow that dallied in more familiar precincts of Weirdsville. Kinds of Kindness goes back to the well, where life is trapped in the iron maidens of power and obedience.

At a total of 2.75 hours, the three stories are more like novellas — they go long, stretching their narrative tendrils and repeating motifs into unpredictability, pushing us out blind onto the diving board each time. (There’s a certain tongue-in-cheekness to it, too — each of the segments’ titles include the unexplained initials R.M.F. Risk Management Framework? Rich Motherfucker? These apparently belong to an incidental older man with no dialogue, played by Yorgos Stefanakos.) The same cast rotates roles in each third: The leads are split between Jesse Plemons and Emma Stone, with Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, and Mamoudou Athie filling in the rear. Every step of the way, Lanthimos sticks a fork in us, within a cycle of frustrated desires, unreasonable obsessions, and self-inflicted wounds — the tales feel co-written in a tense scrum by J.G. Ballard, Shirley Jackson, Peter Handke, and Chuck Palahniuk. (Lanthimos actually co-wrote with his usual partner, Efthimis Filippou.) 

Synopsis does the film no favors, but let’s try it with back-cover bullet points: An obedient executive, whose life is controlled in every detail by his manipulative CEO, is instructed to crash his car into another and kill an innocent man. A woman who was lost at sea returns to her paranoid husband, who is convinced she’s an imposter. A cult member, outcast after being drugged and raped by her ex-husband, struggles to fulfill a prophecy about a woman who can raise the dead.

The reality of Kinds of Kindness is so much thornier and surprising than all of that. The three tales have four acts each, and the movie’s uncorked reserves of outrageous affront, ironic symbologies, and psychosexual shock are both impressively inventive and exhausting. (The limp title seems deliberately misleading.) You could say Lanthimos’s film insists upon a measure of resolve, as it insidiously distends entire scenes of emotional torture and rarely cuts away when we wish it would. Baked in, of course, is the structural handicap of anthology films, which dissuades you, as each tale plunges forward, from remembering what came before, and such is the filmmaker’s tactile immediacy that each story feels like the story. All the same, the three tales — relative, say, to any three episodes of Black Mirror — hold together as a single text, a multi-tentacled probe launched into a nest of all-American anxieties. There is not a shot wasted, or an opportunity for damage that goes unengaged.

Built largely upon character and the characters’ capacity for keeping secrets, the movie is faultlessly performed, in Lanthimos’s signature bottle-it-up style; he not only casts like a sorcerer but gets his A-listers to commit to his vision in sometimes startling ways. Uncanny and often conscientiously off-putting, Kinds of Kindness is one of those movies, like a new rad-cuisine concoction made out of ant jelly, beetroot vapor, and hay, that risks so much on its own planet that many viewers will loathe the experience — and you can easily see their point. Don’t worry about them, summer movies are coming.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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