Film re­views David Strat­ton and Stephen Romei as­sess the lat­est movies

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

When the Greek film Dog­tooth pre­miered at Cannes in 2009 it was im­me­di­ately ev­i­dent that here was a fresh and orig­i­nal cin­e­matic vi­sion. The strange story of an in­ces­tu­ous fam­ily liv­ing in a tightly con­trolled gated com­mu­nity clearly was in­tended to be seen as a metaphor for a pa­tri­ar­chal, in­ward-look­ing so­ci­ety, and on those terms was a bril­liant suc­cess. Dog­tooth was the sec­ond fea­ture by Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos, and he fol­lowed it with Alps (2011), an equally bizarre de­pic­tion of an un­usual form of grief ther­apy that won the Syd­ney Film Fes­ti­val Award. Now comes the first English-lan­guage film from Lan­thi­mos, The Lob­ster, an Ir­ish-Greek-Bri­tish-Dutch-French co-pro­duc­tion, win­ner of the jury prize at Cannes ear­lier this year.

This time the al­le­gory is more dif­fi­cult to pin­point, though Lan­thi­mos and his co-writer Ef-thimis Filip­pou seem to be hav­ing a dig at con­tem­po­rary courtship rit­u­als. At any rate, the film ap­pears to be tak­ing place in the near fu­ture or in a par­al­lel uni­verse where the state is un­healthily in­ter­ested in the mat­ing game.

The film be­gins with a se­quence in which a woman (Jac­que­line Abra­hams) drives fu­ri­ously along a coun­try road in heavy rain, stops the car, and fires a gun at a don­key graz­ing in an ad­ja­cent field. The scene is never re­ferred to again, but the im­pli­ca­tions of it res­onate as the un­ques­tion­ably strange events un­fold.

The prin­ci­pal set­ting for the film is a rather or­di­nary and de­cid­edly old-fash­ioned ho­tel some­where in the coun­try­side. David (Colin Farrell) ar­rives at the ho­tel to be in­ter­viewed by the man­ager­ess (Olivia Col­man).

From this in­ter­view it is re­vealed David is, ef­fec­tively, a pris­oner rather than a guest and his sta­tus is due to the fact he re­cently has been di­vorced. In this so­ci­ety, sin­gles are not tol­er­ated, and David — like the other “guests” in the ho­tel — is given 45 days to find a re­place­ment mate. He’s asked about his sex­ual pref­er­ences and ad­vised that bi­sex­u­al­ity is not an op­tion, “due to op­er­a­tional mat­ters”. If he fails to find a part­ner he will be turned into an an­i­mal of his own choos­ing and re­leased into the wild.

This wacky con­cept is de­scribed in dead­pan fash­ion as the most nor­mal thing in the world. David is asked which an­i­mal he will choose to be in the event he fails to cou­ple up be­fore the dead­line, and his re­ply pro­vides the film with its ti­tle — lob­sters, he ex­plains, live for 100 years and re­main fer­tile all their lives.

Once you ac­cept this bizarre premise — if, in­deed, you do — you might imag­ine there would be a sense of ur­gency among the ho­tel’s in­hab­i­tants to find a mate be­fore the dead­line, but ev­ery­one seems to be very calm. Life at the ho­tel is strangely for­mal, and all the women wear dresses cut from the same cloth. David, the only char­ac­ter in the film given a name, seems in no hurry to con­nect with one of sev­eral at­trac­tive women look­ing for mates, and in­stead be­friends a mid­dle-aged man with a lisp (John C. Reilly) and a young man with a limp (Ben Whishaw). With time run­ning out, he makes an ef­fort to court a woman (An­ge­liki Papou­lia).

Mean­while, out­side the ho­tel, in forests that are in­hab­ited by out­casts led by an an­ar­chist (Lea Sey­doux), rules are in force that are just as strict as those on the in­side. Yet even as he con­trasts and com­pares two equally con­trol­ling po­lit­i­cal move­ments, Lan­thi­mos finds space for a sur­pris­ingly ten­der love story, thanks to the pres­ence of Loner (Rachel Weisz), a young woman who ques­tions the sys­tem.

There are no an­swers here, yet Lan­thi­mos’s debt to the sur­re­al­ists en­sures there is plenty of un­con­ven­tional ques­tion­ing. Ir­ish lo­ca­tions are used as the back­drop for th­ese puz­zling go­ingson, while an im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of sound­track mu­sic man­ages to in­clude not only Stravin­sky and Beethoven but also the Kylie Minogue- Nick Cave song Where the Wild Roses Grow.

With his new film, Lan­thi­mos shows that his dystopian, se­ri­ously pe­cu­liar vi­sion of the world has sur­vived the shift from his na­tive Greece into the realm of a Euro­pean co-pro­duc­tion in English with­out com­pro­mise. His vi­sion re­mains in­tact, his hu­mour as dry and at times un­fath­omable as ever. He is a true orig­i­nal.

Two new Aus­tralian films have, by sheer co­in­ci­dence, al­most iden­ti­cal plots. Both UnIn­dian and Alex & Eve are set in Syd­ney and in­volve re­la­tion­ships be­tween lovers from dif­fer­ent racial back­grounds with, in both films, fam­ily op­po­si­tion to the cross-cul­tural ro­mance.

UnIn­dian, di­rected by Anu­pam Sharma, is the story of Meera (Tan­nishtha Chat­ter­jee), a di­vorced woman who lives with her 10-year-old daugh­ter, Smitha (Maya Sathi), and who works as mar­ket­ing man­ager for a com­pany. Her con­trol­ling par­ents (Akash Khu­rana, Pathak Ka­pur) have keys to her house and are prone to drop in at any time. Things change when she meets Will, who teaches mul­ti­cul­tural stu­dents ocker English at the Univer­sity of NSW. Sparks fly but com­pli­ca­tions en­sue.

Much has been writ­ten about the fact Will is played by former cricketer Brett Lee. Lee is per­fectly fine in the role, ex­ud­ing a nat­u­ral, un­forced charm. He’s not called on to do a great deal more than play him­self but he does this with re­laxed skill (and I sus­pect it’s not as easy as it seems).

The film is not with­out flaws. A sub­plot in­volv­ing Meera’s ex fails to con­vince so that the cli­mac­tic race-against-time goes for lit­tle, and Will’s class seems to be­long to an­other era, while his dis­pute with his boss, John Howard, is a con­flict that goes nowhere. De­spite th­ese flaws, the film is en­gag­ing in its cheer­ful cel­e­bra­tion of com­mu­nity. Su­perb pho­tog­ra­phy of Syd­ney by Martin McGrath is a ma­jor as­set, but so is the pos­i­tive de­pic­tion of Meera (beau­ti­fully played by Chat­ter­jee), who jug­gles a de­mand­ing job with rear­ing her daugh­ter and en­joy­ing the at­ten­tion of an Aus­tralian lover. The film’s fi­nal cred­its fea­ture mem­bers of the crew danc­ing with the ac­tors in an at­trac­tive dis­play of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

Alex & Eve is less suc­cess­ful be­cause di­rec­tor Pe­ter An­drikidis tries too hard to milk com­edy from the script. The ro­mance is be­tween Greek boy Alex (Richard Bran­cati­sano) and Le­banese Mus­lim girl Eve (An­drea Deme­tri­ades).

Based on a suc­cess­ful play, the ma­te­rial may have been funny on stage, but it seems strained on film as both fam­i­lies reg­is­ter their hor­ror at the ro­mance. There are sev­eral sim­i­lar­i­ties to UnIn­dian but here The Grad­u­ate- in­spired end­ing seems par­tic­u­larly forced and the char­ac­ters are stereo­typed. The best per­for­mance comes from He­len Che­batte as Eve’s con­trol­ling mother.

Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in The Lob­ster, top; Brett Lee, sec­ond right, in UnIn­dian, left; Richard Bran­cati­sano and An­drea Deme­tri­ades in Alex & Eve, be­low left

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