Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

Impression: In the new movie by Yorgos Lanthimos, Collin Farrel’s character (Steven) seems like a continuation of the part he played in the The Lobster. The acting is the exact same deadpan, no emotion with rapidly fired words said in monotone.  But it is more than that, the type of things he says are things that are just not said in society: people might think them, but they don’t say them.  Because they are uncomfortable and go against conventions about what is appropriate and what is not. Things like “Our daughter started menstruating last week,” are not normally said in small talk at a work function. Basically, his character is what would normally be seen as socially awkward. Except that the society which Lanthimos constructs has different rules than ours and there is no reaction to what he says,  just the audience’s laughter at the inappropriateness of the situation. In our world.
In the worlds Lanthimos constructs inside his films, there is actually no concept of inappropriateness. And this is the basis upon which he then builds situations which would otherwise be absurd, like the world in which you have to be coupled up or turned into an animal in the Lobster, or lack of knowledge of the outside world beyond what their parents make up for the kids in Dogtooth, or a teenage boy (Martin) constantly invading Steven’s family life in this film.  The smaller inappropriate behaviors are never questioned, and so the characters keep pushing against each other. But eventually, even in Lanthimos’ world, it does get to the point where it makes his characters uncomfortable. Because even without societal norms, on an individual level, there are lines that can be crossed.
In this movie, Steven is a surgeon with a seemingly perfect family.  He spends a lot of time interacting with Martin, who he introduces to his family. Eventually, the boy demands more and more of his time and attention.  When Farrell awkwardly starts avoiding him, things beyond his control start happening to his family, and the boy’s revenge plot is foisted on him.  Lanthimos’ previous films, just like this one, dealt with rules, and arbitrariness of rules. In Dogtooth, it was the parents who made the rules for the world in which they kept their children, in Lobster, the rebels made rules to rebel against the rules of the mainstream world. Here, Martin makes up his own rules about what is right and what is wrong and has the power to make others conform to his rules. Lanthimos’ films leave me with a sense of unease. Where do rules come from? Are all rules basically arbitrary? Must all human interactions be governed by rules? Even if we acknowledge them as arbitrary?
Facts:  Supernatural events start transpiring to Steven’s family once he refuses to have contact with a teenager who seemingly started out as a friend.
Extra: I saw this film at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. It was my favorite film I saw at TIFF this year.
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The Bad Batch (2016)

Impression: I am not a huge fan of horror, and usually not a huge fan of ultra-violence in movies either. So there had to be a strong reason for me to get excited about a movie tagged a “dystopian cannibal love story”  and drive over an hour to go see it. And there was, it was directed by Ana Lily Amirpour, of  A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night fame. I loved her previous film, for its sensibility and just general sense of weirdness in an alternate universe she created. It was black and white and tagged as “the first Iranian vampire Western.” The Bad Batch turned out to not be a horror, but definitely a violent dystopia, produced on a much higher budget, with much higher profile actors (some credited, some not), and it’s own strange aesthetic and logic. I feel like her movies have to be taken the same way Baz Luhrman’s movies are consumed, not as a film, but an experience: there may be a plot, but it is secondary to the full world and atmosphere the director creates. Here the story follows a girl, who is literally broken and butchered, but does what she has to in order to survive, and find her place in a very brutal and strange world. Sure, the film can be read as a metaphor for life and surviving hardship, or choosing to build something new when faced with bad choices, but I think more than anything it is just a vision of an alternate world, and a chance to be transported into someone else’s vision. Keanu Reeves has never been creepier or better cast (and never worn a mustache in a movie before according to the director!) as a world creator and a cult leader of “The Dream.” And Jim Carey is completely unrecognizable in a silent role.  This is definitely NOT an action movie, it is slow moving and moody, much like her previous film. I think I still prefer her first film, just because I had never seen anything like it,  but this one is also very original and quirky, and full of creative energy.

Facts: A girl gets dropped off in a no-man’s land dystopian desert, where she is first faced with a brutal world run by bodybuilder cannibals. only to escape to a seemingly more  kind world of daily lazing about the desert and nightly rave parties. Soon, she discovers something nefarious is going on there too.

Extra: The fact that I got to see this film at a sneak preview, right after an hour and a half live interview with a very funny and entertaining Ana Lily Amirpour may  have made me like this movie more than, I otherwise would have. She was full of hilarious anecdotes, and very no-nonsense thoughts on life, and amazingly creative and badass.

The Dance of Reality (2013)

Impression: I think I saw another Jodorowsky movie, possibly El Topo 7 or 8 years ago and all I can remember is that it was set in a desert and it was very strange.  This one is also very strange. It’s a surrealist version of the director’s childhood told through a series of vignettes with a backdrop of politics of 1930s Chile and mixed with some commentary on religion. It’s impossible to extract what real event may have inspired each short story from the fanciful tale that he spins around it, but maybe that’s not the point. The point is maybe how our imagination influences memory and distorts reality. In the film, his mother sings all her lines opera style, and has magical powers. She is able to summon his father back from a quest where he has gotten stuck and lost his memory, by tying a rock to balloons which then track him down in a town far away, drop on his tin roof and return his memories. Unlike his mother with her magic, his father is a stoic atheist, who worships Stalin in an almost religious way. The young Alejandro faces a series of struggles to do things to win approval of his mother and father, but it’s a balance, and usually winning one, means losing another. A number of other visually stunning sequences stand out as well. As a boy. Alejandro likes to throw rocks into the sea. He is told this will kill all the fish, and soon after, a giant tsunami-like wave spits out all the fish onto the beach, the seagulls start eating them, and he is torn between feeling responsible for bringing a demise to all the fish and feeling good about feeding all the birds. What an awesome metaphor for how any action has ambiguous consequences?!  People’s motivations are also laid bare. In my favorite sequence, a group of diseased people is quarantined on the beach and given no food or water, and his father wants to use the situation to be a hero. He  breaks through the quarantine with his donkey cart full of water, which he passes out. Once they’ve had enough water they turn on his donkeys and kill them for meat. He is flabbergasted and yells out “But how will I bring you more water  tomorrow if you kill the donkeys?” to which they reply “But we are hungry today!” It’s one of those movies whose visuals and stories stay with you for days.

Facts:  The director recalls through a surrealist lense what it was like growing up in a small town in Chile in the 1930s.

The Lobster (2015)

Impression: The acting is as deadpan as it gets, the premise and situation absurd, yet there is some uncomfortable truth behind it all.  The authorities hunting down singletons in a shopping mall, the policing of all emotions and actions, the strict enforcement of all rules, and the existence of rules that govern everything.  It can be translated as a commentary to any set of rules we blindly follow as a society, or it can be read as a commentary on marriage as an institution. The best part is that even people who reject the mainstream, and live outside its rules, feel the need to set up their own rules. Which are just the antithesis of the main stream: everything the mainstream is, the rebels are its opposite. Yet, they are just as brutal about enforcing their rules, and in both cases violence is perpetuated by society on the individual. Any deviations from the rules, or even thinking about deviating from the rules, is strictly punished. This movie stayed with me for weeks. Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the most original thought provoking directors working right now. His other movie, Dogtooth was perhaps even more disturbing at creating a world with its own set of arbitrary but strict rules.
Facts:  A dystopian version of reality in which everyone who is not married is forced to do so, or will be turned into an animal of their choosing.

High-rise (2015)

Impression: Very, very odd. The 70s costumes, hairstyles, cars and furniture are all spot on and in full glory. In the intro scene you realize that something has gone very wrong in this building. The story then backflashes into a series of interconnected snapshots of inhabitants of the building interacting. The main character lives somewhere in the middle floors (middle class), there is one strong character in the  low floors (featuring a Che Guevara poster in his bedroom!)  and the ‘architect’ on the top floor (featuring a large garden with horses and goats in his rooftop garden). There are also more minor characters than one can possibly take in. Eventually it all descends into chaos, so that the goings on on screen resemble the scattered plot structure. As soon as the film ended, I had to read more about it, because it was just so strange, and I felt like there was something I must not be getting.  Once I learned it was based on a book, it seemed clearer that perhaps the movie was better understood having read it. While I am still not completely sure what it all meant, it’s definitely a film that visually stays with you for days.
Facts: Things go very wrong very fast in a London 70’s dystopian high-rise where the floor you live on is a very literal social status descriptor.

The Handmaiden (2016)

Impression: This movie ticks so many boxes for the elements I like in movies: beautiful people in beautiful places, unexpected twists and turns, funny and weird. During the first hour you think you know where it’s going: it seems like a very beautiful, but straight forward, and slightly cheesy period piece. Once part 2 starts, you realize that everything that just happened can be completely reinterpreted with a help of a few pieces of background information you’ve just been given and nothing is as it seems.  A sign of a great movie is when a run time of almost 3 hours feels like no time at all has passed. This is one of those movies.
Facts:  A Korean/Japanese period piece/comedy with unexpected twists and turns reminiscent of The Sting, but with a lot more explicit sex scenes and general weirdness.
Extra: I saw this one as well at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. I  was sitting next to this Haitian couple and during the sex scenes only, the woman felt compelled to narrate and comment on what was going on in great detail, which made it a little awkward.