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PostPosted: Thu Nov 02, 2017 9:07 am 
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Yorgos Lanthimos: The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017) - PARIS


Idiocy and menace

Clearly, this fifth collaboration between the Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos and his friend Efthymis Filippou is less avant-garde and elaborately conceptual, and closer to a conventional horror movie. But while I found their widely seen and critically triumphant previous film The Lobster cruel and repellent, this one is appealing. It starts out a little like a Ionesco play, with a blandly well-behaved, hyper-conventional family uttering polite near-nonsense to each other. One might think of Bresson or his current admirer Eugène Green's dialogue, for the stilted manner, except there is no purity and innocence here but rather something menacing, or maybe idiotic. Meanwhile, a holdover from earlier Lanthimos films, there is a kind of autistic spectrum element, where characters suddenly say something bluntly sexual with no awareness that it might shock. Yes, everyone is being nice, the cardiologist husband Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), his opthmologist wife Anna Murphy (Nicole Kidman), their two children little long-haired Bob (Sunny Suljic) and aspiring singer Kim (Raffey Cassidy). But one is just waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the awfulness to come.

And it comes when the full nature of Murphy's relationship with Martin emerges. Martin is a breakout performance by Barry Keoghan, a young Irish actor whose brief appearance in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk was already electrifying a few months ago. He has intense presence, an innocent face and Asian-looking eyes. The character of Martin, the linchpin of the piece, shows this film's unusually effective blend of the ordinary and the strange. Keoghan uses a soft, innocent-sounding American voice here, maintained always at a consistent pitch that effortlessly allows its sweetness to turn imperceptably into menace. What's the hidden connection between the teenage Martin and Steven? What's behind the doctor's gift to Martin of a valuable watch, the exchange of courtesies and meet-ups that, for Steven, when Martin repeatedly comes to see him at the hospital, become too frequent and too free? And why has Steven been concealing this inexplicable but somehow important relationship from his wife Anna?

But then suddenly there's a romance between Kim and Martin, and Steven has a telling, suggestive meeting with Martin's mother (Alicia Silverstone). I relished the free-form, absurdist nature of all this while it lasted. During these sequences every appearance of Keoghan has a charge, while the idiotic conventionality provides another kind of fun. Idiotic-scary: idiotic-scary: and come to think of it, the idiotic can be frightening because it means the disorderly, the illogical, and without order or logic there is danger. How does the film manage to make even talk about how one eats spaghetti become threatening?

Eventually Martin reveals his malevolent power whose justification is strong enough to hold our sympathy in some lingering childish wish-fulfilment side of our natures, both whih him, and with his potential victims. There is something of the simple, elemental nightmarish in Lanthimos' construction that works. The story is crazy, but there's sympathy for everybody, even the Most at Fault, the respected but perhaps incompetent cardiologist, the (unusually, imposingly) bearded Colin Farrell, whose blandness makes him seem half innocent, half reprehensible, and he does get to lay down the law more often than anybody else (till Martin assumes his powers), but with what reason? And eventually he comes to seem really, really idiotc, but that, again, is dangerous.

Lanthimos & Co. do like to play their games, though, and the only flaw is that once terrible things start to happen to the children, the filmmakers seem not quite to know when to stop, how to turn their earlier neatness and wit into arresting finales. The movie reaches or exceeds the limits of its absurdity when Steven carries out the task Martin has assigned to him. By this time so much juice has been wrung out of the premises, in good and bad senses, that we may not really care much any more if they've been adequately fulfilled. It's nonetheless a coup to have brought things to a conclusion, and for me, at least, it was satisfying that the last image was of Martin's face.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer, 120 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, winning the Best Screenplay award. 17 other festivals, including Toronto and London. Limited US release by A24, 20 Oct., wider 3 Nov. AlloCiné press rating a mediocre 3.0. Metacritic rating 73%. Screened for this review 2 Nov. at a public showing at MK2 Odeon, Paris.

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