01 February 2011
Ever since one of the A.V. Club writers (Mike D'Angelo, I think?) wrote about this film at last year's Cannes, I've been looking forward to seeing it. All I knew about it was it involved some sheltered sisters and was sufficiently "weird." Beyond that, I blocked it all out and waited until I could finally watch it for myself. It took a while, since it never played in theaters (that I was aware of) and only just came out on DVD, but it was worth it.
I don't even know what to say about it. Maybe one of my favorite things, because it relates to where I'm at with my own story is, no matter how unusual the premise, it manages to remain crystal clear without a single line of exposition or any scenes that merely "establish." The photography is similarly obtuse, often arbitrary feeling in an unsettling, oddly-framed way that harmonizes nicely with the tone of the story. The performances are great, just intimate enough that we squeamishly sympathize and just detached enough that we recognize the monstrousess of the children, regardless of their blamelessness. The movie never moralizes, in fact it never even offers counterpoint to its slanted philosophy. We just watch scenes unfold in a strange world. Some scenes have odd details that make sense later on. Other scenes take a little mental footwork and keep the audience figuring out the puzzle as they go. Right to the last frame we have to do the work ourselves to understand the story, but it's never unclear.
There is of course a couple of squirmy scenes in this. [SPOILERS] I don't mind the weird sexuality and incest in the story, or even the crazy brainwashing and mental, emotional, and physical abuse (although abuse through misinformation does touch a nerve with me, it's hardly something I have to turn away from) but I almost lost it when the older daughter decided to lose her dogtooth. The mirror, the mini-barbell, the look in the mirror... as soon as the scene began I muttered out loud, "Oh no," and then when she did it (repeatedly) I could barely keep watching or sit still. Maybe it's the dental thing (I've had a lot of dental work done and grew up with an average-or-higher fear of losing my teeth), or maybe it's the prolonged, deliberate, unflinching pace of it, but I found this harder even than The Scene in Caché.
This is Yorgos Lanthimos's second feature, supposedly, and I'm going to see now if I can't find a copy of Kinetta, his first. He's definitely someone to watch. And although tonight was supposed to be devoted to writing and that's exactly the one thing I failed to accomplish, this film feels like exactly the kind of thing I need to see, to give me a little kick-in-the-pants courage about how I approach some scenes and character beats.
This was an enervating and inspiring film to see, and it makes me hungry for more like it. The Portland International Film Festival begins in a little over a week. Hopefully this experience can be repeated with some of the films they're showing there.