As ‘Dogtooth’ turns ten, a look at Yorgos Lanthimos, who’s now an awards-season ‘Favourite’

Posted on January 17, 2019


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For a while now, I’ve been meaning to write about Yorgos Lanthimos — and the time is right now, what with Dogtooth turning ten and The Favourite becoming an awards-season favourite. In an Indiewire piece, Eric Kohn summed up the Lanthimos phenomenon thus: “Not since the emergence of Lars Von Trier has a filmmaker managed to disturb and thrill audiences in equal measures while broadening his profile at the same time.” It’s hard to disagree. There really hasn’t been such a weird filmmaker in ages, and he’s shaking up the art-house circuit just as it was beginning to look and feel very similar. By the time Dogtooth broke out at Cannes, in 2009, the time was ripe for a bold, eccentric filmmaker whose films were worth watching not just for what they said but how they said those things.

What versus how, substance versus style: this evaluative criterion applies to every filmmaker, mainstream and art-house. But Lanthimos is so out there, that the form is what you see first. Consider this situation, from The Lobster, which won the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. This is what John (Ben Whishaw) says to a young girl who’s like a daughter: “A basketball weighs between 550 and 650 grams. Did you know that? The weight’s different for men’s and women’s games, but that’s roughly how much it weighs. Do you know how much a volleyball weighs?” Now, there’s nothing odd about what is being said. People do talk about basketball and volleyball, even if not always with this kind of obsessive detail. What makes it odd is John’s tone: it’s flat, as though he’s reading off a sheet of paper, a cross between a manager’s dictation to his stenographer and the voice of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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