Yorgos Lanthimos kinds of kindness review

Yorgos Lanthimos’s Kinds of Kindness is another twisted, epic fable about love and obsession

2.5 stars out of 5

With Kinds of Kindness, Yorgos Lanthimos creates a triptych of longing. Structured around three fable-like stories, the film focuses on how far we are willing to go to experience love. Embracing the surrealism of his earlier works, Kinds of Kindness follows three characters gripped by devotion. Fragile and strange, each one pushes themselves to unusual limits in search of affection and recognition. Occasionally cruel and briefly ecstatically beautiful, the film is an uneven and overly long examination of modern attention. 

The film opens with the story of a man completely subservient to his boss Raymond (Willem Dafoe). Jesse Plemons, a newcomer to the Lanthimos universe, plays the weak-willed Robert. After over a decade of following Raymond’s every command, from his sartorial and diet “suggestions” to choosing a wife and “deciding” not to have children, Raymond has pushed Robert to the edge with a request that has shattered his obedience. In an attempt to stand up for himself and regain control of his life, Robert sees his life collapse.

By far the most complete of the three sections, this part of the movie speaks most directly to the two-sided theme of kindness. Robert’s subservience is self-effacing and motivated by a clear desire to be loved. He’s a meek and quiet man. Plemons’ award-winning performance captures a quiet intensity; one senses his small defiances even before he declares his independence. He’s resolute and calculated, his gestures laboured and uncertain. On the other hand, you have the almost uncomfortable looseness of Dafoe’s Raymond, a man who uses his smile and the guise of kindness and benevolence to exert control. It’s a movie that evokes the pitfalls of politeness, how the trap of being loved and liked often means that the snake has unfettered access to its prey.

The movie opens with one of the major musical themes: “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. It sets the scene of imagination while also signalling the pulsing, uncomfortable sexuality at the film’s heart. The BPM injects the audience with a rush of blood. It reflects Lanthimos’s ability to use pop music and sound to create both mood and discord, as the song emphasizes interior and exterior spaces via shifting points of view and breaks down the norms of behaviour acceptable in public versus private lives. The music overall contributes to a lot of the film’s best, or at least most pleasurable moments. This is a bit frustrating though, as Kinds of Kindness often feels like a pop-art idea of arthouse cinema, rather than something transformative or transgressive.

The second story is by far the least interesting, while the third feels as though it could have easily been a full film. Running at nearly three hours, the movie feels both too long and rushed. The stories and characters don’t have time to breathe, and the thematic connection between them often feels more alienating than poignant. Yet, Lanthimos never fully abandons his penchant for strange discordant moments, which jolt the viewer’s attention back to the screen. It’s an exercise in experience more so than ideas. It’s unfortunate that it wears out its welcome. 

For better and for worse, the movie captures quite well the alienation of contemporary life. Unsurprisingly, if you’ve seen some of his other films, particularly his earlier work, the filmmaking style has a contemptuous view of humanity’s devolution in the face of modernization. Kinds of Kindness has a brutal perspective, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I enjoy it in his other films) but also lacks some grounding. The experience feels more like an opportunity to play than a fully realized project, and perhaps is a necessary breaking point from the calculated formal eccentricities of The Favourite and Poor Things.

While the film doesn’t quite work overall, it feels like a bridge to new things for Lanthimos. His collaboration with Emma Stone, especially, feels as though it’s ripening. Her presence here is electric, unpredictable and steeped in fragility and pathos. While Kinds of Kindness revisits many familiar themes and tones of his previous work, it does feel like an opportunity for reinvention. At the very least, it makes me curious about his next film. ■

Kinds of Kindness (directed by Yorgos Lanthimos)

Kinds of Kindness is scheduled to open in Montreal theatres on Friday, June 21. For more, please visit the Cannes Film Festival website.

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