Cannes 2015: 'The Lobster' and 'Louder Than Bombs' Are Distinctive English-Language Debuts

The Lobster (dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

Yorgos Lanthimos and Joachim Trier made distinct impressions with their English-language film debuts at Cannes 2015; the former with savage satire, the latter with absorbing family drama.

The Lobster

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Cast: Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Lea Seydoux, John C. Reilly, Olivia Colman, Ben Whishaw, Angeliki Papoulia
Rated: NR
Studio: Alchemy
Year: 2015

The tyranny of coupledom and the arrogance of singletons both receive savagely satirical treatment in The Lobster, the latest provocation from Yorgos Lanthimos, which just won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Greek director of Dogtooth (2009) and Alps (2011) makes his English language debut with this film, continuing his construction of hermetic social situations governed by oppressive laws and rituals, here with a star-studded cast and a larger canvas but more problematic results.

The film takes place in a world in which single people are herded into “hotels” and forced to pair up or otherwise meet an undesirable fate. “The fact that you’ll be turned into an animal if you fail to find a partner within 45 days shouldn’t get you down or upset you,” intones the scarily self-possessed manager (the ubiquitous Olivia Colman) to David (Colin Farrell), who’s just been dumped by his wife and is thus a new “guest” at the venue. It’s David whose progress we follow, as he arrives with his dog (formerly his brother), meets new fellow residents (among them, Ben Whishaw’s “Limping Man” and John C. Reilly’s “Lisping Man”), and attempts to find a match among the women there. Following two violent acts, David escapes, however, seeking refuge in the nearby woods with “the Loners”, an outlaw group who, it turns out, are every bit as hard-line in their views as those from whom David has just fled.

Despite several reservations (notably about the film’s use of voiceover, which is every bit as disastrous as that of Woody Allen’s Irrational Man, and considerably more strident), I was on board with The Lobster for about half of its running time. Lanthimos introduces the hotel’s rules and rituals with skill: corporal punishment for masturbation; plays that illustrate the grave dangers that single people are subject to; and a hilariously awful “mingling” session scored to “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” (“Scarlet for me, scarlet for you…”). Through such elements, the movie offers some great critique of binary thinking (neither half-sizes for clothes nor a bisexual option are available at this hotel) and anti-miscegenation views. “A wolf and a pig can never live together,” David is firmly informed.

In ”taking all these behaviours, codes, pressures, norms, and rules that we have and observing them in a more exaggerated way,” as the director puts it, The Lobster succeeds in carrying our culture’s couples-emphasis to entertainingly crazy extremes. At its best, the movie offers a mordantly funny rejoinder both to the kind of rhetoric that tells us that married people will inevitably live longer than single ones, and to a “swipe-right” society that reduces the complexities of human personality to one or two easily identifiable characteristics.

Lanthimos’s talent is for disturbing deadpan augmented by jarring jolts of violence. The tone is often slippery, and it seems appropriate that people laugh at different times during the picture, with some scenes also generating gasps of shock. (Well, did you ever expect to see Colin Farrell kicking a little girl in a movie?) This director loves the bodily and the viscous, and scenes of violence, sex and animal cruelty generate queasy comedy and discordance from the startling opening sequence onwards.

Alas, the movie loses its assurance in the over-extended second half, in which David’s interactions with “the Loners” (led by Lea Seydoux’s dour militant and including Rachel Weisz, deliverer of that God-awful narration, with whom our hero inevitably falls in love) prove rather less effective. It makes sense that Lanthimos wants to balance the satire by illustrating the belligerence of the single “outlaws” too, but there’s a sense that he’s abandoned his early premise before truly exploring it in sufficient detail. (And whoever said that satire should to be “balanced”, anyway?)

As a result, the final section meanders; Lanthimos doesn’t know when to stop, unfortunately, and the movie ultimately produces recoil rather than engagement. It’s possible to detect a sour conservative note to the proceedings, too. The Lobster is never less than distinctive in its look and attitude, but ultimately, for all its shock value and surprises the film ultimately transforms itself into that most conventional of items: a heterosexual-lovers-on-the-lam story.

Louder Than Bombs (dir. Joachim Trier)

Much more satisfying, for this viewer at least, was Louder Than Bombs, another English language debut film, this time from Joachim Trier whose Oslo, August 31st premiered in Un Certain Regard Cannes in 2011. Like Lanthimos, Trier also mobilises the talents of an international cast here, but in the service of a much warmer and more humane kind of eccentricity.

Film: Louder Than Bombs

Director: Joachim Trier

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Rachel Brosnahan, Amy Ryan, Gabriel Byrne, David Strathairn, Isabelle Huppert

Studio: Motlys

Year: 2015


The movie is concerned with the fallout of the death of a family matriarch. Isabelle Reed (Isabelle Huppert) is a photojournalist who dies in a car crash, not long after -- somewhat reluctantly -- giving up her much-cherished profession. Sometime later, she’s to be the subject of a retrospective exhibition and article about her life and work, a happening that forces her family members -- husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne), and sons Jonah (Jesse Eisenberg) and Conrad (Devin Druid) -- to confront again a loss that they’ve each dealt with very differently.

Louder Than Bombs has some thematic affinities with Martin Crimp’s 1997 play Attempts On Her Life, which also deconstructed the life and work of an enigmatic female protagonist through the divergent versions of the people who knew her. The film might also be described as the movie that Jason Reitman’s Men, Women and Children (2014) wanted to be. Unlike Reitman, Trier here succeeds in holding a large-ish group of characters beautifully in balance, and doesn’t resort to using them to make clunky, didactic points.

Yes, the movie flirts with cliché in some character portrayals: the sullen, uncommunicative teen who’s obsessed with online gaming, for instance. But such characterisations receive interesting and unexpected twists, as the movie moves fluidly and elegantly between the protagonists, paying attention to their daily reality but also to their imaginings and dreams. (Those of us who grew up on ‘80s comedies will also thrill to the clip of Frank Perry's Hello Again [1987] that Trier incorporates at one point, to illustrate the past career of Byrne’s Gene, an ex-actor.)

Fine, nuanced performances from all of the cast are one of the movie’s primary pleasures. What I find most admirable about Louder Than Bombs, though, is its refusal to succumb to easy snark. The writing is witty and sharp, to be sure, but Trier clearly cares about these characters and ensures that we do, too. The movie stirs all sorts of personal feelings, and the mixture of plainness and flourish in its aesthetic creates a fresh, resonant and absorbing family portrait.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.