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Asking a Lot


Atsushi Nishijima/Searchlight Pictures


Kinds of Kindness (2024)

Yorgos Lanthimos is one of the few European directors from non-English-speaking countries (in his case, Greece) in recent years to successfully pivot to full-time filmmaking in America. Unlike, say, Lars von Trier or Nicolas Winding Refn, Mr. Lanthimos has been recognized by the Academy with multiple nominations. He’s also lucky that he’s never had to placate Harvey Weinstein.

While just as daring and provocative as many of his counterparts, Mr. Lanthimos has somehow managed to become mainstream, perhaps thanks to the marketing savvy of A24 and Searchlight Pictures.

In the cases of “The Favourite” and “Poor Things,” he was a director for hire. “Kinds of Kindness” marks the first time Searchlight has allowed him to direct his own script, written with Efthimis Filippou. While the resulting new film is prestigious enough to warrant a main competition spot at the Cannes Film Festival, one also can’t help but notice it has been steered clear of the awards season by the studio despite a very fruitful campaign on “Poor Things.”

“Kinds of Kindness” is a triptych of W.T.F. involving cult, orgy, rape, abortion, self-amputation, full-frontal nudity, animal abuse, resurrection, erratic driving etc. As Mr. von Trier before him did with the likes of Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst, Mr. Lanthimos seems to have this talent for getting respected starlets – Emma Stone in particular – into compromising positions.

The three parts feature mostly the same cast, with some in progressively shortened haircuts. Each chapter heading references R.M.F. (Yorgos Stefanakos), a minor character with nearly no dialogue.

In the first, Jesse Plemons plays Robert, who allows Raymond (Willem Dafoe) to set his daily agenda in the manner depicted in the 2022 thriller “Resurrection.” Basically, when Raymond asks for a kindness, Robert sees it through. Raymond in return showers Robert with collectibles such as a tennis racket authentically smashed by John McEnroe. But when Robert draws the line at attempting vehicular homicide on R.M.F., Raymond severs their ties. Turns out that without Raymond, Robert is incapable of making decisions, even those as trivial as what to order at the bar, though we don’t know for sure if that’s a symptom of Stockholm syndrome.

Part two has Mr. Plemons playing Daniel, a police officer who has been inconsolable because his wife, Liz (Ms. Stone), is lost at sea. When he invites his colleague Neil (Mamoudou Athie) and Neil’s wife, Martha (Margaret Qualley), over for dinner, he insists that they watch together the sex tape of the two couples’ group sex. When Liz is rescued and returns home, though, Daniel is convinced it’s a different woman. So he goes on a hunger strike and tells Liz he wants to eat her body parts.

Finally in part three, Ms. Stone plays Emily, a member of a cult that has forced her to leave behind her husband, Joseph (Joe Alwyn), and young daughter (Merah Benoit). She is on a mission to find a woman who can raise the dead, but she occasionally sneaks back home when her husband and child are away. They catch her; Joseph proceeds to stalk her, convince her to come over for a drink and then drug and sexually assault her. Because of this sequence of events, she’s no longer welcome in the cult.

The running theme is characters faced with impossible asks and somehow completing them against their better judgment. Their puppeteers who subject them to the cruelty all profess to love them, while pressuring them into proving they are worthy of the love. Of course, none of these ends well. The film is certainly engaging in the sense that you never know where it is going to go. Those who walked out of the Cannes premiere only did so following the gory bits.

Though a lot in this movie is intentionally off-putting, there’s still much to like. Mr. Lanthimos and cinematographer Robbie Ryan definitely have an eye for creating stately, sweeping canvases with low-angle tracking or zoom shots. These are most apparent during the first segment that finds characters in high-society settings. But they even manage to make some dilapidated motel, hospital and police headquarters in Louisiana look photogenic.

Due to the triple (and in Ms. Qualley’s case, quadruple) duties, the cast – which also includes Hong Chau – is spectacular across the board. While the different hairstyles and wardrobe do pull some weight, you are still in awe of the actors’ uncanny ability to pull off multiple performances in one project.


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