The Favorite (2018)

Directed by: Yorgios Lanthimos Written by: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara

 

Tthe_favourite[1]he Favorite is at least the second film of the year in which a rising auteur attempted to put their stamp on a script they did not write. While First Man was a blatantly questionable vessel for Damien Chazelle to invest his talents in, the match between The Favorite and Yorgios Lanthamos is a good one. While the film marks a break from the extreme-deadpan approach he used in The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, it’s nonetheless a work that includes Lanthimos’ signatures of provocatively placed  violence and black comedy.

 

Well, that’s the impression one gets from the film’s trailer.

 

The trailer presents The Favorite as a film all dressed up in the pomp of British period dramas, that nonetheless goes entirely off the rails.

 

In the trailer, the off the rails moment comes with roar of a single gun shot. When watched in the context of the whole film, however, this scene is not nearly as powerful. It does not mark a break from realism, nor does any one moment in The Favorite.

 

The film’s script essentially tells the tale of a battle for power between an established, aristocratic Lady in Waiting (Rachel Weisz) and her new, more class-ambiguous rival (Emma Stone), taking place while England under Queen Anne is fighting France in the War of the Spanish Succession. Entertaining as this premise might be if presented as a short story, the film’s run time drains it of energy and keeps it within the confines of realism. This is not to say the film is bereft of eccentric moments. Its early scenes, which introduce the characters, have a degree of quirky charm to them (especially the bit witht he ducks). The Queen (Olivia Coleman), is also one of the film’s strengths. She is eccentric in ways that subvert expectations, and her insistence on making policy decisions despite not engaging in political thinking provides for some comic skewering of monarchism.
Viewers attuned to the subtle qualities of directors may find something of Lanthimos in The Favorite. Be warned, however, if you are not at least equally motivated by the prospect of seeing 17th century characters discuss slow moving military and court politics as you are by the prospect of seeing Lanthimos’s sinister artistry, this is not necessarily the film for you.

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Loving Vincent (2017)

Written by: Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman and Jacek Dehnel. Directed by: Kobiela and Welchman 

Loving_Vincent            Let me begin by saying that Loving Vincent is a work one should see independent of one’s opinion of its narrative merits. Those who have heard of it previously surely know why. It describes itself (presumably accurately) as the world’s first oil-painted movie. The project consists of 65 000 frames and was painted by a team of 115 painters. In short, it is an animation miracle.

That said, I hope my first paragraph does not sell the film’s narrative short. The movie takes place following Van Gogh’s death and tells the story of Armand Roulin, a young man, and subject of one of Van Gogh’s portraits. Roulin is sent by his postmaster father (also the subject of a Van Gogh painting) to deliver a final letter from Vincent to his brother Theo. As Roulin’s task grows more complicated, his journey turns into a mystery, one where he questions whether Van Gogh in fact committed suicide or whether he was murdered.

The film is arguably sold short by its title. It is not a predictable, gushy tale of people feeling guilty and learning to love a mentally ill man and his work too late. Rather it is a work that maintains a constant air of mystery. Roulin’s journey to understand Van Gogh ultimately sheds a light on how he does not and perhaps cannot understand Vicent. Perhaps, the film implies, this is because Roulin is not himself an artists, but a more typical hot-headed male hero-figure. An alternative explanation is that the film intentionally limits itself with its medium. Characters move slowly through their viscous, post-impressionist surroundings, surroundings that limit their abilities to express themselves. Therefore, even as the film is a post Van-Gogh work, it ultimately only retells the story that Van Gogh, through his work, had already made public.

While the film is meant to resemble a Van Gogh painting, its artists did not attempt to create facsimiles. Rather, actors were cast in the roles of Van Gogh’s painted subjects, and the film’s painters painted over digital renditions of their faces. Roulin’s features, for instance, are firmer then they are in Van Gogh’s original depiction of him, giving him an air of toughness (in contrast to the sadness Van Gogh may have seen in the then teenage boy, whom the film’s creator’s imply he did not know well).

In essence, viewers should go to Loving Vincent to appreciate its visual singularity, and in doing so can enjoy a decently compelling story. While the animation pace may take some time to get use to, the film makes for a pleasant celebration of a beloved historical figure.