‘Kinds Of Kindness’ Review: Yorgos Lanthimos’ Latest Is Puzzling, Brilliant, Funny … And Not Easy To Like – Cannes Film Festival

‘Kinds Of Kindness’ Review: Yorgos Lanthimos’ Latest Is Puzzling, Brilliant, Funny … And Not Easy To Like – Cannes Film Festival

Who is RMF? We never do find out. Yorgos Lanthimos’ trio of stories in Kinds of Kindness are titled The Death of RMFRMF is Flying and RMF Eats a Sandwich.

RMF is a silent, bearded man identified by the monogram on his shirt. In the first story, he arrives at a Georgian mansion to take delivery of an envelope. Vivian (Margaret Qualley) – concubine to aging tycoon Raymond, usually seen in a skimpy satin wrap – answers the door, takes his photograph and hands over the envelope. It may contain money. RMF is about to become the target of a series of planned car crashes. Why? We won’t find that out either.

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Thus begins a long, wild trail through three otherwise ostensibly unrelated stories, all featuring the same actors playing different roles in each story. All three stories do, however, reflect Lanthimos’ recurrent motifs: control, cruelty and erotomania.

He and his co-writer, Efthimis Filippou, have conjured many closed dystopias over the years, but this one seems all the darker for containing three stories rather than one. It isn’t about an isolated quirk, like the imprisoned family in Dogtooth. It isn’t centered on a single oddball institution, like the one that turns surplus unmarried humans into animals in The Lobster.

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Kinds of Kindness is about a ubiquitous interdependence between ruthless power and willing submission that crops up everywhere, which implies that we are all in its thrall. That makes it their gloomiest film yet. Of course, it is also very funny.

The first story follows Robert, a corporate dweeb played by Jesse Plemons. If it wasn’t already obvious after his scene-stealing rampage in Civil War, Plemons is really having a moment; here, he manages to make an unappealing character, the cringing acolyte of a tyrannical boss, utterly riveting. The car crashes, along with every detail of Robert’s life from his marriage to the meals he is allowed to eat, are masterminded by his boss Raymond, played by Willem Dafoe. Lanthimos seems to have made it his life’s purpose to get Dafoe to go full Voldemort. As in so many other aspects of his gloriously excessive filmmaking, he has now wholly succeeded.

Emma Stone, having given her all (and winning an Oscar) as Bella Baxter in Poor Things, appears in RMF is Dying as Rita, another of Raymond’s obedient puppets. It is a master-servant relationship developed in a different setting in the third story, RMF Eats a Sandwich, where Stone and Plemons play agents and devotees of a manipulative guru – Dafoe, of course – who sends them on missions to find a supposed miracle worker who can bring the dead back to life. There is no discussion of the cult’s other beliefs. As is his wont, Lanthimos conveys its nature through illustrative objects: the leader’s luxury yacht, the ferocious sauna where erring devotees sweat out their “contamination,” the iron gates that lock the world out. You get the picture? Yes, we see.


In between these two stories comes a different slant on death, grief and torment, in which Plemons plays a decent, dull police officer whose wife Liz — Stone again — is part of a scientific team lost while investigating marine life on remote reefs. Plemons’ Daniel is deranged with worry, but when Liz returns he is convinced the woman in his house is an imposter. Liz responds to his hostility with a deluge of endearments and abject willingness to obey his every demand. He has obviously gone mad – what kind of man demands his wife cooks her own fingers for his dinner? – but it is true that the woman in his kitchen doesn’t seem much like an intrepid adventurer.

Strange things happen, but this isn’t a ghost story. Lanthimos is not interested in the uncanny so much as the ominous, an atmosphere underlined in all three stories with a jabbing piano score by Jerskin Fendrix and emphasized by cinematographer Robbie Ryan’s alternating lenses, wacky angles, extreme close-ups and a repeating motif of gleaming surfaces. Indeed, the polished wood floors, walls and ceilings in Daniel and Liz’s rustic bungalow in the second story, which give the entire episode an increasingly sanguinary glow, deserve a credit of their own.

Of course, the attention to set detail means you always know exactly where you are in a Lanthimos film: the flower arrangement on an occasional table, a maze of overstuffed beige couches, or the spread of wasteland visible from a window tell the stories of the people in this excruciatingly tidy house, this dazzlingly glazed office, this murkily-purposed institution. Lanthimos could give David Cronenberg a run for his money on murkily-purposed institutions.

So here it is, the new Lanthimos: puzzling, brilliant and, in all honesty, not easy to like. What is this teasingly unfathomable filmmaker telling us? We may never know, any more than we will find out why RMF is a marked man. Perhaps the point is that RMF is just a pawn in a succession of other men’s games, including Lanthimos’ own. That in itself is more than enough food for thought.

Title: Kinds of Kindness
Festival: Cannes (Competition)
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures/Disney
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenwriter: Efthimis Filippou
Cast: Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau
Running time: 2 hr 45 min

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