The Favourite: Yorgos Lanthimos changes everything
The way Lorgos Lanthimos envisions the nature of a dramatic scene is entirely unique and utterly connected to true life. Instead of the standard "rising action" model, where characters overtly escalate tension and conflict leading to a breaking point, Lanthimos has his characters withhold much of what is going on with them; sort of a very slow, almost imperceptible boil until at the last moment, one character almost nonchalantly sticks a knife in the other character. Sometimes literally and metaphorically. If you've ever seen a horrible scene unfold before you in real life, you know that very often things seem very under control until suddenly, things get out of control. Often this occurs without warning.
Lanthimos creates relationships and worlds filled with real stakes, to be sure. In The Lobster, characters must either begin a meaningful relationship or choose an animal to become for the rest of their lives. In his new film The Favourite, the characters played by Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone vie for the favor of Olivia Colman's Queen Anne with their futures at stake.
There is an intriguing social critique at work in both films that suggests the things we fight for or fight our way out of are far beyond our own control, and are the result of some strange cosmic absurdity on the scale of Samuel Beckett. Nevertheless, the characters in his films struggle, and struggle mightily. Yet the tone he sets is one of discomfort and impending doom, with an avoidance of revealing emotional indications on the part of the characters that we are so used to. This restraint makes Lanthimos' story structure astonishingly dramatic and tension filled in a completely unique manner.
Whimsy also plays a part in the worlds Lanthimos creates. Manners, behaviors and societal rituals are turned into hilarious, sometimes grotesque displays of human excess and vanity. This touch enhances the sense that the world we strive so hard in is often childish, clownish and even depraved. Watch the scene with the oranges and the naked man in The Favourite to experience this touch.
It takes a particularly disciplined actor to work in Lanthimos' worlds: one must find a way to carry the inner yearnings of the character while at the same time appearing to toss away any overt need. Weisz and Stone do this with great detail and depth, as the volatility of Coleman's Queen Anne puts both of them at risk at every moment. Playing it cool has never been this good.
Cinematically, Lanthimos' breaks new ground by employing extreme wide angle lenses that give the audience a literal "fish eyed" view of the world of The Favourite. The ornate palace rooms are captured as sprawling, distorted landscapes in which our characters to and fro in a strange, balletic manner. Lanthimos was involved in experimental and physical theatre early in his career, and his ability to choreograph actors bodies in space and time adds a deft layer of tension to the film as well.
Without special effects or CGI / digital excess, Yorgos Lanthimos changes everything. He reminds us that the cinema is a young medium that is still evolving and ripe with possibility.