Archive for January 20, 2019

The Sunday Intertitle: Intrigue

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , on January 20, 2019 by dcairns

Yorgos Lanthimos’s new film THE FAVOURITE has intertitles! Or at any rate chapter titles. This poster gives you an idea of the adventurous use of type. They’re all lines of dialogue we haven’t yet heard, so it’s a rather literary use of foreknowledge. They say things like THIS MUD STINKS. Or ~

A bit like the book illustrations in BUSTER SCRUGGS, in fact. This could be on its way to being a new stylistic norm, the way starting a story near the end, at a crisis point, has become something of a cliché.

The film’s other stylistic ideas are adventurous too, though one can see where they come from. The candlelight and low angle tracking shots and slow dissolves are from Kubrick (as is one music cue, via BARRY LYNDON); the perriwigged foppery and arch sexual cruelty is pure DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT. The plot, as Fiona pointed out, owes plenty to ALL ABOUT EVE. The spirit of the Marquis De Sade is not far away either, though he’s locked in a closet so all he can do is shout suggestions through the keyhole.

Dave Ehrenstein, via Facebook, has already attested to a hearty dislike for the film, due to its encouraging the audience to feel superior to the characters. Which is a good reason, and if my feelings waver between cautious admiration and squeamishness it’s probably because I didn’t read the film’s signals quite that way. I had quite a lot of sympathy for Emma Stone’s character all the way through: she’s pushed into doing evil because, Sade-style, there are no rewards for being good. It’s possible we’re meant to regard her as having been a schemer from the start, but even then, she’s got good reason for wanting to attain power: her position without it is desperate.

Stone is good, and Rachel Weiss is really good, which hasn’t always been the case. Her attitude to the offscreen war — tax the farmers to starvation and fight until the soldiers are all dead — is as uncompromising as her abuse of Stone’s character. With similar results, nearly: if the underlings realise they’re in for it no matter what, rebellion becomes their logical recourse. So the art of governance is the science of knowing what you can get away with.

Nicholas Hoult, as the Whig leader opposed to the war, is deliberately written as vicious as everyone else, so that his apparent political compassion doesn’t make him a kindly bore: and so it can be read as him simply trying to preserve the status quo. He’s very good — he has something of Hugh Grant’s light comedy skills, Fiona suggested.

She also remarked that all these characters are after power as a means to happiness, but the character who has all the power, the Queen, is the most wretchedly unhappy of all. (If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything.) Fiona did a bit of digging into Queen Anne and found a strange historical obsession with her gouty body, which this film connects to directly. It’s hagsploitation, of course. Olivia Colman is excellent in a very showy part requiring an abandonment of all vanity and an ability to reconcile, at least to her own satisfaction, the character’s innumerable contradictions: she’s alternately cunning, stupid, heartbroken, vicious, kindly, mad, confused… plus she keeps suffering destructive neurological events (too much cake is bad for you).

The script is by Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara, and it’s quite witty — often in a very basic way, surprising you with sudden brutality or swearing. But that can be witty. It can also get tiresome. Sympathy is the enemy of drama — but some tiny, homeopathic dose of it may be needed to keep the audience engaged. I had to work a little to find any sympathy, and in the end I found it in myself, by an effort of imagination, not so much in the film.

I’ve neglected Yorgos Lanthimos, along with the rest of modern cinema. The only thing of his I’d seen is this short, courtesy of a student, but I can feel a bit smug because the IMDb doesn’t even know this exists (it does, but it calls it a documentary) ~

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