Yorgos Lanthimos has been one of the most exciting voices in cinema for the past decade; from bringing attention to Greek cinema to bringing that off-kilter absurd style to an American audience. Across four features, Lanthimos’ style has been apparent in a variety of ways; from his films’ unusual stilted acting style to the general oddity of his imagery. Now, in his latest feature The Favourite, Lanthimos shows that his style is inherent, even if he did not write the screenplay, incorporate his acting style, or even work in a genre that allows him to be himself.
The Favourite is a period piece costume drama, perhaps the least subversive of all the pseudo-genres, that follows an English queen (Olivia Colman) during a time of strife. This would make for pretty generic viewing if not for the addition of her psychopathic lover (Rachel Weisz), the new outsider (Emma Stone) and, of course, the aforementioned Lanthimos weirdness. What results is a classical dramatic narrative that feels entirely fresh while never abandoning its original conceit.
The reason that this film ultimately works so well is both the awareness that Lanthimos has of the genre conventions and the understanding of creation through contradiction. Most costume drama period pieces are visually ludicrous, but thematically serious. This one is visually serious, with its expansive deep focus shots and its frequent use of fisheye lenses, but thematically ludicrous – never afraid to toss in a joke. Similarly, the power structures that make these films exciting are so profoundly ridiculed that the result becomes a hierarchy that destroys itself. And the representation of the mad queen who, instead of the usual psychotic mentality, seems to just be suffering from depression. Finally, The Favourite is just wonderfully queer, from its unusual casting choices to the classical representation of a queer relationship, all the way to the non-stop camp.
This is the least Lanthimosian work that Lanthimos has made since Dogtooth made him one to watch. However, he is still very much here; showing that he can leave his comfort zone and still create beautiful oddities. This one will take a moment to get into but, just like a hot bath, it will eventually pull you in.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam