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Cannes 2024 review: 'Kinds of Kindness' - Yórgos Lánthimos proving you have to be cruel to be kind

Kinds of Kindness
Kinds of Kindness Copyright Searchlight Pictures - YouTube - Cannes Film Festival
Copyright Searchlight Pictures - YouTube - Cannes Film Festival
By David Mouriquand
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Group sex. Cannibalism. Cults. Doppelgängers. Messiah figures. Dogs. Yórgos Lánthimos returns to his sick roots with his very own spin on The Twilight Zone. And it’s a blast.

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After the box office draw and acclaim of The Favourite and Poor Things, Yórgos Lánthimos reunites with his long-time writing partner Efthimis Filippou (Dogtooth, The Lobster, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) for a strange anthology triptych that is darker and far more surreal than his recent output.

Kinds of Kindness tells three distinct stories using the same acting troupe in different roles, and it’ll prove divisive for fans of The Favourite and last year’s Poor Things. This triple helping of Lanthimos’ return to his Greek Weird Wave roots is for the OG fans - those who miss that queasy malaise felt during the indelibly bleak Dogtooth and troubling The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Best of all though is that what could feasibly have been a fun but disposable victory lap following the award-winning Poor Things is actually nothing meriting the descriptor ‘interim’.

It’s strange, sexy, hilarious, enigmatic, and very bleak in all the right ways.

The first segment, “THE DEATH OF R.M.F”, follows a submissive office worker Robert (Jessie Plemons) whose dominating boss Raymond (Willem Dafoe) dictates everything he does. Everything. What he wears, drinks, eats. Who he meets and marries. When (and if) he has sex with his wife. And you thought your boss was a micromanaging nightmare... It’s a routine that has become comfortable for Robert, but all goes to pot when he cannot accept one of Raymond’s demands. This refusal sees him cut loose and having to finally make decisions for himself. It also introduces him to Emma Stone’s character Rita, who may be more willing than Robert to acquiesce to dark requests.

The second, “R.M.F IS FLYING”, sees Plemons play Daniel, a police officer whose wife Liz (Stone) has gone missing during some mysterious scientific expedition. He can’t cope with his grief and has even started behaving bizarrely at work. But when Liz is rescued and returns intact from the shipwreck, his suspicions get the better of him. He becomes convinced that Liz isn’t Liz at all, but some sort of doppelgänger replacement. It’s essentially Yórgos’ take on Lost.

The final story, “R.M.F EATS A SANDWICH”, has Stone play Emily, a woman who has abandoned her marriage and family to drink the Kool Aid (or teary water) of kinky cult leader OMI (Dafoe), who has tasked her and Andrew (Plemons) with locating an elusive messiah figure that will lead the cult to... well, God knows where. It just involves resurrection.

All three chapters share one character – or "Constant", if we’re continuing with the Lost reference: the mysterious R.M.F. (Yorgos Stefanakos). And that is all the immediate connective tissue you’re getting. His full name is never revealed. 

Ruminate Mother F**kers. 

Maybe that’s it. A cheeky subversion to get everyone speculating about what these loosely-connected stories all mean. 

Cryptic allegories on the limits of love (‘How Deep Is Your Love’ does play at the end of the first tragicomedy after all) and the relinquishing of control in relationships? 

Deadpan commentaries inspired by The Twilight Zone about the extreme lengths we go to for power? 

Parodies about free will? 

Or just a damn good reason to celebrate The Eurythmics and Swedish rapper COBRAH?

Your guess will be as good (or as blurry) as your cinema neighbour’s. But in true Lánthimosian form, the point is not to overintellectualize and instead succumb to the dark, harsh, and ridiculous facets of life. What you take from of each segment will say more about you than anything else.

The cast throughout are brilliant, with Plemons stealing the show, especially in the first two segments. Getting noticeably thinner with each chapter, he nails pathos, insecurity and menace, and makes it all look like a walk in the park. It’s like he’s been working with Lánthimos his whole life - and he may yet do, as both he and Stone have been confirmed as starring in Lánthimos’ next film, Bugonia.

Stone commits as we’ve come to expect (and has some wild dance moves, as seen in the trailers), while Margaret Qualley, often cast in smaller parts, elevates her roles to something altogether more meaningful. The other cast members are somewhat underused, with Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie, Hunter Schafer and Joe Alwyn rounding things off in important but slight bit parts.

Collectively, they all make Kinds of Kindness far less whimsical and more fucked up than the director's recent triumphs. It's a cruel and euphoric shot to the heart, shot in ultra-wide by cinematographer extraordinaire Robbie Ryan and soundtracked Jerkin Fendrix’s foreboding piano-driven score. It may exhaust those whose mileage vary when it comes to anthology films, easy revelations and cohesive theses; but should you dwell upon the sum of its collective parts, some deceptively rich meditations about the human condition unveil themselves.

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You don’t have to go there if you don’t want to though. Sometimes, an uncompromising bit of macabre fun about how ridiculous and upsetting we are is all you need. After all, sometimes, you do have to be cruel to be kind.

Kinds of Kindness premieres at the Cannes Film Festival in Competition, and gets a limited theatrical release on 21 June.

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