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Euronews Culture's Film of the Week: 'Kinds of Kindness' - Enter Yórgos Lánthimos' The Twilight Zone

Film of the Week: Kinds of Kindness
Film of the Week: Kinds of Kindness Copyright Searchlight Pictures
Copyright Searchlight Pictures
By David Mouriquand
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Group sex. Cannibalism. Cults. Doppelgängers. Messiah figures. Dogs. And not as much kindness as the title would have you believe. 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 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 feels like it’s for the OG fans 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 of the sort.  

It’s intoxicatingly strange, sexy, hilarious, enigmatic. And bleak in all the right ways. 

Kinds of Kindness
Kinds of KindnessSearchlight Pictures

The first segment, “THE DEATH OF R.M.F”, follows a submissive office worker Robert (Jessie Plemons) whose dominating corporate oligarch of a 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 more out-there 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... 

Kinds of Kindness
Kinds of KindnessSearchlight Pictures

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 develops a paranoid fixation and becomes convinced that Liz isn’t Liz at all, but some sort of doppelgänger replacement.  

It’s essentially what the TV show Lost could have been if Yórgos had the reins. 

Kinds of Kindness
Kinds of KindnessSearchlight Pictures

The final story, “R.M.F EATS A SANDWICH”, has Stone assume centre stage. She plays Emily, a woman who has abandoned her marriage and family to drink the Kool Aid (or teary water, in this case) of kinky cult leaders Omi (Dafoe) and Aka (Hong Chau). They have 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. 

Kinds of Kindness
Kinds of KindnessSearchlight Pictures

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 - an ongoing cheeky subversion to get everyone speculating about what these loosely-connected stories all mean? Who’s to say? It won’t be everyone’s cup of Ouzo, as this triptych doesn’t offer any easy answers when it comes to interconnective meaning. But let it sit with you, and there’s plenty to ponder in how these deadpan allegories connect when it comes to the limits of love and free will, as well as the relinquishing of control in relationships. 

And if these musings don’t bubble to the surface, you’ll still have gotten a trip into the Yórgosphere.  

Kinds of Kindness
Kinds of KindnessSearchlight Pictures

The cast throughout are brilliant, with Plemons stealing the show, especially in the first two segments. He nabbed Best Actor in Cannes, where the film premiered in Competition, and it was a deserved win. Getting noticeably thinner with each chapter, the actor 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.  

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One snag – on top of the admittedly taxing nearly-three-hour runtime - is that the other cast members are somewhat underused, with Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie, Hunter Schafer and Joe Alwyn rounding things off in important but slight roles. 

However, they collectively make Kinds of Kindness the sick little puppy that it is, 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. 

Again, not that you have to go there if you don’t want to. In true Lánthimosian form, the point is not to overintellectualize and instead succumb to the dark, harsh, and ridiculous facets of life. Maybe an uncompromising and squirm-inducing bit of fun reminding you that, sometimes, you do have to be cruel to be kind, is just the ticket. 

Kinds of Kindness premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival and gets a limited theatrical release today. 

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