It’s been a while since I posted on here – I’ve been applying for PhDs which really takes it out of me time-wise. However, the end is near concerning that bureaucratic process and so will be back in regular action soon! Here’s my first review of 2019:
The Favourite, 2018, directed by Yorgod Lanthimos.
Watched at Rio Cinema, Dalston.
After leaving the cinema I texted H: The Favourite is certainly exquisite. The three leads, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman), Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) and Abigail (Emma Stones), maneuver around centres of power at differing speeds. Each woman a concentric circle that pulls out or is sucked in to the middle. Though the Queen has a stability of title, she is not given the sturdy spot of control the logic of monarchy might suggest. Instead, the queen possesses vulnerability that I imagine as the inverted shape of the crown she adorns. Pain I picture as sharp shapes that pierce through her majestic dresses and into her core, thorns in her body shredding it to sadness, the death of so many babies riddling her, displaced onto sweet little rabbits.
This vulnerability is signaled at once. Opening on the queen with her back to camera, maids gathering the long train of fabric that spills across the floor from her shoulders, is followed by a shot showing her from the front. In the background an out-of-focus but present painting of what appears to be a small, naked child, placed just above her shoulder’s height.
Thus, immediately a reminder and remainder is signaled. Beneath the outfit, heavy and restricting with its ornate and many fabrics, is a body. And in that body, the ghosts of many small little souls. Olivia Coleman articulates this conflict in subjectivity incredibly – the tensions between mighty power and helplessness. Childlike herself, she occupies a thrown that is uncomfortable, marked as debilitating as well as upholding. It is the wheelchair she is frequently transported in. Relying on others to get her places, physically and politically.
There is a parallel between the opening of The Favourite and that of Lanthimos’ previous film The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which begins with a close-up of the beating heart that is later understood to be the cursed element in an uncanny world.
The fish-eyed camera that pans swiftly between characters on opposite sides of rooms spans their world(s). All whom are granted importance are then sealed into a logic of decadence. Inhabitants are removed from the servant’s lives and the battles they instruct by grandiose walls, fabrics, decorations and foods that surround them. Corridors at night are tunnels of secret travel, lit only by single candles, before they break into bedrooms. Here ladders of power are climbed as characters climb into bed with those who holds a key to influence.
Where is love in all of this? Who knows. Love between the players flickers and dims like the candle, at once illuminating and magic, before extinguished. A mere image of love is often strategically sought, its relighting desired only for personal gain.
The slow cross-fades, now a little used technique in modern cinema, are effective and, I find, always reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. The overlapping of the central trio’s faces and bodies map the overlapping of power dynamics as well as their pleasuring beings. The fades denote corporeal intimacy as well as making an amalgamation of them all into a many-faced monster.
Segments of slow motion concur the grotesque of the very rich, the gaudy cheer of pastimes that are all made gluttonous by their delight so distant from pain that nestles nearby in the cellars of servants and those outside the palace walls. Slowed down we have more time to see the moral degradation in moneyed wigs and faces, puffed by their own lives, accompanied by the strange, dramatic and sincere music that amplifies their lavish habits.
The sound design moves large to minimal in clean strokes. I balance between the cusps of feeling, gunshots ringing and warning screeches of squeaking strings held high, tethering me to teetering characters: Eek-eek-eek.