Whatever you think of Yorgos Lanthimos’ films, they certainly are very interesting and they make you pay attention. His latest film, ‘The Favourite’ is certainly both. There is a dangerously deranged quality to the film that is hilarious and makes the actors rise to levels you didn’t think they were capable of. There is some great acting here, starting with Olivilia Coleman who plays a frail queen who mostly leaves her decision making to her trusted Sarah (Rachel Weisz) In comes Abigail (Emma Stone) and we see a lose of a balance in the power structure. And then some. And then mayhem ensues. At first, I thought it was kind of bad that there is no one to root for, until you realize that these people exist in a Lanthimos world that they are all crazed evil – you just go along for the ride and check morality at the door. There is delicious fun when Sarah spars with Robert Harley, played by Nicholas Hoult (he has never been better here) and there is delicious fun when Abigail tries to weasle her way in the Queen’s circle. There’s a lot going on but it it never feels crowded, and when you get to he cynical finale, you even root for everyone as you root for no one. The title is prophetic – ‘The Favourite’ will end up as one of my favorite films of the year.
Someone described ‘Disobedience’ to me as ‘Call Me By Your Name’ for lesbians, and it really is not an apt comparison. There’s an inherent huge conflict in ‘Disobedience,’ which is religion, that towers over the whole film, and that is quite different from the mostly internal struggles of Oliver and Elio.
And as a film, ‘Disobedience’ is not as fully realized. This film was directed by Sebastian Lelio, who directed ‘A Fantastic Woman,’ who won the Academy Award last year for Best Foreign Language, and also one of my favorite films of 2017/. But something ‘Disobedience’ feels hollow. It is about Ronit (Rachel Weisz) who goes back to London for her father’s funeral. The father is a renowned rabbi in the Orthodox Jewish community, and his obituary they mentioned that he did not have any children – Ronit is an modern woman, long real hair, leather skirt. She goes to live with the man his father has been mentoring to take over the synagogue, and she finds out he has married her old friend Esti (Rachel McAdams) but wait…there’s more… Esti and Ronit used to be lovers. So sure, the plot is soap opera, but Lelio’s treatment is quiet and classy, and the film feels filmed under an Instagram filter. All that serves as smoke to distract from the story, and that’s all fine. But I wish we got a little more – this was based on Naomi Alderman’s novel and I bet there’s a lot that didn’t make it to screen.
Still, the film isn’t a total loss, we get fantastic performances from both actresses, and it’s always a treat to see these kinds of stories on the big screen.
‘Denial’ tells the story of Deborah Lipstadt (here played marvelously by Rachel Weisz) and her battle versus Holocaust denier David Irving. The latter sued her for libel in the British courts stemming from statements she wrote in her book “Denying The Holocaust: The Growing Assault On Truth And Memory.” This case was celebrated much in the early 2000s, and I remember seeing the case updates on television, and of course, the eventual verdict. In this film, directed by Mick Jackson from a screenplay by David Hare (he wrote ‘Plenty’) we get to see how the case was tried.
And that’s it – that’s the premise of this two hour movie. Although the case is fascinating – and emotional, for sure – I felt it was bland. Since most viewers already knows the famous verdict, what do we get for conflict? Perhaps how conflicted Lipstadt was about the strategy of her legal team? The way Holocaust survivors were not given a voice during the trials? There was nothing much more to root for, and it doesn’t help that Irving’s character was written one-dimension like. Timothy Spall plays him like the villain that be is, but we already knew that. What drove his actions – past experience? bigoted parents? It would have been more interesting to see.
And Weisz’s Lipstadt doesn’t fare much better. Weisz gives a great performance, given she has nil to work with. I wish there were any kind of emotion anywhere, as this film feels like a procedural documentary. But this is still a very important to film to watch at this time for Americans, with the Presidential elections looming. We get to see how what happens when you give platform to a person with hate and bigotry in their hearts. Let’s learn out lesson.