Granted, we're only in the middle of January, but it's hard to imagine that a more memorable film will hit theaters in 2024. Yorgos Lanthimos' “Poor Creatures” is a complete work – to say the least. On Tuesday, the film received 11 Oscar nominations.
True, the cinematic year of 2023 was dominated and defined by “Parpenheimer” — a rare pop culture phenomenon that emerged around the summer premieres of Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” and Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” which hit theaters at the same time. day. Both titles circulated outside of major film festivals, and at a time in the film calendar when lighter family films typically appear. Midsummer is not an easy time to generate such interest and attract audiences to movie theaters. However, both Barbie and Oppenheimer succeeded.
It is no coincidence that I begin my review of Poor Things by Yorgos Lanthimos with a short reminder of Barbenheimer. The Greek's latest work has something of Gerwig and Nolan's films in it. On the one hand, it is a romantic comedy-drama in which the main character searches for her own meaning of existence in her own way (just like the titular “Barbie”), and on the other hand – it is an exceptional philosophical and scientific show. , was widely produced (such as “Oppenheimer”). However, those familiar with Lanthimos' previous work know that the Greek takes no artistic shortcuts and creates films that are characterized by his original approach from the first scenes. And those who do not recognize his name and work in some way have the best reason to make up for it. Because “Poor Creatures” is, in a sense, a combination of “lobster” and “favorite,” and at the same time a completely new chapter in his work.
Steady path to the top
50-year-old Yorgos Lanthimos started his career by filming short videos for dance theaters. He later directed short films and music videos for Greek music stars. In 2001, he directed the well-received feature film “O kalyteros mou filos”. In 2004, he was part of the team that was responsible for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games in Athens.
His festival debut goes to his second feature film: “Kineta,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2005 and at the Berlinale in 2006. Although the film was received with mixed feelings by critics, Lanthimos has continued to continually innovate. He consolidated his international profile with his third feature film, Fang, which won the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2009. Two years later, Fang was also nominated for an Academy Award in the Best International Film category. His next Oscar nomination – or rather, his first individual nomination (in the Best Adapted Screenplay category) – came for the thriller “Lobster” starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. Thanks to this dark, dark romantic comedy, Lanthimos received the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Main Competition.
After the thriller The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which won the screenplay prize in the 2017 Cannes main competition, Lanthimos has created one of the most perverse film resumes of the last quarter century. “The Favourite,” which premiered in the main competition of the 2018 Venice International Film Festival, won the Grand Jury Prize – the festival’s second most important award, after “Losing” to Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma.” In January 2019, The Favorite and Roma each received ten Academy Award nominations. Ultimately, Olivia Colman only took home the Academy Award for Best Actress for The Favourite.
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“Poor Creatures,” the film with which Lanthimos returns to major Venice competition after a five-year break, has aroused interest even before the start of the 2023 Venice International Film Festival. This is mainly due to the cast and crew that the Greek invited to collaborate. . After its first press screening, it quickly became a Golden Lion favourite, and about ten days before his fiftieth birthday, Lanthimos took home the main prize of the Venice competition.
“Poor Creatures” – what is the film about?
“Poor Creatures” is based on the famous novel written by one of the most important Scottish writers of the twentieth century – Alasdair Grey. The script was based on Tony McNamara, with whom Lanthimos collaborated on the screenplay for The Favorites. McNamara is the creator of the television series “Wielka”, among other things, and co-author of the screenplay for “Cruella”. In these three projects, the Australian showed extraordinary talent, establishing himself as a specialist in stories that combine satire and an imaginative view of world history, through which he speaks about the contemporary era.
“Poor Creatures” is the story – without giving too much away – of Bella Baxter, a woman brought back to life by an eccentric scientist, Dr. Godwin Baxter, who rediscovers the world and wants to experience everything with childish curiosity. At some point, she accepted a proposal from Baxter's assistant – Max McCandless, but gave him a condition: she would marry him immediately after seeing the world with Duncan Wedderburn. This is where I make a point when it comes to plot details.
“Poor Creatures” is the best film of Lanthimos' career to date. Once again, it breaks away from typical cinema, combining elements of comedy, romance, horror – especially body horror, which has become popular in recent years, philosophical cinema and science fiction. It also plays with aesthetics, because we have symbolic elements and references to German Expressionism, Surrealism and even Pop Art.
Tony McNamara's talented work is also an important piece of this puzzle. Gray's novel was a “book-within-a-book-within-a-book” convention. However, Macnamara rearranged the original literary text, creating a linear story about Bella. At the same time, he retained the best of Gray's script. Without giving too much away, this can be felt in the philosophical layer of “poor creatures,” which Gray evaded in a sarcastic and sometimes sarcastic way. Furthermore, there are no long stories in this story, which is not easy or obvious in the case of a 142-minute film.
Barbie shows this middle finger
Of course, the fact that the film is a nuanced and multi-dimensional work – whether in plot, visual layers or music – is not only demonstrated by a well-written screenplay. Here, each of the important elements of film production – cinematography, editing, sound, set design, choreography, music, costumes, and finally the crew – complement each other, ensuring the audience an unforgettable cinematic experience. The dance scene in Lisbon is a work of art in itself, difficult to forget after a long period of viewing. 11 Oscar nominations – including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Cinematography – seem to confirm all the admiration for the film.
“Poor Creatures” is a story about a woman with the mind of a child who rediscovers the world, wanting to experience it fully and find her own place in it, her own sense of being. This interpretation of the story also resembles a similar interpretation found in “Barbie”. However, in Lanthimos – thanks to the wonderful Emma Stone – this Barbie takes no prisoners. Just like the title “Barbie”. What can be described as social norms remain her only suggestions. She decides how she wants to live, what she wants to talk about and what she wants to experience. However, Bella Baxter goes a little further than Barbie. He sets the rules anew, moves his boundaries boldly, and does not allow himself to be tamed by “what is appropriate and what is not.” To paraphrase Barbie, we can say that this Lanthimos Barbie is giving us all the middle finger and it's surprisingly adorable. Somehow enjoyable. Why? Because in Bella, each one of us can find a part of ourselves.
The main character may seem naive and emotionally immature to some. On the contrary, on his journey he encounters different philosophical beliefs, and empirically verifies those that he considers correct. Thus, it encourages the audience to think – so as not to fall into clichés – at what point a person begins and who has the right to impose limits on them.
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Main image source: foot. Atsushi Nishijima / 20th Century Studios Polska
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