Polarising picture show

The exploration of a manipulated human life held the promise of those eat-the-rich films by Ruben Ostlund but the next segment—RMF is Flying—gets into an even more macabre zone.
A still from 'Kinds of Kindness'
A still from 'Kinds of Kindness'

What’s cinema if it doesn’t incite extreme reactions in viewers? Cannes 2024 has had a fair share of such films, one of which predictably has been from the perennially unpredictable Yorgos Lanthimos of The Lobster, and Poor Things fame. His new film, Kinds of Kindness, playing in the main competition section, has had people either raving or ranting; there are very few stationed in the middle ground.

The anthology film, comprising three different urban fables, has the same set of actors—Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Margaret Qualley among others—moving in and out of the varied scenarios and narratives and playing an eclectic set of characters. However, all are bound by one quality: extreme weirdness.

The first segment titled The Death of RMF kicks off to an electric start with Annie Lennox’s song ‘Sweet Dreams’ and then abruptly takes us into a weird world where one man’s life is controlled in all sorts of bizarre ways by another—be it his eating plan or the number of times he can make love or the gifts of a blue BMW, John McEnroe’s smashed racquet or Ayrton Senna’s scorched helmet, that are bestowed on him—or taken away—at will. What happens when another person walks away with what was once his life? What happens when he decides to move out of the imprisonment of this Hotel California-like situation?

The exploration of a manipulated human life held the promise of those eat-the-rich films by Ruben Ostlund but the next segment—RMF is Flying—gets into an even more macabre zone. Here, Lanthimos explores jealousy, up close and personal, with a man doubting his wife when she returns home after being stranded at sea. Why is she suddenly eating chocolates that she never liked? Why have her feet grown too big for her boots? She is forced to go to gruesome lengths to prove her husband’s suspicions wrong. So far so good. Lanthimos keeps us glued and invested.

It’s in the last segment—RMF Eats a Sandwich—that his grip weakens. About a commune, the idea of contamination and controlled sex, among other things, this segment comes with little sense and sensibility. It doesn’t plumb deep despite the seeming complexity. Lanthimos pushes the envelope with the ideas of savagery, cannibalism or ravishing and ravaging the human body. He has a superb cast of actors, especially Plemons, that make his mind-bending ideas palpable with their effortless presence. It’s a cinema that is edgy and plays with excesses. Certainly not everybody’s cup of tea but one that can’t be ignored. It is riveting, in fact.

While Lanthimos has been getting charged with overindulgence, I found Ali Abbasi’s The Apprentice curiously tame. Given the filmmaker’s talk about giving political cinema its due place in the light of growing fascism, I expected a far more irreverent film. Perhaps, it has to do with the fact that Donald Trump’s life is way too much of an open book. The peep into the early, formative years of Trump seems to be playing it straightforward—his takeover of his father’s real estate business or picking up lawyer Roy Kohn for his mentor.

In fact, there’s much humanism that comes to the fore in the portrayal of the early days of Trump. His unabashed love for Ivana or the sad loss of his brother Freddy. It’s Ivana who seems like the one with all the guts and glory, as she fights against the prenuptial agreement drafted for Trump by Kohn. In fact, it makes you wonder, is Kohn to be blamed for all things Trump than Trump himself? It was Kohn who helped bend the processes and get a tax waiver for Trump.

There’s a lot here that has been in the public domain, be it Trump’s animosity for the Leftists, the liberals, and the gay community, the overenthusiastic nationalism or the vanity. Most so, his art of making money and the three mantras he devises for striking deals—Attack, attack, attack. Don’t admit anything, deny everything. Claim victory, never admit defeat.

Needless to say, both Sebastian Stan as Trump and Jeremy Strong as Kohn are wonderful and make the film eminently watchable. But I wanted more.

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The New Indian Express