Fantastic Fest 2015: Day One

The first day: The Lobster, from the director of Dogtooh; and Belladonna of Sadness, a rediscovered Japanese animated head-trip from the early ’70s.

 The Lobster (Greece/Ireland; Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)

In the dystopian future of The Lobster, the law the newly single to stay at “The Hotel,” where they have forty-five days to find a new mate or be surgically transformed into the animal of their choice. Divorced architect Colin Farrell chooses a lobster (thus the title) when he takes up residence with his dog Bob, who used to be his brother.

At the Hotel, Farrell quickly befriends John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw (Skyfall) a while Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) oversees entertainments including skits demonstrating the importance of couplehood and hunting expeditions against a local colony of “Loners” led by Lea Seydoux (Blue Is the Warmest Color) and Michael Smiley (A Field in England). Rachael Weisz, whose role in the proceedings remains unclear for most of the film, provides dry running commentary on the characters’ antics.

Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2009 provocation Dogtooth impressed many, but it left me with mixed emotions: I appreciated what he was trying to do–and what he was trying to do was very, very weird–but I was frustrated with its almost complete lack of a story. The good news is that with The Lobster, apparently his mainstream debut, he’s able to improve his storytelling chops wihtout sacrificing the oddness. Mark well: that’s improve, not perfect; he still has a tendency to meander. A feature rather than a bug, no doubt, but one the viewer must be on board with.

One could easily assume that Lanthomos intends The Lobster as either social (the importance society places on having a partner) or political (the Loners’ social structure is a libertarian utopia or nightmare, depending on your perspective). I’m not quite certain anything quite so simple is going on, however, and this obtuseness is the film’s Achilles heel. The Lobster definitely approaches brilliance, but I’m not convinced it actually reaches it. It’s a wild ride, though, with an ensemble cast strong and confident enough to allow Lanthomos to walk away from ostensible star Farrell for stretches of time.

 Belladonna of Sadness (Japan; Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973)

It’s damnably difficult to describe Belladonna of Sadness let alone know what to make of it. A Japanese exercise in animated psychedelia adapted from a French novel, it tells the story of Jeanne, a medieval peasant whose anger at her rape at the hands of her king draws the attention of the Devil. She makes the standard Faustian bargain, and her newfound powers consistently put her at odds with her husband and the local authorities.

The animation is remarkable, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen in any animated film, encompassing a wide range of artistic styles and methods, all set to a mindbending free-jazz score. Unfortunately–at least for me–the film’s actual subject is a product of the early adult-animation movement, and sets out to prove that cartoons don’t have to be kids stuff by spamming the audience with an excess of graphic sex and nudity, culminating in a seemingly-endless orgy sequence involving, at points, a snail and a clam. I don’t tend to find this sort of thing particularly interesting, alas.

But at least the art and music held my attention.

2 thoughts on “Fantastic Fest 2015: Day One

    1. The thing I forgot to say about Belladonna in the capsule was, don’t go into this expecting anime or proto-anime. The artwork shows definite Asian elements, but overall, it’s very much its own psychedelic thing. My only points of reference would be some of Ralph Bakshi’s ’70s stuff and, of all things, some of the psychedelic-funk segments from early Sesame Street.

      Liked by 1 person

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