Film Review: THE FAVOURITE (UK/USA 2018) ****

The Favourite Poster
Trailer

In early 18th century England, a frail Queen Anne (Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Weisz) governs the country in her stead. When a new servant Abigail (Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.

Director:

Yorgos Lanthimos

Lanthimos’s latest film after DOGTOOTH, THE LOBSTER and THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER is his most extravagant, with a period setting in a castle with royalty as its subject.

It is the early 18th century when England is at war with the French though the film opens oddly enough with royalty involved with duck racing and pineapple eating.  The poor are taxed and the poor go to war.   A frail Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz) governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health, temper and sexual desires .   When a new servant Abigail (Emma Stone) arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah.  Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots.   Abigail schemes to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfil her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.

THE FAVOURITE stands as a film that those familiar with Lanthimos will find quite similar to his last movie THE KILLNG OF A SACRED DEER.  As in both films, the status quo of a family is challenged (Farrell’s in DEER and Queen Anne’s in FAVOURITE).  Both sees the arrival of a stranger who is revealed to have closer connections with the family that will shake formalities and turn the family upside down for better or for worse.  Though Lanthimos’s favourite actor Colin Farrell is not in this film, one can see him inhabiting a similar character now taken on by Nicholas Hoult.  THE FAVOURITE also contains Lanthimos’s odd pounding soundtrack and his fade outs to black.  

Lanthimos sees that the audience takes the side of Emma Stone from the very start when she falls flat with her face onto the mud on arrival at the castle.  She can do no wrong, compared to Lady Sarah that the script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara ensures the audience dislikes from start to finish.

Both films contain odd dialogue that are funny because they can occur at the least likely moment.  THE FAVOURITE’s best line is when Queen Anne rebutting Lady Sarah when asked to dismiss Abigail: “I will not, I enjoy having her tongue inside me.”  Those unfamiliar with Lanthimos previous films (and better still if the trailer is not seen beforehand) will likely find THE FAVOURITE more amusing, shocking and refreshing while those who are will find him doing the same tricks in a different setting.  All the main actors  Weisz, Stone and Colman have been in Lanthimos past films.  Surprises  are no more surprises if they are expected to occur.  One can say the same for a Lanthimos film – to expect surprise after surprise.  It would be a surprise if his films did not shock or surprise. Still. Lanthimos’s The FAVOURITE succeeds well in its ambitions.  But the dialogue (in literally the Queen’s English) – except one would imagine the words ‘cunt’ and ‘fuck’ were not used in those times – is sped up several notches compared to the slow dialogue in Lanthimos’s other entries.

THE FAVOURITE arrives after the Venice International Film Festival with favourable reviews.

Trailer:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYb-wkehT1g

Film Review: DISOBEDIENCE (UK/Ireland/USA 2017) ***1/2

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Disobedience Poster
Trailer

A woman returns to the community that shunned her for her attraction to a childhood friend. Once back, their passions reignite as they explore the boundaries of faith and sexuality.

Director:

Sebastián Lelio

 

Three big reasons stand out for one to see DISOBEDIENCE.  The first is its director, Chilean Sebastian Leilo who won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar for A FANTASTIC WOMAN this year.  The second is the script, based on Naomi Alderman’s 2006 acclaimed novel, co-written by Rebecca Lenkiewicz who wrote the Best Foreign Film Oscar Winner IDA, a few years back.  The third is the cast of Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams who go all out to do a same-sex love story compete with a no-holds barred erotic sex scene.

The film begins with a scene of a dissatisfied New York photographer, Ronit (Weisz), a single woman in the city, shown never smiling and having casual sex while receiving news of her father’s passing in London.  She travels to London only to be met with a surprise welcome by the Orthodox Jews that she ran away from.  Her father was a strong pillar, a Rabbi of the Jewish Orthodox Community and she is deemed an outcast.  This is material that moviegoers would shy less run away from.  The film takes a while to gets its footing, and if one is patient enough not to give up on the uncommercial storyline, the reward is a well told powerful tale of freedom, especially from the feminine point of view that is so relevant in today’s times.

So, with her edgy clothing and tousled hair, Ronit looks out of place among the Orthodox women in their plain black garments and synthetic wigs.  She is also in for some unsetting surprises, including the contents of her father’s obituary and will.  She is further shocked to find that her two childhood friends – Esti (McAdams) and rabbi-to-be Dovid (Novice) – are now married.  When Dovid invites Ronit to stay with them, Esti and Ronit rekindle their secret passion for each other.  The film’s second half focuses on the love affair and Esti’s demand to be freed from her marriage form Dovid.

The Jewish rituals are respectfully created with perfect voices singing of the hymns.  But the film clearly has a prejudiced view of the Orthodox Jewish ways.  It looks down at the practices from the very first scene with the over-stern sermon on devils and angels given by the Rabbi before suffering the heart attack that initiates the story’s chain of events.

The sexual scenes are very graphic and erotic especially in the sharing of saliva during a sex scene, reminiscent of Stephen Frears’ sex scene in MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE

The same-sex love is also seen for Esti’s point of view, not only from Ronit’s.  This makes the drama even more relevant.  Understandably, the film’s best scene is the confrontation between Esti and her husband when beating him on the chest, she confesses that she always loved Rachel.

The one reason the film about freedom is so powerful is that erector Leilo switches the points of view from Ronit to Esti to Dovid.  The audience sees and sympathizes with each, not only seeing each person in the love triangle’s point of view but knowing that each are trapped by the past and present emotions.

It does not matter how the story ends.  The film is about emotions and the right to choose, and Leilo’s message comes across bight and clear in his well-executed drama.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEVonh8bjC0

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