From the claustrophobic surrealism of Dogtooth (2009) to the gasp-inducing black comedy of Alps (2011), director Yorgos Lanthimos and long-term co-writer Efthymis Filippou are experts in skewering humanity’s oddities. The former was a Fritzl-esque portrait of parents who fiercely sheltered their children from world – censoring the meaning of sex and violence, to hilarious consequences – while the latter centred on a company who service the bereaved with actors playing their deceased loved ones.
Although the Greek pair have now produced their first English language movie, The Lobster, none of this eccentric intricacy has been lost in translation. Shot with the bucolic background of Ireland’s County Kerry, and starring a formidable trio of leads – Colin Farrell, Lea Seydoux and Rachel Weisz – it follows the latest batch of singletons to be sent to a bizarre hotel, where they are forced to either find a permanent partner, or be turned into an animal and released into the nearby woods. The world is a post-Tinder dystopia, the visuals are exquisite, and the proceedings teem with Buñuelian menace, poignancy and humour.
A: The film industry has an almost obsessive history of depicting hotels. What made you want to contribute?
EF: We didn’t want to contribute in any way to that history. The hotel as a location just seemed proper, that’s all. Hotels don’t have the heavy dark atmosphere of prisons or camps while at the same time they provide an institutionalised fun and a framed joy. They can be something happy and something sad at the same time. In addition, the fact that hotel guests all over the world choose between single and double rooms made the premise a little bit more believable.
A: What triggered the move to an English language film? Was it a difficult switch?
EF: Yorgos lives in London while I live in Athens. Making an English language film was something he needed more than me. The switch wasn’t difficult, making the film was difficult but then again it’s always difficult no matter if you’re on a Greek island or an Irish city. However, the main difference is that in Greece people don’t fully understand yet that film making is not the hobby of a rich guy with personal issues but a normal job that makes you stay awake at night, stresses you and makes you cry and freak out, just like every other job. That is very disappointing especially if you are not a rich guy but you have personal issues. But on the other hand there is sun and nice beaches here.
A: How do you and Lanthimos conceive the situations and premises in Dogtooth, Alps and The Lobster?
EF: There isn’t a specific way. We meet and talk about things that we are interested in exploring. The minute we find something that we both can imagine we stick with it. We never over-analyse things. The whole procedure takes place in an instinctive manner, if something like that is possible between two 40 year old men.
A: Have you ever used Tinder? Are apps like these something you discussed?
EF: I’ve never used Tinder. In fact I just recently found out what this is all about. I am a lot of steps back from downloading such an app. First I have to do more basic things concerning human relations like not hiding when I see people that are not close friends of mine or relatives and not being rude when someone tries to be friendly.
A: What are your thoughts on modern dating and relationships?
EF: Affairs entail a procedure in which you have to give and then receive and when you receive less than you give or you give more than you have to, then the procedure is fucked up and you get fucked up as well. That’s not something modern or classic. That’s human nature, the human curse. It sounds tragic and it is, because life is tragic and people are tragic beings that have to learn how to live with each other in a place that sometimes seems cool and sometimes not.
A: What are you thoughts on the current situation in Greece? Do you feel compelled to get involved?
EF: I live in Greece so I am automatically involved. Living in the centre of Athens nowadays is not about being a part of a riot or knowing how to make a molotov cocktail. It’s something more indirect and deep and haunting. It’s about being a part of a sad depressed country. This strange thing, I don’t know how to name it actually, is inside all the Greeks all the time, when they walk, when thye are sleeping or when they are swimming. And it’s very dangerous since this situation may be an opportunity for creativity and unity but it’s also an opportunity for resignation and violence.
A: In the film there is a very notable absence – there are no actual animal transformations. Why?
EF: Transformations wouldn’t feel right within the visual context of the film. It was a decision not to show but to describe. This story could easily make us act in a graphic way and we tried to resist that. It is too early though to find out whether we succeeded or not.
A: The ending of the film is very powerful, but bittersweet. Are you an optimist or pessimist?
EF: I think I am a pessimist when it comes to me and an optimist when it comes to others which makes me a very pleasant company. That’s why I have close friends. I say very often to them that everything will be fine in the end, even though I don’t believe it. But then they do.
A: Some people have described your filmmaking perspective as being cooly detached. How would you respond?
EF: Cooly detached is fine with me. Although I am also fine with all the various descriptions I’ve heard from time to time. I can’t describe with words what exactly my texts are or how I am working or how I am thinking. What I know for sure is that I love to watch people, to observe humans interact or try to. The problem is that when you spend time observing others, it means that you have to stand still, motionless, not to act at all. Now I am trying to observe while moving – it’s hard. We’ll see.
The Lobster is now out in UK cinemas.
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