Wednesday 24 June 2015

A Florentine Screening of Yorgis Lanthimos's The Lobster

The show was supposed to start at 6.00 pm. The venue, a lively cinema space currently called Spazio Alfieri, has opened and closed on numerous occasions as enthusiasts get hold of its space and seek to bring some up-market art house activity to Florence. Its not a city with a big reputation for bringing the best movies and events to the populace, nothing to rival nearby Bologna with its Cineteca, the Cinema Ritrovato, the summer screenings of classics in the town square that draw up to and occasionally beyond, ten thousand people a night.

But for a couple of weeks Spazio Alfieri is presenting a season of films direct from Cannes, all in their original language and all subtitled into Italian. For Yorgis Lanthimos's The Lobster,  a Cannes prize-winner, the queue snaked out into the street and it was 6.15 or so before a distinguished looking gentleman from the management stood up to make a brief introduction. He compared, as far as my near to non-existent Italian could make out, the director to Bunuel and Michael Haneke and the show got under way with a beautiful DCP copy on show. DCP is liberating exhibition most especially in these rarified circles where a near sell out crowd of a hundred or so, watching in perfect conditions, is a triumph for the new technology and presages a new and much more democratic way of bringing movies to the people.

Lanthimos has made five feature films now and two of them, Dogtooth (2009)  and Alps (2011) made quite a splash on the festival circuit. He does allegories of modern Greece that involve at some point unspeakable acts of violence. The Bunuel comparison is most apt. He's one of those directors whose iconography is needless to say difficult to penetrate and it may be that the only persons who understand these films with any completeness are some small smattering of the Greek intelligentsia. But still the films are made with great  story-telling skills and when those moments of unspeakable violence arrive there is a genuine shock.

So what's happening now. Lanthimos has got his next project going, some four years after the last, via financing from a host of international producers. They have hurled sufficient funding at him that he has also been able to attract a rather dazzling array of international 'stars' - Colin Farrell, looking very much the part of a going to seed middle aged man, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, John C Reilly and the gorgeous object of desire Lea Seydoux from Blue is the Warmest Colour. The story line is so complicated and the fanciful premise on which its based is so odd that you know you are back in Lanthimos's preferred mode. But here its not a confined space and those actors, speaking English, are just actors, recognisable from a million other movies. They lack authenticity.

The crowd sat quiet and seemed to me to be heavily involved. At the end there was small burst of applause and then an elderly gentleman leapt up in font of the crowd and proceeded to hector us about what we had just seen. The music and the photography were excellent, he said, but this allegory of modern Greece did not deserve  such attention as it was getting and the jury which gave it a prize should be ashamed of themselves. A few people wanted to disagree, one or two of the management came down and suggested he give it a rest, though I'm sure in politer terms than that, but on and on he went. I would love to have been able to understand it all... Finally he did allow the  microphone to be taken from him, about the time as they allowed the crowd in for the next session. It was all very polite and dare I say it quite 'Italian'.

If you are in Florence hunt out the Spazio Alfieri. Its down a side street at the San Ambrogio market end of town heading towards the famous Cibreo Restaurant and on towards Piazza Beccaria. Next up tonight is Jia Zhangke's new movie. In the meantime I assume The Lobster will be programmed into the upcoming local events where much will be made of its allegory, its star cast, and its ravishing look. No program note will suggest the Cannes Jury should be ashamed of itself.

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