The Lobster - NZFF Review

The Lobster - NZFF Review

The opening night of the 2015 New Zealand International Film Festival got off to a stonking (and yet head-scratching) start with The Lobster, a darkly surreal and yet drily dystopian flick about coupledom, and how society views those who are alone.

From Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) in his first English language outing, The Lobster is set in an alternate world where single people are forced to find a partner within 45 days or face being turned into an animal of their choice and released into the wild.

A pudgy and moustachioed Colin Farrell is David, who's just divorced from his wife and is sent from the city to the hotel where he must try to find love. His solitary companion in this confine is his border-collie dog, formerly his brother - and the collection of others unable to grasp Cupid's arrow to their heart.

Inside this hotel, run with straight faced gusto by the manager (played by Broadchurch star Olivia Colman), are others looking included in their number are the likes of Ben Whishaw, Jessica Barden, John C Reilly and Ashley Jensen. The singles are also given a chance to hunt groups of Loners (run by Lea Seydoux's character and made up of the likes of Michael Smiley and Rachel Weisz) who've escaped the hotel and live in the woods; each capture subsequently earns the members an extra day before animalisation....

The English language film from the Greek director of Dogtooth is nothing short of incredible; incredibly surreal, incredibly dark, incredibly sad and incredibly funny. 

Delivered with such deadpan and emotionless dialogue, The Lobster could only work in English and with recognisable actors - it seems any other incarnation of the film would feel too black and too dark to cope with.

Lanthimos' creation of the world works best within the confines of the hotel (whose decor and activities are likely to provoke memories of horrific family holidays for some); it's perhaps less successful when it heads into the woods and starts to become a little aimless, lacking perhaps the vicious satire that's preceded. 

But skewing the conventions of romance (yet perversely embracing them), and slyly commenting on life in couples (any bickering people who are coupled up will be given children to try and quell any potential discord), Lanthimos has created something unique that occasionally defies description. And yet, in among the blackest of night humour, there's such a vein of sadness within that remains hard to shake long after the film has finished. Nowhere is this more evident than with Ashley Jensen's character, a biscuit obsessed pudge of a woman whose sexual proclivities are detailed to Farrell's David with such dead eyes as she tries in desperation to couple up with him, that it's nothing short of utterly heartbreaking.

There's no doubting that The Lobster's scathing and scabrous social critique and satirical edge hits the mark throughout and this cruel black comedy remains a troubling crowd-pleaser (what does it tell us about ourselves when we laugh out of nerves, awkwardness or perhaps recognition at what passes on the screen?). For those well versed in British satire, it almost feels like the kind of flick Chris Morris might spew forth from his demented imagination - and it's perhaps no coincidence that the film is blessed with such a British cast.

What The Lobster says about the human condition and the continuing insistence by society to view couples as the only valid humans and contributions is utterly depressing; what Lanthimos has managed to do is to turn that very dark outcome into something utterly unmissable and something savagely unsettling; The Lobster is a guaranteed talking point at the festival - and some of the truths you potentially uncover or associate with may say more about you than perhaps you feel comfortable to accept.

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