Cannes 2024: Kinds of Kindness; Oh, Canada; Scénarios | Festivals & Awards

May 18, 2024 - Movies

“Kinds of Kindness” is really three movies in one—the first two around 50 minutes in length, the third a little longer. The three segments share a cast (Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Margaret Qualley, Hong Chau, Willem Dafoe, Joe Alwyn), a few motifs, and a general philosophy of life that boils down to the idea some people “want to be abused,” as Annie Lennox sings in “Sweet Dreams,” which immediately perked up my Cannes audience as it blared over the Searchlight logo.

But exactly how much abuse—and how many other kinds of sorrow—can Lanthimos deadpan his way through in 164 minutes? Suicide, rape, domestic violence, vehicular homicide, animal cruelty, a miscarriage, forced abortions, cult brainwashing, self-amputation, police brutality—all of it just becomes stuff for Lanthimos to stage as if it’s no big deal. His elegant tableaux are expertly framed, again, by the cinematographer Robbie Ryan, in locations in the New Orleans area. (The two still have a thing for wide-angle lenses, except this time they’re shooting in widescreen, which gives the gimmick some new inflections.) Your mileage may vary, but at a certain point the casualness with which Lanthimos treats all of this material becomes far more disturbing than darkly funny. And in fairness, nobody said that “Kinds of Kindness” was supposed to be a comedy, although it’s difficult to imagine what else it thinks it is.

The first chapter, “The Death of R.M.F.,” immediately introduces us to a man (Yorgos Stefanakos) with those initials embroidered on his shirt. But maybe it’s a feint! Multiple characters in the segment turn out to have the initials “R.F.,” including the protagonist, Robert (Plemons). Robert has outsourced every decision in his life to his boss, Raymond (Dafoe), who leaves him instructions on what books to read, what he ought to eat and drink, and how often he’s allowed to have sex (Chau plays Robert’s wife).

Raymond also, with the logic of an abuser who insists that Robert’s acquiescence is just a way of demonstrating love, insists on total obedience, no matter how bizarre his instructions. He makes nice by bestowing gifts—specifically, memorabilia from sports legends, in one of the film’s better running gags. The premise has real potential, sometimes realized, especially once Stone—by far the performer most on Lanthimos’s wavelength—turns up as a woman called Rita. But the sheer cruelty of the punchline ends the segment on a sour note.

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