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Yorgos Lanthimos’s Absurdist Return in “Kinds of Kindness” | Review

"Kinds of Kindness" by Lanthimos critiques modern society with absurdity and irreverence, starring Stone, Dafoe, Plemons, and Qualley. Provocative but morally shallow.
Kinds of Kindness (2024)

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Cannes 2024

Lanthimos returns to his exploration of the pathological resurgence of religion in nihilistic forms: but the taste for absurdity and irreverent irony comes in bursts.

Anyone who thought that with Poor Things! Lanthimos had finally aligned himself with the right side of history—feminist, progressive, and forward-looking—will have to think again. Kinds of Kindness is classic Lanthimos. It’s a return to his roots with the resources and actors that his recent acclaim allows. Funded by Fox Searchlight.

Emma Stone and Willem Dafoe return, reprising their roles as the creature and creator. They are joined by two very talented actors from the new generation, Jesse Plemons and Margaret Qualley. The quartet works wonderfully together. They take on different but similar personas in the three episodes that make up the film, each titled after the mysterious Mr. R.F.M.

In The Death of R.M.F., Plemons plays an office worker so subservient to his boss—a mephistophelian Willem Dafoe—that he risks his own life to please him. In R.M.F. is Flying, Plemons is a police officer devastated by the disappearance of his wife at sea (Emma Stone) and then her miraculous return, making him suspect she might not be who she seems. In R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich, Emma Stone and Jesse Plemons are quirky travelers on a mission for a self-proclaimed cult guru (Dafoe), searching for a woman who can raise the dead (Qualley).

Three ways to tell, or rather mock, the tics and neuroses of modern American society, lampooning servility, conspiracy theories, and fanaticism. Three variations on the theme of manipulation and idolatry, far from outdated or trivial in times of populism, new forms of slavery, and conspiracy theories. This was the underlying issue in Poor Things!, where the focus was on liberation from Frankenstein’s yoke. Here, the Frankensteins and their monsters have no unresolved issues and collaborate. The poor creatures end up being revealed as petty and complicit in a relentless and senseless system of power and control.

Lanthimos reflects on the pathological return of religion in the West, in a time devoid of the Eternal, where devotion lacks hope and faith is stripped of Heaven. God is dead and man is in a drug-induced coma. Adorned in eccentric or skimpy outfits, nomadic or sheltered in gilded homes, the creature is neither poor nor miserable, but rather wretched and undeserving of pity.

The requiem is delivered with irreverent irony, Gregorian chants, and provocations that often fall flat. Lanthimos’s limitations as an auteur are tied to an amused but arid cynicism. The shocks—becoming more insistent and gratuitous as the film progresses, with the first episode certainly having more zest—might impact an audience unfamiliar with Buñuel and Ferreri.

Ultimately, it’s a work that indulges in absurdity, provocation, and nihilistic mockery. While the precision with which he stages the world gives this playful irreverence a surface harmony and aesthetic pleasure, Kinds of Kindness completely lacks moral sense, that sustenance beyond visible forms, due to an absence of an inner mysterious order.

Gianluca Arnone

Cinematografo, May 18, 2024

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