Features Live Action Movies

Kinds of Kindness

Director – Yorgos Lanthimos – 2023 – UK – Cert. 18 – 144m


A triptych of stories from rising star cult director Lanthimos performed by the same intimate, ensemble cast – baffling auteur exercise is out in UK and Ireland cinemas on Friday, June 28th

Beyond a description of its structure – three separate stories performed by the same ensemble cast directed by one of today’s more idiosyncratic directors – Kinds of Kindness is not an easy film to synopsize. If the term ‘kindness’ in the title is meant to relate to the stories, it’s not immediately obvious as to how that should be (unless kindness is being used in the sense of “type of category” as the stories seem to function, on one level at least, as exploration of categories of transgressive behaviour). In terms of actors giving performances, the film is a masterclass; in terms of technical achievement – camera, editing, sand so on – it’s top of the line stuff; yet, in terms of what the film is about, the point of it, why anyone would want to make this film, you may find yourself completely baffled.

The main cast comprises Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe and Margaret Qualley with support from Hong Chau, Joe Alwyn, Mamoudou Athie and Hunter Schafer. The minor character R.M.F. (Yorgos Stefanakos), identified by the poorly embroidered letters R.M.F. on his shirt pocket, appears in the titles of all three sections, including at the very start of the first story and the very end of the third one. He remains an enigmatic figure, and we never really find out anything much about him.

In the first story, The Death of R.M.F., the life of Robert (Plemons) is micromanaged by his boss Raymond (Dafoe) to the extent that Robert logs everything he does, including when or whether he had sex with wife Sarah (Chau). Or perhaps Raymond isn’t his boss so much as a proscriptive, Mephistophelean character who exerts power over him to which Robert must comply. Until, one day, he doesn’t comply to it, at which point Raymond disowns him. The Raymond demand which alienates Robert springs from Robert’s being asked to drive his SUV into a smaller car as it passes an intersection late at night. He receives only the slightest facial injuries, while the other man rains alive. Raymond demands a rerun at greater speed because the man in the car was supposed to die (“he’s okay with that,” explains Raymond) while Robert was supposed to be hospitalised.

Robert finds Raymond’s most recent present, a broken McEnroe racquet, removed from their house (Raymond has the security key). He explains to Sarah (Chau) that her miscarriages were managed abortions, since Raymond instructed Robert to have no children; she leaves him. He briefly re-enters Raymond’s good books and finds himself in a threesome which also involves Raymond’s wife Vivian (Qualley). He deliberately self-injures in a hotel lavatory to gain passers-by’s sympathy in the corridor outside, in which capacity he is helped by Rita (Emma Stone), who turns out to be another person under Raymond’s control.

In the second story, R.M.F. is Flying, DSPD cop Daniel (Plemons, and, no I’ve no idea what city or state the acronym stands for either) loses his wife in a maritime accident in which she, Liz (Stone) somehow recovers and returns to him – only he’s convinced she isn’t the same person.

This is a well-trodden theme in history and culture – think of the 16th Century Frenchman Martin Guerre who returned to his wife after thirteen years only to be later claimed an imposter. There was a movie adaptation, The Return of Martin Guerre (Daniel Vigne, 1982), and the idea has cropped up all over the place in movies, from the seminal Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel, 1956) to recent thriller Lost in the Stars (Cui Rui, Liu Xiang – 2022).

Lanthimos, or at least his screenwriter Efthymis Filippou (who collaborated on Dogtooth, 2009; Alps, 2011; The Lobster, 2015), make this tale very much their own by having Daniel demand his wife sever and cook various of her body parts for him (starting with a finger or thumb). Dafoe plays her father. There is a subplot about another couple who used to come over for food and sex games with Daniel and Liz.

In the third story, R.M.F. eats a Sandwich, Emily (Stone) and Andrew (Plemons) are searching for a spiritual leader based on clues in Emily’s visionary dreams and nightmares. They are in cahoots with a religious cult run by another couple, Omi (Dafoe) and Aka (Chau). The person Emily seeks must be the only living member of a pair of twins, and they are contacted by Rebecca (Qualley) who believes her sister Ruth (also Qualley), a vet, may be The One. There is a lot about purity and a lot about group sex (the two don’t appear to be mutually exclusive) and a whole lot more about Emily’s former partner Joseph (Joe Alwyn) who gets her drunk and rapes her, apparently de-purifying her because he possesses the wrong sort of semen. At least, I think that’s what was going on – the film might reasonably be described as batshit crazy.

You can see recurring themes in the three stories – loss, control, manipulation – yet, somehow, they fail to coalesce into any coherent vision. Lanthimos extracts great performances out of his extraordinary cast, but to no apparent purpose. I never thought I would be writing this about one of his films.

As someone who prefers Lanthimos’ earlier, low budget Greek films (especially Kinetta, 2005; and Dogtooth) to his later, medium budget, English language films, I expected great things of this. I’m bound to say, I was disappointed.

Kinds of Kindness is out in cinemas in the UK and Ireland on Friday, June 28th.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *