Last Monday at the opening of the Cannes press conference for The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the presenter, before introducing the key actors said, “This is very much a family movie” which created a moment of silence in the room as people briefly wondered if they had seen the same film. He then amended his phrase to “Sorry, this is a movie about a family”, which made many burst into laughter. There can be a big difference between the two.
In competition for the Palme d’Or, screenwriter and director Yorgos Lanthimos’ fifth feature film features a family in America. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a heart surgeon. He has attained the trappings of a successful life – well-adjusted children – a son Bob (Sunny Suljic) and daughter Kim (Raffey Cassidy) – an ophthalmologist wife Anna (Nicole Kidman), a dog, and a large and lovely suburban house. He appears to be a man with a past, whom friends and family treat gently. Crucial to the story is Martin (Barry Keough), a 16-year old boy whose ambiguous relationship with Stephen reveals a struggle between manipulation and affection.
An unusual characteristic of Lanthimos’ films is the way the actors deliver their lines in a direct and detached way. Lanthimos describes the style as “replicating a certain kind of naivety, awkwardness and insecurity familiar to all of us in our everyday lives, since we don’t really know most of the time what we are going to say or do, and how other people are going to react to that.” It is an illustration of the fear of vulnerability. Lanthimos was interested in exploring the subject of sacrifice when he wrote the script with long-term collaborator, Efthymis Filippou. It’s a study of revenge, justice, choice, human nature and behavior when faced with a huge dilemma, and raises questions about all those things without hinting how the audience ought to respond. The result is intriguing, tender and distressing.
Shot on film, the curious tracking shots created by cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis,
produce a feeling of creeping around and secretly observing the scenes, while the sound design by Johnnie Burn makes even the most ordinary scene alarming. It’s a slow burner, leaving the viewer to ponder guilt and responsibility. As for whether it’s a family film, Nicole Kidman said that this is one her children will not be seeing…
Yorgos Lanthimos’ second feature Dogtooth, won the Un Certain Regard Prize at the 2009 Cannes film festival, followed by numerous awards at festivals worldwide. It was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award (Oscar) in 2011. Alps won the Osella for Best Screenplay at the 2011 Venice film festival and Best Film at the Sydney Film Festival in 2012. His first English language feature film The Lobster was presented In Competition at the 68th Cannes Film Festival and won the Jury Prize. It also won Best Screenplay and Best Costume Design at the 2015 European Film Awards. In 2017 it was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award (Oscar).
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