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Review by Rich Cline | MUST SEE
dir Yorgos Lanthimos
scr Tony McNamara
prd Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Andrew Lowe, Emma Stone
with Emma Stone, Willem Dafoe, Mark Ruffalo, Ramy Youssef, Christopher Abbott, Jerrod Carmichael, Kathryn Hunter, Hanna Schygulla, Margaret Qualley, Suzy Bemba, Vicki Pepperdine, Keeley Forsyth
release US 8.Dec.23,
23/UK Searchlight 2h21
VENICE FILM FEST
Is it streaming?
Taking on another fantastical story, Yorgos Lanthimos grounds and deepens this wildly stylised fable with darkly provocative themes. It may be visually extravagant, often going wildly over the top with full-on performances from a daring cast of excellent actors, and yet everything remains grounded in sympathetic emotions. So what the story is saying about polite society becomes almost revolutionary, encouraging us to go against the grain and speak the truth.
In 19th century London, Dr Godwin (Dafoe) fishes a woman's body out of the Thames and reanimates it with an infant brain, naming her Bella (Stone). He then hires Max (Youssef) to document her development as her mind matures. They fall in love, but Bella wants to explore the world and runs off with opportunistic adventurer Duncan (Ruffalo). Traversing southern Europe, Duncan can't cope with Bella's refusal to follow society's norms, so when they lose their money and she happily goes to work as a prostitute in Paris for Madame Swiney (Hunter), he can't cope.
Along the way, Bella meets a wonderful array of people who are fascinated by her free-spirited honesty, but many become confused or even repulsed by it. Her discovery in Egypt that half of the world has nothing and is dying in poverty is wrenching, both to her and to us, and her reaction is achingly truthful. And the way she longs for Godwin, whom she calls "God", is as wonderful as Max's open-handed, unconditional love for her.
With these cartoonish characters, performances are deliberately heightened. But the actors keep them grounded in earthy thoughts and feelings. Stone is simply jaw-dropping, throwing her full body into the role in a way that's dazzling. The nuances she brings to Bella make this a movie that will be worth watching and rewatching. Under astonishing makeup, Dafoe is marvellous as a matter-of-fact man who has embraced how he was relentlessly experimented on by his own father. Everyone around them is excellent, while Ruffalo nearly steals the show as the hilarious Duncan.
Basically, the entire cast and crew is at the top of their game, which helps McNamara's script adeptly grapple with several enormous themes. At its core, this is a story about deeply human impulses that sit at odds with accepted wisdom. It challenges us to be more honest in the way we see the world and in how we deal with the people around us, whatever social strata they're in. It's an absolute stunner of a film.
R E A D E R R E V I E W SStill waiting for your comments ... don't be shy.
© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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