The Lobster reaction: Cannes 2015

The combination of experimental filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) and a starry cast made The Lobster one of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival’s hottest catches. Here’s Jordan Farley’s reaction…

This year’s competition has already thrown up one oddball entry in the shape of twisted fantasy Tale Of Tales, but we’ll be surprised if anything tops high concept satire The Lobster for sheer wackadoodle weirdness.

The film marks the English language debut of Yorgos Lanthimos (whose deadpan dark comedy Dogtooth was Oscar nominated in 2009) and is the story of Colin Farrell’s David – a mild-mannered, bulbous-bellied singleton. In The Lobster’s dystopian society only couples are allowed to live in The City, while single folk are banished to The Hotel where they have 45 days to find a perfect partner or face transformation into an animal of their choosing.

David, we learn, wants to be turned into a lobster because they live to 100, remain fertile throughout their lives and he likes the sea. It’s the kind of mad alternate reality that Kafka could have conceived, with shades of Orwell and Bradbury to its regimented, big brother police state (to hammer home the fact, David resides in Room 101). It’s bizarre and riotously funny throughout, with whimsical and mannered performances from Farrell and The Hotel’s pathetic, lovelorn residents, among them Ben Whishaw, John C. Reilly and Ashley Jensen.

Lanthimos pushes the social satire front and centre, focusing an absurdist spotlight on relationship ideals and heightening them to ludicrous levels. In this world, all anyone cares about is a common, seemingly insignificant, characteristic such as a limp or frequent nosebleeds rather than physical attraction or, heaven forbid, love. It’s a conceit that requires a leap, but it works within the framework of the tale’s internal logic; and it has an important flipside…

Because to complicate matters, residents of The Hotel can buy themselves more time by capturing The Loners who live in the surrounding forest during a nightly hunt. The Loners have chosen to flaunt societal norms and live a single life in the wilderness, but just like everyone else, they are bound by their own rules and regulations. Whereas The Hotel encourages courting, here it’s strictly forbidden, with some brutal repercussions doled out by Léa Seydoux’s callous Loner Leader for those who can’t keep their hands to themselves.

In the woods, ironically, David finds a perfect match in the shape of Rachel Weisz’s Short Sighted Woman (David, of course, is short-sighted too), a relationship he’s unable to act on or risk a punishment worse than life as a lobster. Lanthimos is an equal opportunity satirist, skewering the clichés of singledom as much as he does the expectations placed on couples, but David’s love-conquers-all encounter with the Short Sighted Woman proves that Lanthimos is still a soppy old romantic at heart.

The move to the woods is The Lobster's biggest problem, initially ushering in an enticing change of pace, the film drags its feet during the final act, drastically overstaying its welcome. There’s a much more effective version of The Lobster to be made with 20 minutes chopped out of its two-hour runtime.

Given the already high standard of entries it’s unlikely to be a major contender for top honours at this year’s festival, but The Lobster is a dish worth trying at least once - smart, melancholy and wickedly funny.

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