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Poor Things
She's like nothing you've ever seen.
Filmmaker(s): Yorgos Lanthimos

Brought back to life by an unorthodox scientist, a young woman runs off with a debauched lawyer on a whirlwind adventure across the continents. Free from the prejudices of her times, she grows steadfast in her purpose to stand for equality and liberation.

Poor Things

Things Inside Things

This is not a film that grows on you and settles within your soul as cinematic enrichment.

First, let me tell you that the period of watching was very pleasant. What this older man saw was a woman navigating within values I hold dear: early 70s feminism. It boldly threw genre and its predicability away, all the way to the last scene. It was wildly visual in the camera, sets, and costumes. I greatly appreciate theatrical unrolling of sexual parts of life that are not depicted erotically.

Characters — some of them — were considered entries, worth registering, none of them from the familiar vocabulary. The internal architecture was inventive. The camera in the early bits was brilliant, perhaps the most genially artistic element in the production. There’s some Christopher Doyle movement where the camera is just passing through rather than voyeuristically, persistently peering. Our Bella was dressed by a genius, which impressed all the more because the last time I saw her was in ‘Cruella’ where the fashion extremes were ordinary and while theatrical, hardly cinematic.

The main characters were full, each one.

So I left the theatre — a fine old one — in great spirits. But after discussing it a bit with my partner, more and more leaked out of my experience. Sometimes this happens in life, food, love and cinema. So I’ll report some post-viewing insights that I advise you to avoid until you see it.

This was a story of female sexual empowerment created by men at each point: book, screenplay, filmmaker, and it shows. There isn’t any Anaïs Nin here. Instead some bizarre mix of manic pixie girl and Forrest Gump. The precise thing that worked for this man while I was with Bella is its greatest weakness. So my cheerleading of this soul’s progressing is revealed to be a personal weakness, making me more the general than the doctor.

That is less of an issue though than the sets. The sets are lush, cinematic, inventive, evocative. I expect they were largely rendered after the filming in green environments.

Here’s what I think happened. This filmmaker went to Hungary. Now, I know the Hungarian imagination pretty well, and as much as can be said of it, the Hungarian approach to collaboration. I think this filmmaker understands dramatic unrolling and has control over the actors and the way the characters can drive the thing. The costumes and makeup are part of the acting craft in this model. All that works.

I assume also that he selected the cinematographer, turned key decisions over and got lucky with this trust.

And he similarly trusted his Hungarian crew in charge of digitally fabricating his world. He described his vision, the assembled Hungarians all enthusiastically showed they understood his intent and promised to support it — and then did what they wanted to anyway.

There would be four crews in this imagining of what happened, my own story that is now embossed over Bella’s. One crew, the largest and most experienced, worked on interiors and also made some physical stuff. A second was in charge of exteriors, cities, skies. A third given the task of creatures, ordinary and otherwise.

And the fourth, objects like the ship, Alexandran castle, the gastric device and various transport objects. This fourth group is the most destabilising to me. The aesthetic is strictly steampunk. The ship is profoundly out of the world of everything else, even the other Hungarians. I know there’s a desire to emulate Jean-Pierre Jeunet, but this woman (I imagine her as a woman with deep dreams of sensual worlds) is her own island. Her items don’t fit.

I know the intent, to endow the physical environment with agency so that the machinery of class society and the injustice of opulence is made visually explicit. But it breaks the contract, where key elements are supplied by us, evoked, not delivered.

And we have the creature-maker. I think I understand something of the doctor/god. He’s about internals, the internal machinery that makes things as they are. His experiments would all be about internals. They would never be crude splicing that puts half of one creature on another. The fellow behind this is a man with comic presentation I assume, who does animated shorts as his real job. Insecure. The filmmaker needed some creature versions of steampunk items to populate god’s environment, so was allowed to put these in.

Both of these (objects and animals) are serious disruptions in the coherent cinematic/narrative. The visual script breaks. We see confusion in the vision, where so much else is controlled and whole. The flows of containment are compromised.

The ‘cities crew’ is good enough, including the bridge. I’ll put this in the neutral category. These designers are not coordinated with the filmmaker’s vision, nor even the other three groups in the Hungarian cabal. But this manager’s environments have their own charm. Lisbon was enticing and the one scene where the filmmaker inserted the singer on the balcony is by itself going to live in me permanently.

But the internal spaces are what matters. The drama is about how internals influence behaviour. Now here we have something that is not emergent from the filmmaker’s eye, but works. At least it works for me.

The person behind the interiors team here is a closet gay man because we’re talking a newly repressive country with ‘traditional’ catholic values. Decor matters. I’ve recently seen historical monstrosities in Budapest restored in the name of reclaiming a baroque Christian identity. If your personal life is about generic lush passion, and you are a creative, you are at risk of ridges and folds I can see.

The effect works for me. This is the one group of the four whose work adds to the film. We have the filmmaker, whose creative group includes the writer and actors, the cinematographer who is our primary partner, and this interiors/set designer. These three move together, each wth their own song and dance.

The one with the most profound influence for me is the interiors man. Every surface is embellished with some texture. I know this is a man, and repressed because the way the ceilings are managed. If this were a woman who understood internal sensual forces, we would be seeing more sensual treatment of the ceilings in terms of form, and less junk on the walls.

Ceilings and sexuality. A missed opportunity.

So bottom line: my own limits as a man get in the way of the larger enterprise of this. I am gathered by the forward energy and craft of the performers and their characters. I am engulfed in the internal spaces as is a nested Bella. I can take the trip, but the Catholic Hungarian repression bothers me at the deep level in my own voyage, but it overlaps with the filmmaker’s intent accidentally.

Posted in 2023

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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