Iconic director of scabrous black comedies, Yorgos Lanthimos (THE FAVOURITE) returns to our screens with a steam-punk set, sexually charged satire so dark and strange that is left me gasping for breath. Along with ZONE OF INTEREST, this film is doing something so audacious, so compelling and so far removed from the ordinary run of films that it deserves all the awards. Whether it proves too strange, disturbing and provocative to appeal to a mainstream jury remains to be seen.
Emma Stone gives an astoundingly brave and career defining performance as Bella Baxter, a Frankenstein creation of adult woman and childlike brain. We watch her rapid acquisition of language and intellectual ideas and sexual desires. Better explained in the source novel by Alasdair Gray, as she only knows her adult body, she has no shame or internalised misogyny. Bella is as free with her body as her thoughts.
Bella was brought to life by her guardian, Godwin (Willem Dafoe) and lives in an elaborate steampunk world of Lanthimos' vivid imagination. In Lanthimos' conception "God" is himself a victim of his surgeon-father's experiments. Bella finds herself falling for the harmless, earnest Dr McCandless (Rami Youssef) but elopes with the charming, rogueish lawyer Duncan Wedderburn. It is here that her adventures, and ours, really begin, thanks to an uproariously funny and award worthy performance from Mark Ruffalo - apparently having the time of his life - and Lanthimos' beautifully reimagined Mediterranean cities and Victorian hotel rooms. A shout out too for casting the iconic Hanna Shygulla as a wise old woman called Martha and Kathryn Hunter as a jaded Parisian madam.
I cannot begin to describe the delights of a film that gives full flower to Lanthimos' dark gothic imagination - whether the production design of Baxter's house and successive interiors, to the wildly transgressive costumes that Bella wears, to the jarring, disturbingly brilliant score from Jerskin Fendrix. It is as if every element of the crew comes together in to deliver a heightened, sensual experience that frames and enables Stone's outlandish but also deeply moving performance. This is complete film-making of an extra-ordinary level of skill and accomplishment. This is not to be missed, and on a big screen if possible.
POOR THINGS has a running time of 141 minutes and is rated R. It played Venice and London 2023. It will be released in the USA on December 8th.