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Everything you need to know about Yorgos Lanthimos' ‪"The Lobster‬" (Cannes 2015)



Synopsis: A love story set in the near future where single people, according to the rules of The City, are arrested and transferred to The Hotel. There they are obliged to find a matching mate in 45 days. If they fail, they are transformed into an animal of their choosing and released into The Woods. A desperate Man escapes from The Hotel to The Woods where The Loners live and falls in love, although it is against their rules.

The Lobster is directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, lensed by Thimios Bakatakis and edited by Yorgos Mavropsaridis. The Film premiered at Cannes on May 15, 2015 with very positive reviews.

Shooting The Lobster

So many aspects of the shoot defied standard practice. “Everything about this process is unconventional,” remarks Farrell. “The coverage is unconventional; the team move fast, which is great.”

The film couldn’t afford the luxury of lengthy rehearsals, which proved advantageous rather than a drawback. “Yorgos would be filming one take as a rehearsal and sometimes that take would work well,” explains Magiday. “So it was a rehearsal and then we would start shooting. Yorgos likes to improvise; he does work from the script but he also likes to figure out how the energy is working on the day.” Dempsey adds, “Because the performances aren’t beaten out of the actors in rehearsals, it’s quite spontaneous and it really gives the movie that bit of energy you wouldn’t normally find.”

Dogtooth and Alps were both made on micro-budgets and Lanthimos had full control over them. In addition to this being his first English language project, he had the added challenges of shooting outside of his home country (Greece), with an international cast and crew. Director of photography, Thimios Bakatakis and editor, Yorgos Mavropsaridis were previous collaborators but the rest of the crew were new to him. Magiday expands “On set, Yorgos prefers to make it as natural a process as possible. He likes to get caught up in a scene and keep moving rather than stop start, stop start. For him it’s about being able to move the camera, get into the next shot, keeping the energy going whilst working with the actors.”

The production worked almost entirely with natural light and without make-up, as Dempsey relates: “There’s no day for night and everybody was getting sent back up to get their make-up removed. The only time we used lighting was at night. Yorgos and Thimios have a short hand with each other that works incredibly well.” John C. Reilly chips in, “It has a very handmade feel. It’s very simple, but very well executed; there’s a formality to the cinematography and look of the film.”

Reilly continues, “In terms of relating it to another film, the only thing I’ve ever seen that’s like this are the Kubrick films where it’s played very naturalistically and realistically but the circumstances that the world is in are really strange. And it’s often really funny in a dark way; disturbing and very funny at the same time.”

“I didn’t prepare for this part at all because it’s such a specific world that Yorgos has created,” says Whishaw echoing earlier comments. He goes on, “It’s hard to work independently of him. I think he wants to keep everybody in a state of unknowing, and also probably of not over- thinking things too much.”

Léa Seydoux agrees. “You have to follow his instructions. You don’t have to think too much about it because it’s a world that doesn’t exist. I just followed my instinct and I tried to imagine how this could be.”

“It’s so not about any of those usual conventional questions and conventional processes that you go through as an actor”, explains Farrell. “It’s really just ‘do as little as possible’ because the words and the structure of the scenes and the inter-dynamics of the characters are so particular that they just need to be preserved by not having an actor come in with all their opinions and theories.” Farrell concludes, “It’s been a really interesting exercise in restraint and trusting the material.”

Making The Lobster

The genesis of the script for The Lobster evolved through a long process of observation and discussions between Lanthimos and Filippou, around life and people, relationships and behaviour. The two started developing this abstract starting point into a plot that they wanted to further explore. Lanthimos expands: “The idea for this film came from discussion about how people feel like they need to always be in a relationship; how other people see those who can’t make it; how you’re considered a failure if you can’t be with someone; the lengths people go to in order to be with someone; the fear; and all those kind of things that follow us trying to mate.”

“Everything has to do with observing friends and strangers,” outlines Filippou, “And then thinking about how they live and how they react to different situations. The main need was to write something about love. So we tried to think what love means to humans right now; how it is connected to companionship and solitude.”

This essence seemed the ideal focus for their third collaboration together; The Lobster describes two different worlds. Filippou expands: “One world where couples live, as opposed to a world where loners live. The main theme of the story is love. It tries to describe how it is to be a partner of someone and how it is to be by yourself in life.”

Ed Guiney, Ceci Dempsey and Lee Magiday had been developing another project with Lanthimos until Lanthimos and Filippou presented them with their idea for The Lobster. Guiney outlines: “It is set in a parallel world, certainly not futuristic but it’s not the world as we know it. In this world of The Lobster people who are single get sent to an institution which is quasi hotel, quasi prison, where they have a period of time to meet somebody else and form a couple with that other person.”

Magiday adds: “It’s a very interesting look at how we are as people. Being single, being alone or being involved with someone and the fears and constraints society puts on that. The Lobster portrays aspects of the human condition whilst being a truly original love story.”

“It’s a very particular world view”, Guiney continues about the director. “Yorgos’ films are modern day allegories about the human condition. He finds ways of tackling some of the big things in our lives in very refreshing, very surprising narrative insights. His films contain quite a difference in terms of tonality; so there’s a lot of humour but there’s great sadness, there’s violence; so it’s an incredibly rich environment that he creates and shows to the audience.”

And Filippou too is an essential component says Dempsey: “He is obviously a brilliant writer and quite inspirational and provocative.”

For his part Filippou outlines the world that they wanted to create. “We tried to present something real, but not in a real way. For me it is very difficult to write or think in a realistic way -andIadmireitwhenIseeitbutIdon’tthinkIcandoit.SowhenItryandtellastoryI’mtrying to pick a real theme and a real situation and a real need but to present it in a way that is easier for me, and most of the time it’s not realistic.”

Casting The Lobster

Dempsey talks about working with casting director Jina Jay. “It was a whirlwind and a casting dream at the same time. It was a fascinating process to observe, to be involved with. As you can tell by The Lobster cast, a lot of actors are very attracted to Yorgos’ work and to the way he works. He creates an environment of trust with the cast on set and the very special performances reflect that trust.”

Guiney continues that Lanthimos has a strong following in the acting community: “An awful lot of actors are big fans of his work, and Dogtooth really travelled. Actors are particularly drawn to his world and what he’s about and so when we went out to cast The Lobster, we just had a tremendous reaction. It was clear to us that there were a lot of interesting people who would like to be part of it.” He concludes, “And we just lucked out. We got a phenomenal cast led by Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz.”

Magiday picks up the story: “We were thrilled when Colin fell in love with the story and that he was so passionate about working with Yorgos. Yorgos had decided very early on that he wanted both Colin and Rachel in the film and so we were incredibly fortunate that they, and our other cast, responded so strongly to the script. Yorgos manages to create such a unique connection with the cast and the material.”

Dempsey picks up the thread of David’s character: “Yorgos doesn’t lay it all out; he relies on the individual to figure it out. You do see the world of The Lobster through David’s eyes because he’s the one who is brought to The Hotel and he’s sort of an inscrutable individual, not in a calculated way, he just is. He’s portrayed as a simple individual but his actions can be quite sudden, unexpected and provocative. You have to stay with David, it’s his story. David is an enigma but also a sort of everyman as well, within this mysterious universe.

“I’ve never had less of an idea on a character’s back story than I do on this film”, Colin Farrell explains, “and that’s not a complaint.” He continues, “When I first talked to Yorgos it was pretty clear early on that he doesn’t have much of an interest in back story. Which is really cool, because the world is so complete in itself; it’s so far detached from any recognisable form of social structure. It does represent certain things that are of course existent in the world today, but it does it in such a particular and heightened fashion that it’s hard to draw parallels between any worlds I’ve known in my 37 years of being alive and the world that’s existent in this film.” He concludes, “There’s been this delightful air of uncertainty throughout.”

Farrell introduces his character, David: “In the first scene, when we meet David, he’s being dumped by his wife, so subsequently my guy’s suffering a very acute sense of loneliness. Farrell outlines what separates David and makes him the leading character: “He’s the one character that takes the audience through the three different worlds; he’s the one character we meet in The City, we’re taken to The Hotel, then taken to the forest and then we end up going back to The City.”

The Hotel

Olivia Colman, who plays The Hotel Manager, observes, “For some reason we can’t cope that people want to be single and it’s gone that bit further in The Lobster.”

Ben Whishaw plays another new hotel resident, known by his defining character trait: Limping Man. Whishaw explains how he fits into the storyline. “His relationship with David is a relationship that also includes Lisping Man, played by John C. Reilly. David and Limping Man are new arrivals at The Hotel but they quickly form a friendship of sorts with Lisping Man. Whishaw concludes, “It’s been wonderful to work with Colin. I’m just really blown away by how beautifully he’s holding the centre of the film. He’s completely transformed himself and seems to be completely at ease in the oddness of this world.”

Entering The Hotel is a curious process for the new arrivals. Colman’s character may seem straightforward on the surface, but in fact, as Colman reveals, “She is sort of a prison officer.” The rules governing The Hotel are lengthy, complex and inflexible. All those detained are required to wear a certain uniform and follow a rigorous timetable. Everyone lives in fear of the dark repercussions if they aren’t able to conform. Colman further observes of her character, “She’s a bit ‘Nurse Ratched’. She’s the one that’s in charge of changing everyone to animals if they fail to hook up.”

The Woods

Colin Farrell picks up the storyline: “The ones that question the system are those that live out in the forest and have dedicated their lives to being everything that The Hotel isn’t; so they’ve dedicated their lives to being, as they call themselves, Loners. They listen to music, they dance but they dance to whatever’s in their own headset so that they’re not dancing with another person. If somebody’s in trouble they won’t help them out, you’re not allowed to flirt with anyone else, there’s no getting together, there’s no coupling of any sort.”

Perhaps surprisingly, the woodland setting plays host to an equally repressive and vicious regime. “You’d think to leave the kind of heavily doctrinated system of The Hotel and go into the forest would mean freedom from all the rules and structure of The Hotel,” says Farrell. “You realise that any kind of dominating structure, any kind of hard and fast rules that’s imposed upon any human being exposes itself as unnatural at some stage. What is more, the world of The Loners is equally if not more brutal as the world of The Hotel.”

Léa Seydoux plays the highly dogmatic head of this complex group. “Loner Leader is a leader,” Seydoux explains. Her character seems arcane and unknowable. As Seydoux puts it, “I think it’s difficult to really understand her because she hides.”

It is in The Woods that David meets someone to whom he feels truly connected in Short Sighted Woman, played by Rachel Weisz. Weisz, who had been a huge fan of Dogtooth and who had been keen to work with Lanthimos for some time, arrived on set and was immediately immersed in the film without having prepared at all. As she remembers: “The only real preparation was learning my lines because I was not playing someone I could recognisably research.” Her enthusiasm about the process is palpable. “That’s part of the joy of it,” she continues. “It’s all in a sense very improvisational, not in terms of the words or the text, but in terms of what happens; I’m learning about the universe as I film it.”

The Lobster was filmed, for the most part, chronologically which made for a unique acting experience. Lee Magiday explains more: “Colin Farrell is the only person who’s in the film from beginning to end. Rachel Weisz arrived three weeks before the end of the shoot, just as we
moved from The Hotel to The Woods. She hadn’t met Colin, didn’t know any of the other cast so it was fantastic to watch her embrace the whole process. It was as if she had been with us the whole time.”

Rachel Weisz gives her impression of The Loners: “They are people who are renegades, and who live in defiance of the rules of this world. They live as completely single people; so you’re allowed to have friendships and conversations but you’re not allowed to flirt or kiss or touch, you have to stay alone. The rule is you have to remain single; it’s a very rule bound universe.” Weisz concludes: “The whole film is bound by many, many rules.”

As the cast is so international, the decision was made that the actors were to use their own accents, as producer Magiday outlines: “It’s supposed to represent the world of The Lobster; it’s about a society where everybody is natural to whom they are as people. That was an important part of the process for Yorgos.”

Lanthimos was also keen to bolster his cast with local non-professionals as Magiday explains. “Each person Yorgos has cast feel like they could live in this world. He’s found something within each of them that he’s trying to articulate on the screen.”

Whishaw identifies what Lanthimos is aiming for the non-professional supporting cast to bring to the film: “He likes something about their quality of openness, in a way their carelessness. They just go in and do it - they don’t bring any baggage of ‘this is the way acting should be’. So he can create this very particular world where people behave in very particular ways, which is sort of like our world but slightly crooked, slightly off-kilter.”

And working with non-professionals proved a refreshing process for Farrell, as he outlines: “Sometimes the more acting you do the more habituated certain behaviours become, and you rely on certain tics and character traits. And so if anything I think you’re trying to return to a state of grace - which is a lack of the awareness you may have acquired through the years of experience, and you’re trying just to let go. We are awkward as human beings. We stutter, we hesitate, we cut off mid thought... So with that in mind, working with the lads and lasses that came in was cool, it was easy - there was no dividing line between the experienced and the non-experienced.”

There was a further sense of democracy experienced on set that John C. Reilly highlights, “We’re all dressed exactly the same and we’re all staying in this hotel together.” The setting for much of the film is the Parknasilla Hotel and Resort in County Kerry on Ireland’s South West coast. What is more, the location also provided accommodation for the majority of the cast and crew. Reilly concludes, enthusiastically: “It’s this great sort of summer camp for film actors.”

Yorgos Lanthimos (Director / Co-writer / Producer)

Yorgos Lanthimos was born in Athens, Greece. He has directed a number of dance videos in collaboration with Greek choreographers, in addition to TV commercials, music videos, short films and theatre plays. "Kinetta", his first feature film, played at Toronto and Berlin film festivals to critical acclaim. His 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.

Efthimis Filippou (Co-writer)

Efthymis Filippou worked with Yorgos Lanthimos as a co-writer on both the Academy Award nominated Dogtooth (2009) and as the co-writer of Alps (2011). Aside from his collaborations with Lanthimos he has co-written L, directed by Babis Makridis in 2012 and the forthcoming comedy drama Chevalier, directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari (2015). Filippou has also written the books A Man is Talking by Himself While Holding a Glass of Milk in 2009, Scenes in 2011 and Dimitri in 2014, all published by MNP Publications, plus a play, Bloods, for the Onassis Cultural Centre in 2014.

Thimios Bakatakis (Director of Photography)

Thimios Bakatakis studied cinematography at Stavrakos Film School in Athens. Since 1999 he has worked as a Director of Photography for feature films and more than 30 short films. He has also worked across numerous TV commercials and music videos. Bakatakis has worked as cinematographer for Yorgos Lanthimos several times, including on Kinetta (2005), the short films Uranisco Disco (2001) and Necktie (2013), as well as the Oscar nominated Dogtooth (2009). Bakatakis’s other feature films include Attenberg, directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari in 2010, which showed In Competition at the 67th Venice International Film Festival, Hardcore, directed by Dennis Iliadis in 2004, Keep the Lights On, directed by Ira Sachs in 2012, L, directed by Babis Makridis in 2012 and Blind, directed by Eskil Vogt in 2013.

Yorgos Mavropsaridis (Editor)

Yorgos Mavropsaridis graduated from Athens’ Theatrical Workshop in 1975 and then continued his studies at the London Film School, completing his course in 1978. Since 1980 he has worked as a film editor. Mavropsaridis has won prizes for his editing work including at the Thessaloniki Film Festival and the Hellenic Film Academy. He has worked on titles including Love Me Not? directed by Yorgos Panousopoulos in 1989, A Touch of Spice, directed by Tassos Boulmetis in 2003 and Dennis Iliadis‘s Hardcore in 2004. Most recently, he worked on Porfirio, in which he acted as editing consultant for Alejandro Landes in 2011, Fynbos, directed by Harry Patramanis in 2012 and 2013’s Luton, directed by Michalis Kostantatos, along with Plus One directed by Dennis Illiadis and The Enemy Within, directed by Yorgos Tsemberopoulos. Sivas, directed by Kaan Müjdeci and Modris directed by Juris Kursietis followed in 2014. Mavropsaridis has edited each of Yorgos Lanthimos’ films, Kinetta (2015), Alps (2011) and the Oscar® nominated Dogtooth for which he won his first Hellenic Film Academy award.

Produced by: Ed Guiney, Lee Magiday, Ceci Dempsey and Yorgos Lanthimos
Executive Producers: Andrew Lowe, Tessa Ross and Sam Lavender
Co-Producers: Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Leontine Petit
Carole Scotta, Joost De Vries and Derk-Jan Warrink

The Lobster

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