The painting depicts a mountain landscape, with heavy and sharp rocks. Under the canvas, painted by one of his friends, Yorgos Lanthimos displays a certain dejection. Hit by a bad cold, the Greek director canceled the in-person promotion of his eighth feature film, Poor Creatures . So go for an interview by videoconference, in his Athenian home. Confinement, that’s good, turns out to be one of the common threads of his filmography, whose eccentricity is accompanied by a success that is as curious as it is growing. Golden Lion in Venice, winner of two Golden Globes, Poor Creatures is eyeing the Oscars with the enviable status of challenger. The filmmaker returns to this ascent that began with the misgivings of a Sisyphus and was completed, ten years later, on the roofs of Hollywood’s Olympus.
A community living away from the world, crazy doctors, a candid approach to sexuality… Alasdair Gray’s novel “Poor Creatures” (Métailié, 2003) seems to have been written for you. When did you discover it?
In 2011, I believe. I fell in love with the main character, Bella Baxter, and immediately wanted to make a film about it. I went to Glasgow to meet Alasdair [the Scottish writer died in 2019]. He showed me the cemetery, which plays a central role in the book, showed me its frescoes, his drawings… After seeing my films, he agreed to give me the rights. But it was only after the success of The Favorite (2018), and with the support of Emma Stone, that I managed to finance its production. Previously, no one was interested. This reversal is quite ironic, no?
You lived in the United Kingdom for almost twelve years. Is this film, which borrows from the myths of Dracula, Frankenstein and Pygmalion, the most British in your filmography?
These myths are starting points. They establish a feeling of familiarity, from which the film quickly strays. It is first of all the story of a woman, whom everyone tries to shape, and who escapes them, starting from scratch. I have evacuated the most “Scottish” aspects of Alasdair’s novel, which had turned it into a sort of decolonial allegory. I focused on its universal dimension.
The action takes place in the Victorian era, which saw the flourishing, as a reaction to Puritan ideology, of the fantastic novel, dandyism… Is the eccentricity of your cinema, likewise, a parade against the ambient moralism?
In a sense, yes. The novel can be read as an experiment aimed at observing how society reacts to supposedly immoral behavior. As our times become cloaked in morality, my films seem more and more eccentric. Why is contemporary moralism so offended by sexuality and so little, for example, by violence? My films explore this funny distinction.
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