The Lobster

ArtsWatch Weekly: Triffle on a cloud, a lobster in the tank

A look at the week that was in Oregon arts. A glimpse ahead at the week that's going to be.

Carol Triffle is Portland’s most prominent stage absurdist, a quiet comic renegade who makes a virtue of never connecting the dots. Her theater is whimsical, outrageous, so ordinary that it defies the ordinary, stretching it into cosmic pretzel shapes. It’s an anti-theater, almost, bopping narrative on the nose and then ducking around the corner to put on clown makeup and reappear as something utterly different, yet somehow also just the same. At its worst, it falls apart. At its best, it feels a bit like watching Lucille Ball or Danny Kaye caught inside a spinning clothes dryer and howling to get out. Head-scratching occurs at a Triffle show, and the audience can be divided between those who adore the effect and those who simply scratch their heads.

Source, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Sorce, Fagan, Hale, on a sofa, on a cloud, in a funk. Imago Theatre photo.

Francesca, Isabella, Margarita on a Cloud, Triffle’s newest show at Imago Theatre (where she is co-founder and, with partner Jerry Mouawad, creator of the mask-and-costume phenomenon Frogz), is the story, if that’s the right word, of three sisters who feud inseparably, supporting one another through thin and thin. Margarita (Ann Sorce, an Imago vet who’s utterly internalized Triffle’s madcap expressionist style) is the one who won all the beauty contests. Francesca (Megan Skye Hale) is the one who lost all the same beauty contests. Isabella (Elizabeth Fagan), the baby, is the one who seems to have just accidentally starred in a porno film. Isabella’s boyfriend RayRay (Kyle Delamarter) and Margarita’s fella Bob the Weatherman (Sean Bowie) drop in now and again, eager, somehow, to attach to the sisterly scene.

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INTERVIEW: Yorgos Lanthimos, Writer/Director of ‘The Lobster’

This deadpan, dystopian satire of romantic conventions marks a memorable English-language debut for the Greek filmmaker.

There’s never been a film like “The Lobster.” The latest bizarre, high-concept work from Yorgos Lanthimos, the truly unique filmmaker behind the Oscar-nominated “Dogtooth” and “Alps,” carries with it not just a clever idea but a wholly original premise: in an alternate-reality dystopian universe, single folks are forced to find a new mate in 45 days or become an animal of their choosing.

You did read that last sentence correctly, I assure you. Like Lanthimos’ previous two features, “The Lobster” is set in a world that’s been twisted ever so slightly into a Bizzaro version of our mundane reality. But what makes it work isn’t the clever concept—it’s the execution. It’s one rare enough thing to come up with a new idea, but here the follow-through, the filmmaking and performances, they’re all in sync. It’s the kind of film that may be considered a masterpiece, in due time. For now, I’m comfortable enough calling it one of the best films of the year.

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PIFF best bets for Saturday, Feb. 13

The first full day of the Portland International Film Festival offers a cavalcade of cinematic treats: here are the very best

It’s the first full day of the 39th Portland International Film Festival, and that means there are more filmic discoveries on local screens today than you can shake a stick at. Unless you happen to be really, really, good—like Olympic-level good—at stick-shaking. Hard to rank these sorts of things precisely, but, in vaguely descending order of awesomeness, here’s the pick of the litter:

 

“The Lobster”: This is the fifth feature by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, and despite working for the first time with bona fide movie stars, he hasn’t lost any of the deadpan eccentricity of “Dogtooth” or “Alps.” Colin Farrell gives perhaps the best, least actorly performance of his career as a middle-aged schlub with a mustache and a gut who’s been dumped by his long-term girlfriend. In the dystopian world of “The Lobster,” he’s send to a hotel in the country where, along with all the other single people, he has 45 days to fall in love with someone or be transformed into the animal of his choice.

The Lobster copy

 

It’s a marvelous metaphor for the tyrannical way society imposes relationship norms, as Farrell ultimately rebels against the rules and flees into the woods to join an outlaw band of loners (who turn out to be just as fanatical in their own way). John C. Reilly and Ben Whishaw are great as fellow single guys, and Rachel Weisz shines as the loner woman who might just unlock Farrell’s heart. A great, total unsentimental movie about love, and a must-see if you can get a Valentine’s Eve ticket. (If not, don’t panic—“The Lobster” will be back in town in a couple months.)

(Greece, 119 min., in English) Sat., Feb. 13, 6 p.m., Cinema 21

“April and the Extraordinary World”: This is one I’ve been talking up ever since I saw it in preparation for the Rendezvous with French Cinema event. It’s a family-friendly animated feature set in an alternate version of 1941 Paris, where electricity was never invented and Napoleon V rules the land. Our hero is a spunky teen girl (voiced by Marion Cotillard) who, accompanied by her taking cat, Darwin, embarks on a quest to find her long-lost parents and rescue the world’s kidnapped scientists. It’s like a steampunk take on a Tintin adventure, and loads of fun for subtitle-readers of all ages. (There’s some sci-fi violence that might rattle very young kids, just FYI.)

(France, 105 min., in French with English subtitles) Sat., Feb. 13, 1:15 p.m.; also Wed., Feb. 17, 6 p.m., Regal Fox Tower.

 

april and the extraordinary world

“Aferim!”: For most of its running time, this black-and-white Romanian road movie (I didn’t lose you, there, did I?) is an amiable, slightly scabrous affair. It’s 1835, and a constable brings his teenage son along as he travels the Wallachian countryside in search of a runaway Roma slave. (Slavery was not outlawed in the area until 1856.) In his third feature, director Radu Jude paints an almost Boschian portrait of benighted, filthy humanity. The foul-mouthed, sadistic cop bullies his way along the road, instructing his son in what he sees as the innate hierarchical structure of the social order. In other words, if he were a D&D character he’d definitely be lawful evil.

That said, he’s an entertaining villain, full of bluster, and personable enough that when the true depths of his cruelty and malice are eventually revealed, the effect is like a punch to the moral solar plexus.

(Romanian, 108 min., in Romanian, Roma, and Turkish with English subtitles) Sat., Feb. 13, 6:15 p.m., Whitsell Auditorium; also Mon., Feb. 22, 8:30 p.m., Roseway Theater.

aferim

 

“A Good American”: This straightforward, talking-head style documentary focuses on the story of Bill Binney, a longtime intelligence official who developed a program known as ThinThread while working at the National Security Agency during the 1990s. ThinThread was, according to Binney and other interviewees, one of the first methods developed to track the metadata of global communications over telephones, e-mail, and more. It also reportedly retained Constitutional privacy protections, but was discontinued in August of 2001 in favor of a program designed by an outside contractor.

Binney quit the NSA in October 2001, and he believes that ThinThread could have prevented 9/11. Of course, then-NSA Director Michael Hayden and others involved declined to be interviewed for the film, so we have only the word of Binney and his colleagues and allies to go on. That’s easily enough, though, for “A Good American” to rank alongside “CitizenFour” as essential documentaries about the excesses and failures of the modern American intelligence community.

(United States, 100 min., in English) Sat., Feb. 13, 1:15 p.m., World Trade Center; also Mon., Feb. 15, 8:30 p.m., World Trade Center and Wed., Feb. 17, 8:30 p.m., World Trade Center.