Cannes 2024 Review

Kinds of Kindness is Yorgos Lanthimos’ Glorious Return to His Feel-Bad Roots

Jesse Plemons is the standout of Lanthimos’ sharp and eviscerating anthology film.

Searchlight Pictures
Inverse Reviews

There might not be a more ill-fitting movie title this year than Kinds of Kindness. Yorgos Lanthimos’ punishing anthology is a stylish exercise in cruelty, bringing the Greek filmmaker back to the feel-bad roots he had seemingly left behind with the success of The Favourite and Poor Things. But Kinds of Kindness shows that Lanthimos hadn’t so much left those misanthropic tendencies behind as much as he buried them deep down — until he was able to finally unleash them in all their savage and unpleasant glory.

A three-part anthology film shot during the long post-production process for Poor Things, Kinds of Kindness is a “triptych fable” featuring a small cast of stars — Emma Stone, Jesse Plemons, Willem Dafoe, Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie, and Joe Alwyn — as different characters enacting various forms of abuse on each other and on themselves.

Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn are among the small cast of Kinds of Kindness, each playing three different characters across three different shorts.

Searchlight Pictures

In the first story, “The Death of R.M.F,” Plemons is a weak-willed man in a sub-dom relationship with his boss, played by Dafoe, whose latest demand is a bridge too far. In the second segment, “R.M.F. is Flying,” Plemons is a cop whose scientist wife (Stone) is rescued after months of being lost at sea — but her changed behavior makes him suspicious that she is an imposter. In the final story, "R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich," Stone takes the lead as a member of a sex cult whose mission to find a person with the ability to resurrect the dead pushes her to extremes. Through all three stories, R.M.F. (played by Yorgos Stefanakos) appears, always silent and never the same.

Kinds of Kindness reunites Lanthimos with Efthimis Filippou, his co-writer on Dogtooth, The Lobster, and Killing of a Sacred Deer. The Kinds of Kindness script is dry and sparse to the point of almost feeling opaque, but touches of the surreal keep the film from becoming too inaccessible.

It’s no surprise that the most fable-like segment of the movie, “R.M.F. is Flying,” is the strongest — the segment flashes back and forth between the couple’s mundane life before the rescue (interrupted by a hilariously lewd sex scene), and their tense, fraught existence after, as Plemons’ Daniel becomes more convinced he’s living with a doppelganger posing as his wife. As Daniel’s paranoia spirals, we’re treated to brief flashes of Stone’s Liz devouring a man’s leg during her time stranded on an island, alongside a surreal vision of a dream that Liz describes in which dogs rule the world but treat people kindly as pets. It’s in this realm of unreality that Kinds of Kindness works best, slowly picking away at our grasp on what’s real and what isn’t.

The standout cast member through each short is Jesse Plemons, who proves himself the ideal collaborator for Lanthimos.

Searchlight Pictures

But the joys of anthology is that Lanthimos can play in different storytelling sandboxes, whether it be an absurd psychosexual thriller like the first segment, “The Death of R.M.F.,” or an…absurd psychosexual thriller with a supernatural twist like "R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich.” The saminess of these two stories does feel like the biggest shortcoming of Kinds of Kindness — as if they were half-formed ideas Lanthimos had for feature films that he just threw together in this anthology. This wouldn’t be an issue if the final segment, "R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich,” wasn’t as long and meandering as it is. And with the film running a lengthy 165 minutes, it makes one wish that Lanthimos was a little assertive with his editing.

But even if a few of the segments feel like thin ideas that go on for too long, seeing the cast click with Lanthimos’ resharpened style makes it worth your time. Stone and Lanthimos prove themselves great collaborators as ever, and Dafoe is especially magnetic in his separate turns as the domineering boss of the first segment and the sex cult leader of the third. Hong Chau, Mamoudou Athie, and Joe Alwyn are mostly given slight supporting roles (with Hunter Schafer only appearing briefly in the final story), while Margaret Qualley makes the most of her increased screentime after earning little more than a cameo in Poor Things. But Plemons is the standout performer of this cast with his particular brand of chilling, desperate masculinity attuning perfectly with Lanthimos. (A great sign ahead Lanthimos’ next feature, Bugonia, set to star Plemons and Stone.)

Not since The Killing of a Sacred Deer has Lanthimos’ English-language work been this sharp, this mean, and this viscerally unpleasant.

Searchlight Pictures

If one were to take the title literally, Kinds of Kindness might be interpreted as a movie about the difference between one’s intentions and one’s actions. In “R.M.F. Is Flying,” Plemons’ Daniel demands that Stone’s Liz cut off body parts to prove she is in fact not his wife — but she goes through with it in a desperate show of devotion. Maybe that’s what Lanthimos is trying to convey: beneath every act of kindness is a thread of cruelty.

Not since The Killing of a Sacred Deer has Yorgos Lanthimos’ English-language work been this sharp, this mean, and this viscerally unpleasant. If there was any concern that Lanthimos’ sense of pitch-black humor might have been dulled once he started attaining mainstream success, Kinds of Kindness shows that the director is as sharp and eviscerating as ever.

Kinds of Kindness premiered May 17 at the Cannes Film Festival. It opens in U.S. theaters on June 21.

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