'Kinetta': Film Review

Courtesy of Kino Lorber
A standoffish debut holds some pleasures for patient viewers.

Yorgos Lanthimos' first film as a solo writer-director, set at a nearly empty Greek resort, finally gets an American release.

So this is what goes on in Greek tourist towns during the off-season? In Yorgos Lanthimos' Kinetta (2005), boredom and hidden passions work to each others' benefit, keeping three locals busy on a project viewers come to understand only very gradually during the film — if they grasp it at all. Released in Greece four years before his art house breakthrough Dogtooth but only now getting its U.S. premiere, Lanthimos' first solo-directed film (following the reportedly more commercial My Best Friend, written and co-helmed by Lakiz Lazopoulos) isn't as arresting in its strangeness, but introduces themes that would continue even into his lauded English-language work. Serious fans will welcome a chance to see this deadpan experiment theatrically, but those who know Lanthimos only from The Favourite would likely be very puzzled.

The film's three protagonists are unnamed, but we might call them the Maid (Evangelia Randou), the Photographer (Aris Servetalis) and the Driver (Costas Xikominos). The Maid may be the only staffer tending to rooms in this big, nearly empty seaside hotel; dawdling in beige bedrooms, she vacuums her own clothing and stares out the window at whatever lonely guest she can spy on. If she were then to go into that guest's room while he's away, take off her uniform and get into bed, the guest would neither be surprised when he returned nor take her presence as a sexual invitation.

The pic itself shares that sexual indifference, despite the fact that one character's odd, controlling erotic desires seem to set it in motion. It's difficult to discuss adequately without spoiling the film's atmosphere, but the Driver seems to have a need (much like a filmmaker's) to steer the action around him, and the Photographer is (initial appearances to the contrary) just aiding his vision. Viewers who have only recently encountered the idea of the male gaze will have a field day here; one of the more satisfying ways to view the movie is as a bitterly funny dissection of the fantasies men and women construct — fantasies that, if not kept in check by interaction with the real world, can grow so increasingly specific and ritualized that they prevent real-world satisfaction.

They can also harm others. It takes a long time to reach this point, but Kinetta loses some of its dry comic potential as the Maid begins to suffer scrapes and bruises during the trio's time together. Neither she nor the Photographer exhibit much individual personality (all the actors are pushed toward affectlessness and get very little dialogue, but the Driver does more speaking through action); even so, she clearly begins to lose herself in ways that can best be understood allegorically.

While he's not hinting around at the kind of systems of control he'll expand on to surreal effect in Dogtooth, The Lobster and elsewhere, Lanthimos enjoys provoking us visually. The film's color palette is so drearily wintry that the sight of a green air freshener dangling from a car's mirror can count as excitement, but Thimios Bakatakis' handheld camera is in constant motion, sometimes deliberately preventing us from seeing what we're most curious about. (Once or twice, it lands on something so unexpected, and framed so tightly, it gets a laugh.) The camera's gaze is as idiosyncratic as the visions the Driver tries to bring to life, but unlike him, the film seems satisfied with what it creates.

Production companies: Haos Film, Modiano, Top Cut
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Cast: Evangelia Randou, Aris Servetalis, Costas Xikominos
Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Screenwriters: Yorgos Kakanakis, Yorgos Lanthimos
Producer: Athina Rachel Tsangari
Director of photography: Thimios Bakatakis
Costume designer: Maria-Hristina Polymenakou
Editor: Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Casting directors: Cristina Akzoti, Alex Kelly

In Greek
98 minutes