Cannes: The Lobster review

Director Yorgos Lanthimos may be making his English-language debut with The Lobster, yet its still very much business as usual. This is another of his deadpan black comedies, revolving around an absurdist but critical look at societal norms.

The Lobster exists within a world in which being single is perhaps the worst thing imaginable. Those who fail to stay in a relationship with another are shipped off to a rather quaint-seeming but actually rather oppressive hotel run by a strict manager (Olivia Colman). Think The Prisoner with biscuits, rather than some sort of V For Vendetta dystopian prison camp.

This is where we meet new resident, David (Colin Farrell), along with his dog, Bob. Who is actually his brother. As we learn, the price for remaining single through a forty-five day stay at The Hotel is to be transformed into an animal of your choosing. David has decided that if this is going to happen to him, he would like to become a lobster.

This is all obviously highly absurd stuff but Lantimos is fully committed to his odd ideas, and levies an amusing strain of of-kilter comedy to sell the audience on his conceits. Numerous later scenes take place in the woods near the hotel, and when animals – some of whom are clearly not native – come strolling by, one can’t help but wonder who they might have been in human form. There’s a strange sort of creeping immersion that allows the audience to relate to and believe in what they at first found simply very funny.

And this emotional engagement just about holds the film together when, in the middle section, Lanthimos’ provides less to chew on and a lot less to laugh about. Rachel Weisz also arrives later to help along with the second half. As her character forms a relationship with David, Weisz manages to deliver real sadness and a bittersweet happiness through small details, a quiver of her lip or an awkward glance.

Lanthimos is clearly intending his profoundly odd world to be a mirror of our own, albeit a carnival mirror that accentuates and pushes extremes to comedic levels. The humour is deadpan and often very black, but many early scenes can evoke full-on, out-loud laughter, but there’s also a truth in what he is doing that can actually hit quite hard at times, and the the film effectively unveils the desperation many can feel when looking for companionship and love, as well as how this search might prove both meaningful and meaningless .

Ultimately the film comes down to a comment on how hard a person might push to form a connection, and an observation that humans will do almost anything to feel a bond. It’s on this point that we depart from Lanthimos’ strange world, after the laughter of the earlier sequences has faded away, now just echoes in the distance.