Screening At Cannes: Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘Kinds of Kindness’ and Paul Schrader’s ‘Oh, Canada’

You think Emma Stone's Oscar-winning turn in Lanthimos' 'Poor Things' was fearless? Wait until you see her severing her left thumb with a kitchen knife in 'Kinds of Kindness.'

Emma Stone and Joe Alwyn in Kinds of Kindness. Atsushi Nishijima

Director Yorgos Lanthimos is cruel to be kind in his latest, Kinds of Kindness, a demented head-trip triptych which jolted Cannes over the weekend with images of self-mutilation, emotional manipulation, and straight-up mind-fuckery. This follow-up to his acclaimed steampunk feminist fantasia Poor Things was shot quickly while that vfx-heavy film was in a long post-production process. It chronicles three unrelated surreal scenarios, each using the same actors, including his latest muse, Emma Stone. You think her Oscar-winning turn as Bella Baxter was fearless? Wait until you see Stone in a bare-it-all sex-tape foursome with Margaret Qualley, Jesse Plemons, and Mamoudou Athie. Or Stone severing her left thumb with a kitchen knife. Or Stone being roofied by Joe Alwyn.

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“I just have extreme comfort,” said the actress at the film’s press conference. “I feel like I can do anything with him, because we’ve worked together so many times. I trust him beyond the trust I’ve ever had with any director. We just have something that I can’t explain.”

Emma Stone, director Yorgos Lanthimos and Jesse Plemons at the Cannes Film Festival, May 18, 2024. Fox Searchlight

Plemons must feel the same way, since he’s joining Stone in Lanthimos’ next film, Bugonia, a remake of 2003’s gonzo sci-fi South Korean comedy Save the Green Planet! which follows two men who kidnap a high-powered CEO because they think she’s actually an alien.

“You feel many different things before you understand why—it just sort of seeps in,” explained Plemons about working with the Greek director. And like Lanthimos’ other off-kilter parables of human foibles, Kinds of Kindness, in which Plemons plays three distinctly different characters, resists obvious interpretation. “I remember, early on, after reading the script a few times, having the story inside me but nowhere to place it in my head. Which is a very unsettling place to be.”

In the first story, Plemons plays a company man whose wealthy boss (Willem Dafoe) completely and absurdly micro-manages every aspect of his life—not only his daily routine and his diet, but also who he should marry, how often he makes love to his spouse, and whether he should even be allowed to have children. In the second story, Plemons plays a swinger cop who’s convinced that his wife (Emma Stone) is actually an imposter. And in the final installment, Plemons and Stone are members of a sex cult trying to find a woman with a dead twin (Margaret Qualley).

Every scenario is absurd—brace for a hilarious montage of dogs acting like humans on a remote island set to Dio’s “Rainbow in the Dark”—but also poignant in its twisted take on human nature. It’s a world where people will literally rip out their own liver as a sign of adoration, or collect oddly menacing sports memorabilia like John McEnroe’s mangled tennis racquet and Ayrton Senna’s scorched racing helmet. And if murder proves your fidelity, then so be it.

When a reporter asked Lanthimos if his skewed way of representing reality is a sign of our times, he didn’t disagree. “Don’t you think something’s off with the world?” he replied. “Probably more so than the films we make. And I think it’s strange and crazy and sad a lot of times. And it’s also ridiculous and funny. And that needs to be part of what we make.”

Richard Gere and Uma Thurman in Oh, Canada. OH CANADA LLC

Reality is a slippery subject in Paul Schrader’s elegiac Oh, Canada, a touching drama about an acclaimed but dying documentary filmmaker (Richard Gere) giving a final on-camera interview about his life. His insistence on talking about the crucial draft-dodging moment in 1968 when his 24-year-old younger self (Jacob Elordi) abandons the United States to avoid Vietnam—not to mention the wife and child he leaves behind and never sees again—doubles as a last-rites confessional, not only to the former students interviewing him, but also his devoted wife (Uma Thurman).

The film is based on his late friend Russell Bank’s 2021 novel Foregone, and Schrader (who adapted Banks’ Affliction into an acclaimed 1998 film) was inspired to make it after Banks told him he had cancer.

Uma Thurman, Paul Schrader and Richard Gere at the 77th annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 18, 2024 in Cannes, France. Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images

“He was a very close friend after Affliction,” Schrader said at the film’s press conference. “I would spend summers in the Adirondacks with him and I was going to go, summer before last, and, he said, ‘You can’t come. I’m going through chemo.’ I knew he had written a book about the degradations of death. So I read it, and said, ‘I’m going to make it, for Russell and for me.’”

Oh, Canada reunites Gere with Schrader for the first time in over 40 years, back when the director cast him as the louche lead in 1980’s American Gigolo. This time, his sexy physique that Schrader depicts on screen is now a wizened shell. And Gere’s performance is absolutely devastating, fully animating a man full of anger, shame, self-pity, regret, and finally a deep sense of relief.

“My father passed away a few months before Paul came to me with the project,” explained Gere. “He was just a few weeks short of turning 101. He was living with me and and my kids and my wife, and he was in a wheelchair. And the way his mind was coming in and out of many different realities and many levels of consciousness, I think that’s what I related to very much in the script.”

He and Schrader also embraced how the story conflates and scrambles timelines, making emotional truth and actual truth very hard to discern. “Linear realities have softened and time disappears completely,” said Gere. “It’s more contrapuntal, like how music exists on the page where these notes are on top of each other.”

He also talked about how his film career has equally frozen him in various moments in time. “It’s a very odd thing being an actor in film, especially because it does last. It is certainly mysterious and strange. The document remains, and the document is powerful.”

Screening At Cannes: Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘Kinds of Kindness’ and Paul Schrader’s ‘Oh, Canada’