In her sophomore picture, Emerald Fennell returns to the theme of privilege from Promising Young Woman, this time focusing on wealth, beauty and status. All of these things separate Oliver from his peers at Oxford until he befriends the popular Felix. Divided into three distinct acts, the first is Oliver’s struggle to fit in at university, the second is his invitation to stay at the intimidating estate at Saltburn, and the third is invariably where things begin to unravel, both for the characters and, unfortunately, the film. Barry Keoghan, who impressed in The Banshees of Inisherin, is intense and expressive as Oliver, with a strange voyeurism and impulsiveness reminiscent of The Talented Mr Ripley. It is easy to understand why he wishes to ingratiate himself with the Catton family, the supporting cast creating an atmosphere at once welcoming yet fickle. Following his work on Babylon, cinematographer Linus Sandgren captures the hedonistic parties exquisitely, switching between visual cacophony and calm. Fennell has suggested that the unusual 1.33:1 aspect ratio gives the impression of “peeping in”, though I found it most effective in allowing the historic architecture to loom over the characters, particularly when Oliver first arrives at Saltburn. The sharper satire of the wealthy is laugh-out-loud funny (particularly with the delivery of Richard E. Grant and Rosamund Pike) and could have supported a whole film, but Fennell has grander motivations, revelling in her imagery like a maze with a minotaur statue at its centre and Felix Icarus-like in costume wings. Subtlety is not Fennell’s style. There is rich and intoxicating cinema to experience here, and it is a shame she is not quite able to stick the landing — the last half hour feels like it might work in a novel but it is unsatisfying on screen, diluting the overall experience.
“I do worry sometimes I might just be entertaining myself while staving off the inevitable.”
Reuniting writer-director Martin McDonagh with In Bruges leads Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, The Banshees of Inisherin is at its core a drama about a rift between two lifelong friends. Colm’s realisation of his mortality has left him desperate to create something that might be remembered — he is convinced that Pádraic, described as “one of life’s good guys”, is destined to be forgotten like most on the island. As the rejected Pádraic, Colin Farrell is palpably heartbroken, his eyebrows permanently crestfallen. Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan’s superb supporting performances are easily the match of the leads. Despair hangs over the island’s population through a lack of stimulation and McDonagh has commented that an underlying theme is that depression is something that has long existed in humans, even if we only now accept it (“he could push it down like the rest of us” Pádraic opines). War is literally on the horizon, sporadic explosions on the mainland reminding islanders of the world beyond and contrasting Colm’s search for a sense of peace. The Banshees of Inisherin is the most fable-like of McDonagh’s films to date, reminiscent of John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, not only in its Irishness (and Gleeson’s presence) but the sense of impending doom, personified here by the portentous witchlike figure of Mrs McCormick who seems almost plucked from The Northman. McDonagh’s work unfailingly elicits emotion, and The Banshees of Inisherin succeeds in provoking frequent laughter through its often unexpected darkly cynical humour, whilst leaving a profound sense of melancholy behind.
“A surgeon never kills a patient. An anaesthesiologist can kill a patient, but a surgeon never can.”
Yorgos Lanthimos excels at capturing the disjointed nature of human connection, with conversations unfolding in fits and starts albeit using deliberately unnatural dialogue. This deeply allegorical tale is less accessible than The Favourite, bearing a greater tonal connection to The Lobster by way of Jordan Peele’s more unsettling worlds. Cinematography plays a major part in that disquiet: low, wide-angle tracking shots cause architecture to loom over characters, whilst unusually high shots peer down from a disembodied vantage. Colin Farrell is clearly in sync with Lanthimos’ style on the their second outing together, gradually revealing the layers of a surgeon with a god complex who is forced to confront his own hubris. Many of the locations are fittingly clinical, with rigid lines feeling at odds with the film’s loose logic. Knowing the plot in advance would weaken the film but passing familiarity with the Greek myth of Iphigenia is helpful in decoding its allusions. Ultimately Lanthimos is uncompromising in his vision — surely knowing that the result will appeal only to arthouse audiences — but his intentions are not always apparent onscreen.