Perhaps you've heard that with Kinds of Kindness, "sicko Yorgos is back." The latest offering from Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos has been called "a return to a certain form of form," through which the filmmaker "is back in provocation mode," "back to his freaky root," back to "the unfiltered, uncut, old-school Yorgos." Kinds of Kindness may be a departure from his most recent releases, the Oscar-winning Poor Things and The Favourite, but Lanthimos himself doesn't see it as going back to anything.

"I'm interested in different things. Just by circumstance, I ended up making The Favourite and Poor Things, which were different," Lanthimos tells A.frame. Of note, those films were written by Tony McNamara; Kinds of Kindness is Lanthimos' latest collaboration with Efthimis Filippou, with whom he wrote Dogtooth (2009), The Lobster (2015), and The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017). They began working on what would become Kinds of Kindness shortly after completing The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

"Whenever we finish a film, we discuss what it is that we want to do next," Lanthimos tells A.frame. "It depends on the other things that I'm doing and he's doing, but whenever there's some downtime between those things, we would revisit this and keep writing."

At the time, "I remember I had just re-read Caligula" — Albert Camus' play about a tyrannical Roman Emperor — "and so I was thinking about one person having so much power over other people and how would that translate in a contemporary world, and in a more one-to-one kind of relationship. That made us start the first story of the three, and then we felt that we wanted to do something different with form, as well."

Kinds of Kindness is a tryptic comprising of three distinct but loosely connected short stories. The first, entitled "The Death of R.M.F.," centers on a corporate underling whose every decision — from what he eats for breakfast to when he can have sex with his wife — is decided by his tyrannical boss. The subsequent sections, "R.M.F. is Flying" and "R.M.F. Eats a Sandwich," also, to varying degrees, explore notions of control, fate and the illusion of free will, with the same ensemble of actors appearing in all three tales, each time playing different characters.


At the center of Lanthimos' Kinds of Kindness troupe is Emma Stone, in her fourth collaboration with the filmmaker. Stone had barely just finished filming Poor Things — for which she would win an Oscar — when she dove into the world of Kinds of Kindness, leaving Bella Baxter behind to embody such roles as a marine biologist stranded on a deserted island and a cult member in search of a modern-day Lazarus. For Lanthimos, their ongoing creative partnership allows them to go further with every film.

"We have so much trust and we know each other so well that we don't have to explain a lot of things or justify a lot of things. We can disagree very directly and honestly, and we don't have to hide behind anything," the director explains. "I think it takes a long time to be able to be honest and trust someone like that, and with everything that we make, it becomes more and more concrete and it allows us to explore avenues that we might not have been able to explore if we didn't have that kind of trust in each other."

Alongside Stone, Lanthimos cast Willem Dafoe and Margaret Qualley, fresh off of working with them on Poor Things, and Joe Alwyn, who previously co-starred with Stone in The Favourite. He sought out Oscar nominees Jesse Plemons and Hong Chau, plus Mamoudou Athie, to round out the ensemble. The newcomers soon discovered that there was something of a learning curve to starring in a Yorgos Lanthimos film, especially one that is as purposefully open for interpretation as Kinds of Kindness.

"It's human nature to want to understand and classify, and so early on, I may have gotten a little bogged down in all of that," Plemons says. "And then you start to realize that this whole thing operates under a different set of rules. It's pretty intimidating in the beginning, and then it becomes really exhilarating and you try to lean into the unknown. It feels like stepping off a ledge repeatedly, and then it becomes kind of fun stepping off the ledge, you know?"

"I don't like sharing too much information or explanation, just because I don't really have it!" admits Lanthimos. "I only have what I put in the script and the choices that I made — the actors that I chose, the people that I chose to work with — and I really welcome them to come in with their own ideas to enrich the world that we've built. I leave a lot of it up to other people to fill in a lot of the blanks. It would be a lie if I said, like, 'Oh, yeah! Of course I know what happened to this character 10 years ago.' I don't really think about that."

Jesse Plemons and Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of 'Kinds of Kindness.'

Plemons and Stone will continue on to Lanthimos' next film, Bugonia, an adaptation of the 2003 South Korean comedy Save the Green Planet. The movie, about two conspiracy-obsessed young men who kidnap the high-powered CEO of a major company after becoming convinced that she is an alien intent on destroying Earth, will be something new for all involved. (For starters, it isn't written by either Filippou or McNamara, but The Menu scribe Will Tracy.)

"With this movie, I confirmed my idea about Jesse— that he is one of the greatest actors of his generation. He is really incredible. He is very hardworking, he takes it very seriously, he's hard on himself, but he understands very much the tone of the script and the set and what we're trying to do, and he allows himself to be lost when that is what is needed. That's why we're going to keep working together," Lanthimos says of Plemons. Of his fifth film with Stone, he adds, "I already know she's incredible, and I have full faith in her. But I'm always surprised by the level to which she manages to be so detailed about characters. She's really unique."

That Lanthimos is already looking ahead to his next film before his last is even out in the world is not new. After all, he shot Kinds of Kindness while in post-production on Poor Things. "At the time, my thinking was, 'I don't need to be around too much for VFX,'" Lanthimos recounts, "so why am I sitting around while we have this other script ready and we're not filming it?"

"Because they're so different, it was a joy to go from one to the other. It was like cleansing your palette, working on one thing and then you dive into something totally different. I think it helps you see clear, as well," he reflects. Lanthimos himself will also admit that, after an undertaking like Poor Things, he thought a film like Kinds of Kindness would be pretty straightforward. "We thought that we were going into something simpler."

"But, of course, we were reminded that no film is simple," he smirks. "Filmmaking is extremely complicated and challenging. Now, I always say that I'm never going to do it again because it ends up getting a little too hectic at times. There was a tornado at one point when we were filming in New Orleans! We were in the morgue scene, so at least nobody got hurt."

By John Boone, with additional reporting by Mara Webster


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