Poor Things!

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Poor Things! it’s a drama film 2023 fantasy directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, film adaptation of the 1992 novel of the same name written by Alasdair Gray.

The story is set in Victorian London and tells the story of Bella Baxter, a young woman brought back to life after an accident by the brilliant scientist Dr. Godwin Baxter. Her brain was replaced with that of the child with whom Bella was pregnant, for this reason Bella remembers nothing of her previous life and her intellectual level is that of a child.

Max McCandles is a medical student who, to pay for his studies, accepts Dr. Baxter’s offer to assist Bella. Max falls in love with Bella and begins teaching her to read, write and behave like a grown woman.

The film is a complex and fascinating work, which explores themes such as life, death, identity and female emancipation. Lanthimos, with his unmistakable style, creates a surreal and grotesque atmosphere, in which the real and the fantastic mix inextricably.

Emma Stone is extraordinary in the role of Bella, which she plays with a sensitivity and depth that makes her one of the most memorable female figures in recent cinema.

Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe, Ramy Youssef and Jerrod Carmichael complete a top-notch cast.

Some themes and food for thought suggested by the film:

  • The nature of life and death
  • The relationship between body and mind
  • Identity and the construction of the self
  • Female emancipation
  • Social prejudices
  • The pursuit of happiness

Plot

Poor-Things!

The story begins with the death of Bella Baxter, a young woman who commits suicide by throwing herself into a river. Her body is found by Dr. Godwin Baxter, a brilliant and unorthodox scientist, who decides to bring her back to life with a daring experiment.

Dr. Baxter transplants the brain of the fetus she was carrying, which was still alive, into Bella’s skull. The operation is successful, but Bella does not return to being the same: her intellectual level is that of a child.

Dr. Baxter begins to assist Bella, teaching her to read, write, and behave like a grown woman. Max McCandles is a medical student who, to pay for his studies, accepts Dr. Baxter’s offer to assist Bella. Max falls in love with Bella and begins spending more and more time with her.

Some additional details:

  • The film is set in a fictional Victorian London, where science and technology are very advanced.
  • Dr. Baxter is an ambiguous character, who is both a genius and a madman.
  • Max is a romantic and idealistic character, who sees Bella as the perfect woman.
  • Bella is a complex and fascinating figure, who represents the strength and resilience of the human soul.
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Production

Poor-Things!

Development

The film rights to the novel Poor Things! by Alasdair Gray were acquired by TSG Entertainment in 2013. The project was entrusted to Yorgos Lanthimos, who had already worked with TSG Entertainment on the film The Favorite (2018).

Lanthimos began working on the film’s screenplay in 2015, alongside his frequent collaborator Tony McNamara. The script was completed in 2018, but the film didn’t begin shooting until 2022.

Filming

Filming for the film began on July 12, 2022 in Dublin, Ireland. The film was shot in several locations, including Trinity College Dublin, St Patrick’s Palace and Dublin Castle.

Filming concluded on October 10, 2022.

Post production

Post-production on the film began immediately after filming and concluded in February 2023.

Distribution

The film was presented in competition at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on 1 September 2023.

The film was released in US cinemas starting from 8 December 2023 and in Italian cinemas from 25 January 2024.

Cast

  • Emma Stone interpreta Bella Baxter.
  • Mark Ruffalo interpreta il Dr. Godwin Baxter.
  • Willem Dafoe interpreta Duncan Baxter.
  • Ramy Youssef interpreta Max McCandles.
  • Jerrod Carmichael interpreta il generale Alfie Blessington.

Hospitality

The film was received positively by critics. The site Rotten Tomatoes reports an approval rating of 92%, based on 356 reviews, with an average of 7.9 out of 10. The site Metacritic reports a score of 81 out of 100, based on 50 reviews.

The film was also a commercial success, grossing over $200 million worldwide.

Reception

Poor-Things!

The reception of the film Poor Things! it was overall positive. Critics praised Yorgos Lanthimos’ direction, Tony McNamara’s screenplay, the performances of the actors, especially Emma Stone, and Robbie Ryan’s cinematography.

The film was presented in competition at the 80th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion. The prize was awarded by the jury chaired by the British director Ken Loach.

The film also received two Golden Globes, one for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical for Emma Stone and one for Best Screenplay for Tony McNamara.

The film was a commercial success, grossing over $200 million worldwide.

Here are some comments from critics:

  • The Guardian: “An extraordinary film, which challenges convention and leaves its mark.”
  • New York Times: “A complex and fascinating work that explores important themes in an original way.”
  • Variety: “A film that will not fail to divide, but which is impossible to forget.”

Positive reviews

Critics praised the film for its originality, its complexity and its courage. The film has been called an “astonishing”, “bold” and “visionary” work.

Critics also appreciated the direction of Yorgos Lanthimos, who created a surreal and grotesque atmosphere, in which the real and the fantastic mix inextricably.

The actors’ performances were praised, particularly that of Emma Stone, who received numerous awards for her portrayal of Bella Baxter.

Negative review

Some critics found the film excessively violent and provocative. The film has been called “heavy” and “disgusting”.

Other critics found Tony McNamara’s screenplay to be unoriginal and predictable.

Poor Things! it is a complex and fascinating film, which is sure to spark discussion. The film is an original and courageous work, which explores important themes in a provocative way.

Review

by Fabio Del Greco

Poor Things by Yorgos Lanthimos is a film that aligns perfectly with the style of new contemporary American authors or those working with American productions. The same ones who are then praised by the press all over the world and win the most important prizes. What these recent “auteur” productions have in common is the exaggerated use of phantasmagorical and astonishing sets, a great use of resources and budget to create aesthetically captivating images.

In this category belong the terrible Everything Everywhere All At Once, Wes Anderson’s Asteroid City, Barbie, and many others. The toy aesthetic generated by virtual reality seems to be increasingly gaining the upper hand, together with a large quantity of colors and shapes that invade the eyes and confuse the mind. The days of Parasite already seem far away. Welcome to the New World where cinema will probably become something else, and not necessarily something better. Something that aims to stun the viewer rather than deepen the gaze on reality.

The packaging of the film is top notch, the cinematography is stunning and the actors are excellent. The rhythm and editing also give us very interesting moments, even if they seem created to demonstrate one’s skill and not for filmic necessity. Poor Things is a film that behind its astonishing packaging leaves a sense of dissatisfaction and emptiness. It now seems that the aesthetic packaging has completely replaced the story, paradoxically weakening the strength of the images.

In fact, it is not with obsessive care and amazing photography, or with talented actors at the service of the characters, that visions that leave their mark on the imagination are obtained. An ugly, dirty and grainy image can be much more powerful than a beautiful image, if inserted into a vision, and if you have something truly urgent and important to tell. Such as Wim Wenders’ small, independent, minimal, essential masterpiece, Perfect Day, a film that truly reconciles you with cinema and its potential.

Poor Things, on the other hand, is a film that separates the spectator from the cinema, looking at it from above, like a naive child immersed in a world of artificial fairy tales. It seems that these aesthetes, such as Wes Anderson for example, lack the compelling need to say something important, to dedicate themselves to the creation of “inevitable” projects, which grope around the surface of matter, colors and architecture.

Poor Things is also a very original film, at times bizarre, and this is certainly an advantage. Lanthimos tries in every way to push the boundaries of what has already been seen, using the optical distortions of an extreme wide angle, staging hyper-realistic characters and dialogues, mixing the actors and the characters’ conflicts with unreal scenography and visually impressive architecture. But the result he gets is the exact opposite. It seems like he wants to demonstrate at all costs how original he is, how good he is, how crazy, irreverent and unconventional he is, and this ends up irritating quite a bit.

But the world of film criticism and the public goes crazy with joy for these phantasmagorical boxes, and this is the right film to succeed right now: an excellent marketing choice. For most of the Western press that deals with cinema, this is the best that cinema can offer: the Masterpiece.

Poor Things get lost right in this labyrinth of perfectly constructed images. The sequence set in the Paris brothel immediately brings to mind Fellini’s Rome or Luis Buñuel’s Belle di giorno. But in Fellini’s films the great care and figurative quality of the images is never an end in itself, but is only a catalyst of the emotions and humanity of Fellini’s world.

Likewise, Bunuel’s films transport us to a much more phantasmagorical and surreal universe using much simpler and more sparse shots than Lanthimos does. Maximum result with minimum effort. Poor Things is like an enormous visionary banquet that ends up nauseating. Of course, there are many more interesting ideas than Wes Anderson’s latest film, where the obsessive aesthetic care only hides a void that inevitably emerges at the end of the viewing, leaving a sad sense of superficiality.

The extraordinary skill of all the actors is not enough to replace that vision of the world and of the human being that is really difficult to perceive here. What is clearly perceived, however, is for the umpteenth time the current, recurring and pressing themes of propaganda: feminist rebellion against oppressive and possessive men, free and fluid sexuality as a tool for redemption, the mediocrity of the male gender.

The only light that could have transported us to the depths of the soul is limited to a fleeting shot followed by a cry of pain from Bella, after seeing for the first time the desperation, poverty and injustice that reigns in the world. A painful vision like that of Prince Siddhartha who then transformed him into the Buddha. Matteo Garrone dedicates an entire, grandiose film to such a vision. But here it’s just a will-o’-the-wisp that goes out after a few scenes without leaving a trace.

Another characteristic of Povere Creature is the obsessive search for originality and bizarreness. There are some dialogues that are truly outside the box, cultured and at times brilliant. But as an old proverb of Italian comedy screenwriters says, a joke that works the first time makes you laugh out loud, the second time it makes you smile, the third time it makes you want to get up and leave.

Of course, it must be difficult today, if not almost impossible, to find large financing to make a film or win major prizes and recognitions without inserting Propaganda themes into the narrative. Themes that propose values ​​that very often, behind the fun and adrenaline of the rebellion and the strong character of the characters, hide the abyss of confusion and self-destruction.

Another characteristic of the auteur films produced in recent years is the long duration, the impeccable packaging even in the credits, which would like to put the seal with the important signature of the artist of the moment. But the disconcerting simplicity of Perfect Days by Wim Wenders testifies to the exact opposite: if a film is destined to be remembered, simple white writing on a black background is enough to conclude the story.

However, there is no denying that Poor Things is an interesting film that is enjoyable to watch. The packaging doesn’t save you from boredom, but there are many interesting ideas that elevate this film above the average cinematic product. But despite the magnificence of the staging, the perfection of the rhythm in both the editing and the acting, the impression is that of having seen a film without a soul, cold and detached, which never manages to fully involve us.

Would a lectio magistralis by Luis Bunuel be enough to explain to the workers of the Great World Film Industry that the surreal, the imaginative, the fairy-tale cannot be obtained by processing images with millions of dollars? Probably not: they would laugh in their face, they don’t care, they don’t want to know, they want to spend a lot of money. And Buñuel has been dead for a while.

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