Unseen by American eyes up until now, Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2005 solo debut has finally arrived in the U.S. courtesy of the Museum of the Moving Image. Following a photo-store clerk, a chambermaid and a man obsessed with BMW cars as they try to film stilted struggles between a man and a woman, “Kinetta” doesn’t really have much to say about anything and plays out like an over-indulgent mumblecore film — ultimately, it underwhelms and fails to validate its own existence. Injected with the same dose of dryness that “The Lobster” and “Killing of a Sacred Deer” would thrive off of a decade later, “Kinetta” is about as refreshing as freeze-dried ice cream — you can tell that Lanthimos hadn’t yet refined his now wry sense of direction. Intriguing at first, it only takes one bite for you to realize why it’ll never replace regular old ice cream.
Irritatingly shot with a hand-held camera, Lanthimos’s attempts to capture a disparate trio of mute individuals who say fewer words than David in “The Lobster” only manages to evoke one emotion: lifelessness. Like an amateur runner, the film’s kineticism is traded for an unbearable limpness halfway in. It’s a decision that makes you simultaneously reflect on how unnecessary the shakiness of the opening scenes was and detest the limpness of the film’s second-half.
Even so, Lanthimos somehow manages to seem even more disinterested in his characters than his camera-work. Not even taking the time to award them proper names and settling for markers like “Chambermaid” (Evangelia Randou) and “Photo-store Clerk” (Aris Servetalis), Lanthimos renders his characters as drab as the dingy, humdrum production they’re trying to mount. Even the way Lanthimos directs his performers feels inhuman, given he treats them like statues that should be able to emote based on blocking and placement within a scene alone. Essentially mute, the three main players — The Chambermaid, Photo-store Clerk and Nameless Man (Costas Xikomonis) — are never given the chance to truly, organically perform in a relatable way. Instead, their bodies are discomfitingly manipulated through staging to convey ideas only Lanthimos would be able to recognize. Contrary to what its title might have you believe, “Kinetta” is not kinetic in the slightest; instead, it’s painfully slow and apathetic, entirely disinterested in its characters and entirely indifferent about your experience as a viewer.
Of the utmost annoyance is that watching this in hindsight, anyone familiar with Lanthimos’s filmography can spot the seeds of brilliance that’d be further developed into his greatest hits being entirely wasted on such a prosaic work. The mythical nature of hotels he explored in the “The Lobster” is rendered entirely mundane as a result of his decision to set “Kinetta” in a vacant hotel during off-season instead of a personality-driven hotel with an eclectic cast of characters that exacerbate his twisted whimsy. The terror of limp bodies seen in “The Killing of a Sacred Deer” is reduced to nothing more than a recurrence involving The Chambermaid’s suicidal tendencies and sadistic leanings that comes off as an offensive depiction of the aforementioned topics every single time. His imaginative modus operandi doesn’t gel with the boring slices-of-life he’s chosen to explore in “Kinetta” and as a result, you feel miserable watching the film, witnessing each and every inkling of imagination asphyxiate in its sublunar setting. By the end, all that’s left is a cornucopia harboring a plethora of butchered ideas.
It honestly saddens me to see so much squandered potential so tightly-packed together. Haphazardly shot, featuring no memorable performances, devoid of development (story-wise and character-wise) and taking place in a world that betrays Lanthimos’s sensibilities as a creator, “Kinetta”s existence remains an enigma to me. It’s a disheartening watch for any fan of the weird wave of Greek cinema that’s flourished as of late with the works of Tsangari and Avranas. That said, “Kinetta” had to happen so we could get the masterworks Lanthimos is delivering these days. The fact that he delivered “Dogtooth” four years after “Kinetta” just proves how efficiently Lanthimos managed to evolve as a director. It’s an imperfect film that feels like the cinematic equivalent of diving into an empty pool, and yet, it’s the diving-board for one of the greatest directors working today.
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