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"We don’t ever really know the meaning of what we’re watching"

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Yorgos Lanthimos • Director

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- CANNES 2017: Yorgos Lanthimos gives the international press a few pointers to help analyse The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which was revealed in competition at Cannes

Yorgos Lanthimos  • Director
(© E. Piermont / Festival de Cannes)

Back in competition at the Cannes Film Festival for the second time with The Killing of a Sacred Deer [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Yorgos Lanthimos
film profile
]
, Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos talked to the international press, flanked by his actors Nicole KidmanRaffey CassidySunny Suljic and Barry Keoghan.

Where did the idea for the film’s title, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, come from, and what is your concept of sacrifice?
Yorgos Lanthimos:
When we started writing the script and thinking about the story, we discovered there were some parallels with the tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis by Euripides, and I thought it would be interesting to have a dialogue with something that is so ingrained in Western culture. In life, there are people who come up against huge dilemmas, and the concept of sacrifice raises a significant number of questions about everything.

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The film explores a brutal subject, and you worked with some fairly young actors. How did you go about that?
It’s true that the material is brutal if you take it as a whole, but not in its constituent parts. We never dealt with it with too much seriousness. Nicole likes to say that I kept on telling her during shooting that it was a comedy, and I believed that, and we had as much fun as we could on set. What I wanted to explore essentially were the subjects of justice, choice, human nature and behaviour. The starting point was mainly just a family, and it almost came about by chance that children play a key part in it.

What is your relationship with symbolism?
I try to stay away from symbols too much. I wanted everything to be obvious and the film to be quite direct. With the more unusual aspects, I try not to be analytical about how we approach things. We always start with a story and a script – if not, the viewers would get lost – but I try to work in a physical, fun way, which doesn’t necessarily seem related directly to what the actual situation is, so that we don’t ever really know the meaning of what we’re watching. But with Efthimis Filippou, I spend a lot of time on writing the screenplay, trying not to think about anything else other than the story, because I have to feel confident that we have a script that works and that we’re ready to start making it into a film. After that, we come up with the ideas of where it could be set; the films we’ve made so far tell stories that could take place anywhere, which is quite freeing, as we can choose the place where the film will unfold. Then, for the casting process, I’m very lucky because very talented actors and actresses are aware of my work and want to jump in and film with me. On the other hand, the casting process for the younger ones was really long this time around, and we saw many kids from the USA, the UK and Australia. I don’t try to make the actors into something that I had imagined, but rather try and get as much as I can from them, as it enriches what we’ve written and it’s something that we could never have imagined beforehand. Then, when you’re rehearsing and filming, so many unexpected elements come into the film, and I try to welcome them. Because the place, the atmosphere, the situation, the weather… I try not to control those things too much.

What were your intentions in terms of developing the mise-en-scène?
We used a lot of tracking shots. We always try to find which is the right way to film a script. With this film, I wanted to give the impression of a sense of “something other” being there. So the camera became a little bit more mobile, followed people around, crept in and observed from above. Through that, we tried to give the impression of an invisible presence. 

What about the strange illness that the doctors can’t diagnose?
I guess that’s the whole point of the film. You don’t really ever find out, but I don’t know either – that’s how we constructed the film. These are questions that you take with you.

Will you go back to Greece to shoot a film in the future?
Yes, why not? I’ve filmed in seven countries, and each time has been different. I used to be quite negative about going back to Greece and making another film there, but in hindsight, I’ve realised that it gave me a certain kind of freedom.

(Translated from French)

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