BY Rory O'Connor in Film , Opinion | 26 MAY 22

The Sly Irony of Yorgos Lanthimos’s ‘Bleat’

Featuring Emma Stone, Damien Bonnard and a well-trained trip of goats, the Greek director’s silent short frees him from the pressures of the box office

BY Rory O'Connor in Film , Opinion | 26 MAY 22

For all the (simulated) incest, violence and animal cruelty he puts on screens, Yorgos Lanthimos is surprisingly warm in person. Born in Athens in 1973, the filmmaker got his start in advertising, like so many great provocateurs, before making the move to features and breaking out with Dogtooth (2009), a searing, absurdist comedy about adult children imprisoned in their own home. Dogtooth won a prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year, instigating what would soon become known as the Greek Weird Wave: a series of strange and provocative films that sprang up in the years after the country’s financial meltdown. He hasn’t looked back since, finding a wider audience with The Lobster in 2015, his first film in English, before guiding The Favourite (2018) to ten nominations at the Academy Awards.

Yorgos Lanthimos, Dogtooth, 2009, film still. Courtesy: Element Pictures

Lanthimos’s style is amongst the most unmistakable in contemporary cinema: emotionally stunted characters, dialogue spoken in monotone drawl, bodies that dance and tumble like haunted marionettes, and surreal social rituals that appear as cruel and curdled versions of our own. (If there is a Lanthimos mood, it is the sickly feeling of the uncanny.) His latest offering bucks that trend by having no dialogue at all. The filmmaker, who seldom talks about his work, returned to Greece earlier this month from his home in London for the premiere. It’s a short film called Bleat – a sly irony, given that the film is totally silent. ‘It’s like starting all over again,’ he explained to a packed and rapturous auditorium after the show, ‘like going back to a prior state of cinema.’ The production stars Damien Bonnard, Emma Stone and a well-trained trip of goats, and is accompanied live by seven musicians (playing music by Toshio Hosokawa, including a wonderful solo piece on something called a cimbalom) and the chorus of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (sensationally sweeping in with Knut Nystedt’s 1988 composition Immortal Bach for the climax).

Press conference for Bleat, 2022, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, Athens. Courtesy: NEON and the Greek National Opera; photo: Andreas Simopoulos

Typically for the filmmaker, the baroque music is playfully counterpointed by what’s on screen. In Bleat, Stone plays another of Lanthimos’s lonely, grieving weirdoes. Shot on the Island of Tinos, it begins at a funeral (her husband’s, played by Bonnard). The era is unspecified: it could be a century ago, though anachronistic technologies hint otherwise. Stone’s nameless character enjoys an intimate moment with a reproduction of the Madonna. She then reanimates her deceased husband by sitting on his face. It’s nothing if not surprising: ‘With short films there are fewer elements that you have to satisfy or think about,’ Lanthimos told me after the screening. ‘There’s no absolute expectation of the box office or a sale [to a distributor]; you are freer to explore.’

Yorgos Lanthimos, Bleat, 2022, film still. Courtesy: NEON and the Greek National Opera

As a narrative, it’s looser even than his other recent short, Nimic (2009), and, with no dialogue to contend with, has the feeling of an artist enjoying a different set of tools. ‘I was inspired by a Greek documentary by [Takis] Kanellopoulos about wedding traditions in northern Greece and Macedonia,’ he tells me. ‘It’s a remarkable film, absolutely beautiful, stunning.’ Lanthimos filmed Bleat on Super 16 – black and white, warm and crackling – and insisted on analogue projection. While plans are in the works to tour the film, he is adamant that it only be viewed with all these trimmings. Opportunities will be limited, but those lucky enough to see Bleat will find something strange, comic yet bleakly beautiful.

Yorgos Lanthimos, Bleat, 2022, installation view. Courtesy: NEON and the Greek National Opera; photograph: Andreas Simopoulos

Commissioned by NEON and the Greek National Opera, Bleat was initially screened in the latter’s residence: a theatre in Renzo Piano’s sprawling Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. The previous night, images of Stone attending a EuroLeague basketball match with Lanthimos at a stadium in Piraeus (the director’s father played professionally) went viral. Bleat is the second time they’ve worked together, and their rapport is unmistakable. Stone, who was Oscar-nominated for playing a ruthless opportunist in The Favourite, offered to work for free, traveling to Tinos mere weeks before COVID-19 gripped the planet. ‘You give yourself over,’ she explained of his method at the post-screening press conference. ‘You don’t have to think of anything.’

Emma Stone with Yorgos Lanthimos on the set of The Favourite, 2018. Courtesy: Element Pictures

When I asked what Stone had meant by this, Lanthimos was typically oblique: ‘I try to leave [the actors] alone as much as possible, to keep it more practical than cerebral. You have to cast the right people and create the right atmosphere around them, help them with the details and nuances, then you can leave them alone.’ Last year, Stone flew to Budapest to shoot Poor Things, their third collaboration together, which is rumoured to be with us by the end of the year. An adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s eponymous 1992 novel, it follows a professor (Willem Dafoe) who reanimates his dead spouse (Stone) with the consciousness of their unborn child. More death? More grieving? ‘It’s a part of life,’ Lanthimos admits, almost breaking into a smile, ‘You can’t escape it.’

For touring updates on Yorgos Lanthimos's Bleat visit

Main image: Yorgos Lanthimos, Bleat, 2022, film still. Courtesy: NEON and the Greek National Opera

Rory O'Connor is a writer based in Berlin, Germany.