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The shellfish giant: ‘The Lobster’ makes a big Cannes splash

Director Yorgos Lanthimos attends a press conference for the film The Lobster, at the 68th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Friday, May 15, 2015. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)

CANNES, France (AP) — Yorgos Lanthimos has people in Cannes imagining themselves as animals.

The Greek director has set the Croisette abuzz with his film “The Lobster,” which puts Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz in a couples-dominated world where single people are given 45 days to find a mate, or be turned into the animal of their choice. Farrell’s sad-sack central character chooses a lobster, in part because the crustaceans mate for life.

Lanthimos’ sharp satirical surrealism has sparked anthropomorphic musing up and down the Croisette. A dog? A cat? What beast is best?

“I’d be a bird,” Lanthimos said in response to the inevitable question. “I dream a lot about flying.”

Lanthimos can plan to do a lot more flying as a rising star on the international cinema circuit.

“The Lobster” has been gobbled up by Cannes critics and audiences. Farrell — unrecognizable behind glasses, moustache and unflattering paunch — is considered a contender for the festival’s best-actor prize when awards are announced May 24.

The film’s absurd, disturbing world and deadpan tone will be no surprise to fans of Lanthimos, who made the Oscar-nominated reality-show dystopia “Dogtooth.”

“The Lobster” is set in a strange but fully realized world, just far enough away from reality to make viewers question the social rules we accept as normal.

Lanthimos thinks reality is an overrated quality in movies.

“I don’t find that interesting to do as a film, just to represent real life,” he told The Associated Press.

“There is no realism in film anyway. Even if it is pretend realism, it is still pretend.”

“The Lobster” is the first film Lanthimos has made outside Greece, and his first in English. It was shot in Ireland with an international cast that includes Ben Whishaw, Lea Seydoux and John C. Reilly.

Farrell told reporters at a press conference that the screenplay “was by far the most unique and particular script that I had ever read. I didn’t understand it either, and I’m not sure that I still do.”

The script may be elusive, but Lanthimos said all the cast members instinctively understood where he was coming from.

“They all got it immediately,” he said. “They held it together, and it helped a lot. Because even if I’d had the slightest problem with the cast and at the same time I had to cope with making a film in a different country (where) it’s a very different experience and a different way of making films — I’m not sure if I would have gotten through it if I didn’t have such absolute support from them.”

“The Lobster” is the most expensive film Lanthimos has made, and should guarantee his next budget is bigger still. For the director, now based in Britain, that prospect is both frustrating and exciting.

“The films that I made in Greece were extremely small films made with five friends,” he said. “It’s a very different way of working when you enter a film-industry environment and there are very strict rules. People don’t feel comfortable breaking those rules and people are not maybe equally passionate as your friends.”

On the positive side, “you have a proper structure and people are very professional and they know what they’re doing.”

“You have a little bit more financing, you’re certain you’re going to be able to finish the film,” he said. In Greece — still coping with severe financial crisis — “you don’t even know if you’re going to be able to take your film to a festival, because you barely have enough money to produce the film.”

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Follow Jill Lawless on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

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