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The Lighthouse is an absolute dazzler, playing in the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight section. Willem Dafoe gives perhaps his greatest performance as Tom, a grizzled 19th-century lighthouse keeper who sings shanties, tells tall tales and breaks wind with wild abandon. But Robert Pattinson more than holds his own as Ephraim, Tom’s new assistant, who arrives on the storm-battered station and finds his master no more hospitable than the climate.
Under a regime of hard graft and hard liquor, Ephraim begins to crack and suffer vivid hallucinations that alternate between the nightmarish and the erotic. These are shot with a phantasmagorical flair and accompanied by a marvellously clangorous score.
Before long Ephraim is desperate to get off this rock before he goes completely off his rocker. There are references to Melville but there is also more than a touch of Poe, as Ephraim is visited by an unnervingly insistent seagull that comes tap-tap-tapping on his window, and Pinter, as the two men’s verbose exchanges become ever more bilious and sadistic.
Both actors are outstanding in this blackly comic two-hander but it is also one of the most formally exciting films at this year’s festival. Shot in a jagged, expressionist black and white, this is chiaroscuro with the emphasis on scuro, and confirms writer-director Robert Eggers (maker of The Witch) as a major talent.
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