Yorgos Lanthimos's The Killing of a Sacred Deer, an Irish production from Element Pictures, has premiered to great acclaim at the 70th Cannes Film Festival. Made with the support of the Irish Film Board, the surreal, disturbing picture stars Colin Farrell as a surgeon who forms an uneasy relationship with the son of a man who died on his operating table. Barry Keoghan, the Dublin actor who achieved fame on Love/Hate, appears as the young man. Nicole Kidman plays Farrell's wife.
"I had a bucket list of people I wanted to work with," Keoghan, who is shortly to appear in Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk, told The Irish Times. "Yorgos was on it. Chris Nolan was on it. Element Pictures was on it. Ed Guiney was on it."
Guiney, co-founder of Element, produced both The Killing of a Sacred Deer and Lanthimos's The Lobster, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2015. He does not underestimate the importance of placing the film in competition here.
"For something like A Sacred Deer, it's hugely important – particularly when you consider Yorgos's history with the festival," he said. "It's a brilliant way to launch a film like this to the world. Film critics from all around the world will be engaged with thinking about it. That has a massive impact. One hopes that it gets the right reception."
The initial reviews were as good as Guiney could have hoped. "Farrell and Kidman are astonishingly gifted at playing the subtext of every scene," Peter Debruge, the chief critic of Variety, wrote. "As allegories of extreme discomfort go, this one is masterfully orchestrated."
David Rooney of the Hollywood Reporter was equally approving. "The impressive rigor of its craft, the skilfully subdued intensity of the acting, and the startling originality of the story will make it unmissable for anyone who cares about bold filmmaking," he wrote in that trade publication.
The Killing of a Sacred Deer must now be considered a serious contender for The Palme d'Or. Were it to triumph, it would be the first Irish production to take the prize since The Wind that Shakes the Barley in 2006. Sacred Deer was conceived, developed and financed in Dublin by Element.
“I’m much more in favour of saying: let’s enable Irish producers, Irish film-makers and allow them to go out in the world,” Guiney said. “We have to make the distinction between providing work and building an industry.”
120 Beats per Minute
Representatives of the Irish Film Board are at the event supporting Sacred Deer and representing hopeful Irish titles in the busy film market that surrounds the festival.
Brian O'Malley's The Lodgers and John Butler's Handsome Devil, already a domestic hit, have secured multiple international deals. James Hickey, chief executive of the board, commented: "The Cannes market is one of the largest film markets in the world so it is hugely important to the Irish film industry in terms of raising finance for up-and-coming productions and ensuring Irish films sell to international territories." He also made sure to congratulate the team behind A Sacred Deer and hail Barry Keoghan's "breakthrough as a major international star to watch".
The main competition for A Sacred Deer in the festival looks, at this midway stage, to be Robin Campillo's 120 Beats per Minute. That film details the struggles of the ACT UP movement on behalf of Aids patients in 1990s Paris.
For now, the cast and crew of the Irish film can enjoy the tramp up Cannes’ hectic red carpet. Has Barry got his dinner jacket in order?
“I do. Armani gave it to me,” he says with something approaching astonishment.