Greece (2013) Dir. Alexandros Avranas
Over the past few years Greece has been the surprise provider of some of the most esoteric, quirky and disturbingly provocative films to hit the big screen (outside of Asia). With the likes of Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth, Alps) leading the way this trend continues to yield darker results, as Miss Violence suggests.
On her 11th birthday, Angeliki (Chloe Bolota) takes her own life by calmly jumping off the balcony of the family apartment while her family enjoy the party in the background. When the authorities when they conduct the investigation the patriarch (Themis Panou) insists they can’t understand why she would do this and say it was an accident.
This might not be the most in depth review you’ll read on this film purely because it is difficult to discuss the crucial plot points without spoiling it. Then again those of you with a nervous disposition might find such revelations as a welcome warning since this film definitely isn’t for everyone. Not that it is particularly explicit or graphic – only two scenes qualify – but the very nature of the central themes do not add up to a comfortable viewing experience.
It is the reason behind Angeliki’s suicide rather than the act itself which should be the conceit of the film but it is in fact the fallout and the way the family handle it. Clearly this is not your average household and is apparent when the truth begins to emerge, and whatever you are thinking you are probably correct. And probably wrong too. The infrequent dripping of information, both implied and overt, makes for a tense and excruciating first hour, made all the more unnerving when our worst fears are finally confirmed.
To understand this we need to look at the family. The patriarch immediately shows us that he is control and rules the household with an iron fist which is our first assumption for Angeliki’s suicide. Angeliki’s mother Eleni (Eleni Roussinou) is naturally distraught and seeks solace from her mother (Reni Pittaki) but gets little, from her father even less. But watching the interactions we are initially led to believe that Eleni is in fact the patriarch’s wife, made more confusing by how the two younger kids Philippos (Constantinos Athanasiades) and Alkmini (Kalliopi Zontanou) call him “granddad” while 14 year-old Myrto (Sissy Toumasi) calls him “father” and Eleni’s mother “Mother”.
The name “Fritzl” is probably racing to the forefront of your mind about now but not enough information is given to corroborate this. Surely though if the family is all under one roof this wouldn’t be the case? These are the chilling paranoid suspicions that Alexandros Avranas happily allows to grow and fester within our minds, teasing us with confirmation which never actually comes. It is a difficult subject to address without directness and this bold and somewhat frank approach might create an uncharitable accusation of audacity towards Avranas for thrusting his candid and confrontational take on this subject.
The biggest message we can take from this film is not is so much what happens but the fact people are aware of it yet do nothing to prevent it from happening then or again later. As in any such circumstance knowing about a misdeed and doing nothing is as heinous as the act itself.
We don’t know the force which is holding their silence but the patriarch’s stern methods of punishment – banishing the offender from the dinner table as it is for “family only” – seems to have the desired effect to ensure order is maintained. Myrto shows signs of teenage rebellion and some guile in trying to avoid something we assume is inevitable but as ever her fate is sealed regardless.
As alluded earlier the recent swathe of Greek films have possessed some kind of indigenous social allusion, no mater how subtle, which doesn’t seem to be present in Miss Violence – or maybe it is so subtle I’ve missed it. But this isn’t a regional issue, it is a global problem although maybe not exclusively to one family, but the general principle is universal. We can hope that Avranas is hoping with this film to make us watch the unwatchable and be galvanised to be more aware of the signs.
Probably what will test the audience’s sensitivities and influence their opinion of this film is how the cast are able to carry out their roles with the cold and clinical precision to present the story in the most natural manner possible. Themis Panou puts us in the awkward position for playing such a despicable person with such aplomb and conviction. It is a layered portrayal in which we see a man who seems to at ease with what he is doing yet is conflicted at being found out for doing it.
I can’t imagine how the younger cast members were supposed to understand what was going on but they seem to at least understand what is required from them as actors and feel comfortable in front of the camera under these circumstances. The most frustrating character for the viewer is Eleni for reasons that become apparent yet she is also oddly the most sympathetic and Eleni Roussinou plays her with a combination of childish naivety and a knowing internal regret and fear.
Avranas employs a filming style that is very confrontational with the cameras often intimate to the point of discomfort before reverting to near voyeuristic wide shots, al the while careful not to show too much to allow our imagination to run riot over what we are supposed to see. The fourth wall is often broken to disarm us further as though we are somehow complicit in the events.
This all makes Miss Violence likely to be perceived as more horrific than a blood and guts slasher flick although most of the horror is in our heads. This isn’t a film which is easy to recommend yet it is a film that shouldn’t be ignored.
Powerful yet divisive filmmaking at its best.