The second feature by Greek director Babis Makridis has been compared to the work of his more famous countryman, Yorgos Lanthimos, which could be considered unfair given that Makridis’s first feature was released in 2012 and was thus co-extant with Lanthimos’s early work. For sure, both filmmakers trade in a Beckettian absurdity that often froths over into mild horror–not due to conventional scare tactics (which they mimic more or less ironically), but rather because their stories depend on an extremely bleak understanding of human frailty to put across their dramatic intentions. Besides, both directors co-wrote their scripts with the same partner, Efthymis Filippou, so the comparison isn’t entirely unwarranted.
But the 8 or so years separating Makridis’s debut from his sophomore film, Pity, only seems to intensify the comparison, seeing how much work Lanthimos has done during that time—not to mention how much progress he’s enjoyed as an artist and professional. If anything, Pity seems almost regressive in its embrace of the pointlessness of existence and the nihilism at the core of its humor. Yannis Drakopouls plays a mousy, affectless, nameless lawyer whose wife lingers in a coma after an accident that happens off screen. What at first looks like depression over the state of a loved one reveals itself as a kind of sick contentment. The lawyer actually revels in the sympathy he receives from colleagues and acquaintances, and, in Makridis’s telling, becomes “addicted” to being pitied. For a good portion of the film, however, this mindset is played for laughs, as the lawyer manipulates his surroundings and situation to gain as much pity as possible. The laughs, however, become more uncomfortable as the lawyer’s voiceover conveys not only his self-delusion, but his almost evil regard for the people who actually think he’s suffering. He resents them at the same time he desires their attention.
Eventually, this need becomes insatiable, and when the unexpected happens, the proverbial rug is pulled out from under our protagonist, at which point things really do get weird and scary. Makridis’s deadpan style, reminiscent of those Scandinavian directors who work in monochrome and fixed camera placements to highlight the comic dreariness of being, successfully contrasts the lawyer’s narcissism with the more conventional socialized behavior of everybody else. If the movie isn’t quite as horrifying as it should be, it may be due to the fact that the effect of all this lack of affect is that the main character just isn’t that engaging. When he does truly horrible things you just shrug it off.
In Greek. Now playing in Tokyo at Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551), Shinjuku Cinema Qualite (03-3352-5645).
Pity home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2018 Neda Film, Madants, Faliro House