Saturday, November 19, 2011

Greek Cinema

Recent Greek Cinema by way of Lanthimos & Tsangari

Three different Greek films by Giorgos Lanthimos & Athina Rachel Tsangari but linked together by control, communication and human behavior:

Dogtooth (2009, Greece, Giorgos Lanthimos)
ATTENBERG (2010, Greece, Athina Rachel Tsangari)
Alps (2011, Greece, Giorgos Lanthimos)

Control & Communication

In Dogtooth the father is the clear head of the family.

He presides over every family decision including his family’s entertainment and even who his son can sleep with -- the father brings a woman to the house so that his son can have scheduled sexual intercourse. The lines of communication are just one way and the parent-child relationship is a closed one where the children are not free to have an open honest conversation. The children are also shut off in the house with no option to go out into the world.

The lines of communication are more open in ATTENBERG where the daughter is free to ask her father about sexual questions, such as if the father imagines his daughter naked.
The daughter also has freedom to roam the streets with her friend and wander about town on her own.

Alps also features a girl having freedom to come home and go out as she pleases. The daughter has a decent relationship with her father but there are some things she cannot ask. In a conversation with her father, the daughter equates herself with her mother and right in the next instance, puts her hand in between her father’s legs, only to be duly slapped in return.
The daughter imagines herself to be like her mother so figures she has the right to reach for her father’s parts. However, she could have simply asked her father a question like the daughter does in ATTENBERG but Alps does not feature complete open and honest communication. There is still a level of control that is exerted over all the characters and a line of authority that is clearly visible. The authority may no longer be present in the house but it exists in the workplace.

Human Behavior

Dogtooth is a twisted human case study of the butterfly effect as the film shows how a single element introduced in a tightly controlled environment can cause ripples of change powerful enough to turn things on their head. Examination of the human behavior also manages to illustrate that rigidly controlled parenting will harm children’s development and prevent children from growing into fully functional adults. The young adults in Dogtooth have only aged in terms of their bodily growth but they have the mental maturity of young kids as shown by their inquisitive questioning and experimentation with sex and violence.

The title of ATTENBERG is inspired by David Attenborough’s BBC nature series about animal behavior and the film naturally features ample dosage of animal sounds. However, the animal instincts parallel the human behavior shown by the characters in the film with regards to how the characters mate, seek partners, entertain themselves and carry out well choreographed dance rituals.

In Alps, characters seek to console those who have lost a loved one by taking on the persona of the character’s lost relative. The film shows that all humans share a certain bond when it comes to loss and eventually healing.

Essentially, all three films can be classified as coming of age tales with a difference. While most coming of age films show characters attaining maturity in their mid teens, the three Greek films contain characters who come of age as young adults. The delayed maturity has more to do with the characters isolation and the way they are raised by their fathers -- there is a mother shown in Dogtooth but she comes across as quiet and subdued while a mother is absent in the other films.

What of Greece?

There are no direct political references in any of the films yet some depictions can be inferred. Dogtooth is clearly a reference about authoritative rule and a closed off society. The characters live in a house surrounded by large walls which shuts off the outside world.
This could represent a Greece prior to its entry into the larger economic and financial European union.

ATTENBERG appears to be during a time when Greece either has joined or is on the verge of financially joining the European union. The film takes place in an isolated small town devoid of jobs. However, there is an optimistic tone in the air which would signal towards a hopeful future.

Alps appears to take place in a time when Greece is comfortable with the rest of the world. Characters constantly sprinkle American pop references in their conversations, especially regards to Hollywood films, while another character talks about Switzerland and the Alps mountains. Nothing in the film suggests isolation and boundaries but presents a nation which is at harmonious union with Europe and the World as a whole.

Grappling for familiarity

Dogtooth is certainly unique but one can recognize touches of Lars von Trier and Ulrich Seidl with regards to the absurd and human behavior. The story goes from dark humour to shock in an instant with its depiction of family abuse and incest. The film is certainly hard to like but it is equally difficult to ignore this work because there is plenty to chew in the film.

ATTENBERG is warm, tender and certainly more accessible than Dogtooth even though ATTENBERG starts off with a kiss between two women and features a lot of talk about sex.

Alps is certainly more accessible than Lanthimos’ previous film but it is still a bit cold when compared to ATTENBERG. Alps minimizes the strangeness that would have put people off Dogtooth and features more deadpan/dark humor. In this regard, Alps is similar in look and feel to The Death of Mister Lazarescu. However, the humor in The Death of Mister Lazarescu is smartly integrated in the film without drawing attention to itself. Whereas Alps is trying too hard to garner laughs. Certain scenarios and dialogues have no purpose in the film and only seem to exist to sell the absurd humor style.


Lanthimos and Tsangari would want their films to be treated differently but the common themes related to parental control, communication and behavior link the films. Plus, the two directors have tiny imprints in the others work. Lanthimos is a producer and actor in ATTENBERG while Tsangari has a producer tag on both Lanthimos’ features.

Here is a subjective ranking of the films:


I would have rated Alps higher had I not seen some of the new Romanian films by Cristi Puiu and Corneliu Porumboiu. These Romanian films show how to properly depict a mix of deadpan and dark humor while Alps just seems to be trying to force its material through a template that is not suited for the characters. Also, arriving at Alps after having navigated Dogtooth and ATTENBERG feels like a letdown. Had my Greek journey started with Alps, then I could have found it far more engaging.


Sam Juliano said...

Sachin, I haven't yet seen ALPS, but was immediately drawn into this ever-perceptive look at some fascinating correlations that greatly illuminate these films. And yes, I agree that one thinks of Von Trier when pondering DOG TOOTH, which to this point is not a film that has fully resonated with me. But if ever an argument could be said to cry out for revisitation this is it. I love the appraoch here connected Greek cinema, and loved that idea of teh walls in DOG TOOTH. You have left teh box and offered up an enriching angle for cineastes. Bravo!

Sachin said...

Thanks so much for such a nice comment Sam.

I would be wary to second revisiting DOGTOOTH. I found it less viewable although it was interesting to pick out certain themes from it. If you can see the other two films first, it might make it easier to digest DOGTOOTH.