Sundance 2018: Babis Makridis’s Pity

On Film / The Daily — Jan 20, 2018

“In the near-decade since Dogtooth gnawed its way into viewers’ imaginations,” begins Guy Lodge in Variety, “the words ‘Greek comedy’ have come to mean something nearly as distinct as ‘Greek tragedy’ to arthouse audiences—just not always distinct from Greek tragedy, as Babis Makridis’s brittle, brutal, bone-dry Pity makes quite clear. Co-written with Efthimis Filippou, regular right-hand man to Yorgos Lanthimos, Makridis’s deader-than-deadpan sophomore feature dwells on the surprisingly poisonous properties of tea and sympathy: Initially stricken when his wife passes into a coma, a drab, soft-spined lawyer (Yannis Drakopoulos) soon finds there are more perks to living with grief than without. Sometimes in life, it seems, you have to make your own misfortune.”

“Suffering becomes a kind of competitive sport for the Lawyer,” writes Sheri Linden in the Hollywood Reporter. “When confronted with others who are grieving, he studies them not out of compassion but with envy. . . . Every interaction—whether in the hospital, the protagonist's high-rise apartment, or at the sunlit shoreline, whose beauty he's all but blind to—is examined with a predominantly fixed camera. Makrides and director of photography Konstantinos Koukoulios use the widescreen frame eloquently, and the compositions often put geometry in the service of unspoken emotion: the Lawyer's rigid posture against the horizontal expanse of the image; the heartbreaking swirl, viewed from overhead, of a hopeful swimmer against tides.”

“The color palette is Easter Sunday, full of light blues and pink Ralph Lauren oxfords,” writes Sam Fragoso at TheWrap. “Outside of Giannis’s window is water and palm trees. The external serenity grows funnier with each passing minute.”

“We wanted a mood that would be contrary to the mood of the character,” Makridis tells Vassilis Economou at Cineuropa. “I think as a director you have to do what the plot requires you to, and not decide according to the medium and whether you are working on a film or an advertisement. Maybe in my next movie, everyone will smile constantly. That would be scary [laughs]!” Economou notes that Pity comes six years after Makridis’s debut, L, also co-written with Filippou: “Everything is enhanced by the austere, deadpan performance by experienced comedian Drakopoulos, who, despite not offering us even a hint of a grin during the entire film, manages to convey his unambiguous joyful mourning to the viewer.”

“Such is his addiction to sadness that when his wife (Evi Saoulidou) recovers unexpectedly, he is reluctant to let go of it completely,” writes Screen’s Wendy Ide. “He invents a breast cancer scare for her, to temper her joyful return into his life. He is drawn to a pair of recently bereaved clients of his law practice, like a vampire feeding on doom and gloom.”

Stephen Saito notes that “as much distance as Makridis places between the audience and the lawyer, small eccentricities shown by both his protagonist and those around him that pierce the veneer of polite society begin to work their way into the film, drawing you closer as the lawyer increasingly abuses his status as a would-be widower. In taking the director’s chair, Makridis is less overtly abrasive or confrontational in his cultural critique than Lanthimos, but feels no less dangerous, with every exchange between the lawyer and another human being a risk of death by embarrassment.”

“In essence,” writes Nicholas Bell at Ioncinema, “this is more of the same mix of idiosyncratic banality which once seemed novel about a decade prior, when exercises like Dogtooth and ALPS seemed to reorganize the remnants of certain art-house auteurs from the 1970s (such as Arturo Ripstein) and regurgitate such energies with persuasively perverted mirth on the complexities of contemporary cultures.”

“Dark humor is still humor, but there’s a difference between morbid jokes and emotional violence,” argues Andrew Crump at the Playlist. “Makridis either doesn’t know the difference or he doesn’t care; Pity mines laughter from awkward narcissism before making an abrupt pivot toward the macabre sans punchlines.”

“In the end, the film feels closer to a successful experiment than a fully flushed out narrative,” finds Tomris Laffly at RogerEbert.com.

Update, 1/23: “The uncomfortable comedy is elicited from the absurdly deranged situations the Lawyer creates to ensure his own misfortune,” writes Carlos Aguilar at ScreenAnarchy. “Whether that means self-injury, sabotaging others, manipulating the truth to his advantage, or writing a preemptive and gruesome swan song he is eager to use at a funeral, the Lawyer’s antics fit within the world Makridis has crafted, one in which solemnity reigns and most characters live opaque lives deprived of heightened emotions.”

Updates, 1/25: “One must ask if the end doesn’t go too far,” finds Victor Morton in the Salt Lake City Weekly, “but I admired Filippou and co-writer/director Babis Makridis their integrity. At the end, I wanted to paraphrase Nigel Tufnel: It can’t get any more black, cannit?”

At the Credits, Bryan Adams talks with Makridis “about how he chooses his subjects, works with his actors, and generally chases stories that most folks would leave in the ‘one day’ file, if they came upon such a notion at all.”

Update, 1/30: “One of the main motifs of the film is the crying in the bedroom,” cinematographer Konstantinos Koukoulios tells Filmmaker. “There are five scenes where the main character sits on his bed being or trying to be very sad. When having to deal with sadness in a bedroom, one simply cannot ignore the composition in the paintings of Edward Hopper, such as Excursions into Philosophy or Morning Sun. Combined with Harris Savides’s unique lighting and texture in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth and Gus van Sant’s death trilogy, we found a mournful look that subtly highlighted the character’s main struggle. Babis also asked me to watch Oslo, August 31st by Joachim Trier; that made me very sad in the most beautiful way.”

Update, 1/31: “The main goal in this kind of film is the clarity of the hero’s emotional journey,” editor Yannis Chalkiadakis tells Filmmaker. “Subsequently this includes a structure with a strong turnover, and a carefully crafted climax of the last part that will lead to the final act. We took the freedom to change the order of almost every scene we felt was necessary. I’m happy that it doesn’t show.”

Update, 2/3: “If there was a fragment of Arthur Schopenhauer’s thought in L, the idea got a lot more thinking and inspiration in Pity, even though Makridis denies any proclivity to potential philosophical strands besides reading Albert Camus in his mid-teens,” writes Martin Kudlac in the Notebook. “‘Philosophy is like religion. They are both ready and fixed from others just for the minds who are bored to search for answers. You must explore life by yourself in the way you can and you like,’ said the director.”

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