Not sure what to make of this film and perhaps I wasn’t in the best position to assess its merits – taking refuge on a very hot day and allowing my mind to wander at various points. This is the third feature by writer-director Yorgos Lanthimos. It won the prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2009 and has since been well received by some cinéphile audiences and dismissed by some more mainstream audiences.
The main idea is to offer a metaphor/allegory for contemporary society via a focus on an anonymous (but affluent) Greek family. The father, who owns or at least manages a nondescript factory, has placed his family in a country estate which they are not allowed to leave. His wife is complicit in an arrangement that means that his three grown-up children have never left the estate. They have been deliberately mis-educated so that they have no knowledge of the outside world. The only other person allowed into the estate (blindfolded) is Christina – a security guard from the factory who is paid to service the son sexually. This, of course, provides the possibility for the ‘inciting incident’ that drives the narrative forward in a conventional way. In some ways this is the key to the central problem with the film – although perhaps for some audiences it also provides the means of access.
The events that inevitably follow from Christina’s presence in the household draw on several genre repertoires – prison films, psychological experiment films, family melodramas etc. These narratives promise a resolution, but the film also draws on various art cinema models such as the films of Jean Cocteau or Luis Buñuel. Meanwhile, the style of the film is quite austere with careful framing and a relatively static camera. Some critics have suggested an observational documentary style. It is certainly effective in developing a mood. This is a mood or tone that on the one hand plays to our sense of voyeurism drawing us in to speculation about the sexual activities of three young adults who will be forced to ‘discover’ their sexuality. (None of the characters are named and they have few forms of intellectual stimulus available alongside many ‘distorting’ facts that their father has provided.) The overall approach also lulls the audience so that the isolated moments of real violence are even more shocking.
I can’t say that I enjoyed the film – but I can see that it is well-made (and certainly very well performed). I don’t think I gained any particular insights into a specific critique of contemporary society but I’ve seen suggestions that there is a metaphor for the Greek position within the EU discernible in the narrative. I think younger audiences might enjoy the film more because they may not have seen so many similar films from European art cinema. The film’s title has a specific meaning which I won’t reveal, but I should warn cat-lovers that this might not be the film for them!
If you don’t mind spoilers, there is a full review here which is quite helpful.
Really? I found it mindblowing. I have’t seen a film like it, ever. A perfect exploration of the ‘nature vs nurture’ concept; and a stark, primitive portrait of truly the most unusual family I have ever encountered on film. It also works extremely well as a coming of age film, as we see the naive children embrace growth and change. With innovative shots and cinematography, clever and well-paced dialogue, a haunting musical score and brilliant performances from the entire cast; I don’t see how someone could not find it at the very least an impressive and brave effort (although I do understand it won’t be everyones cup of tea).
People seem to think directors like Lars Von Trier and Ryan Murphy embrace the surreal and shocking with outrageous results; but this film really does stand on its own in terms of originality.
I don’t expect this to make a huge commercial splash but I at least hope it gets distributed widely on DVD so everyone can catch this minor masterpiece.
Simply sublime, a wonderful acheivement.