When it comes to the “Greek Weird Wave” the name that resides foremost in the majority of people’s mind would be director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose films introduced the world to the particular cinematic style and then progressed in making it mainstream. Another name would be director Athina Rachel Tsangari with her films Attenberg and Chevalier but the one aspect both of these director’s filmographies have in common is screenplays written by Efthymis Filippou.
Filippou’s work with Lanthimos and Tsangari are by and far the most well-known entries of his creative output. While his 2012 collaboration with director Babis Makridis on the film, L – an absurd comedy about a man living in his car, delivering the finest honey to an older, narcoleptic man – might not be as renowned as his other offerings it is yet another example of his creative prowess in the field of the absurd with Makridis more than capable of creating an affectless, deadpan reality like any of the other purveyors of the genre.
And now, the two are back together again with their latest, Pity, a film about a man that develops a pathological need for sympathy and pity both of which become his life force and, unfortunately for those around him, his reserves are never full enough. He can only exist in a sea of infinite sadness. He needs bad things to befall him and he goes to increasingly dangerous lengths in order to make these bad things a reality.
Mind you, for this man (an unnamed lawyer played by Yannis Drakopoulos) the sympathy exchange is a one-sided affair. He plants the seeds, he collects the harvest. He, in no way, shares his surplus; and the surplus is never great enough. He not only has no sympathy to spare towards others, but he also intervenes and he diverts. Sympathy and pity, in his mind, should only exist for him and his suffering; and when his suffering begins to dwindle he will set in motion more suffering that will result in the spoils he so desperately needs: fresh-baked orange cakes, hand-delivered; words of comfort and concern; friends and family coddling him with understanding.
The spoil he comes to crave most, though, is the attention. The mental real estate his suffering takes up in the minds of everyone around him. Everyone is thinking about him and his predicament. That is until his predicament is resolved and replaced by new, fresher tragedies affecting others. Now, his suffering must compete with others’ suffering and he is not prepared to lose, he will do anything to remain the champion of heartache.
Given the setting and approach in imagery, the lawyer’s initial bout of suffering appears to be his first. Perhaps, the first hardship he has had to face in a beyond-middle-aged life full of comforts and success. His family lives in a minimalist-styled space on the coast, overlooking the beautiful blue sea; perhaps, the epitome of picturesque. Every aspect of his life spotted with success – a wealthy family, a successful practice, a wonderful marriage, a talented son, and truly accommodating friends.
The way in which Makridis, cinematographer Konstantinos Koukoulios, and the entire production team carefully curate the lawyer’s surroundings from the furnishings and color schemes highlight his place in life. Everything is neat and orderly, borderline bland to the point of uninteresting. It is presented as clinical and antiseptic as is Drakopoulos’s benign portrayal. This is a man whose life has always worked out. Everything always ended up exactly where it needs to be and because of this no one is afforded the opportunity to worry about him.
Makridis and Filippou present a man whose deems society to be overall lacking in terms of cruelty. Not necessarily lacking to the majority of societies’ members but lacking in regards of cruelty towards him, specifically. He is a deeply narcissistic man borne of and residing in a wealth of privilege whose greed even extends to suffering and pain. Nothing is out of reach. When all of wealth’s amenities are retained even the less and non-desirable aspects of life must be seized upon and possessed. He literally has to have it all, worts and all, but especially now the worts.
Makridis keeps a throughline of pitch-black comedy, however, that keeps the proceedings from wallowing in the morbid, unlike the film’s central character. The main component utilized for comedic effect would be the musical cues deployed when the lawyer releases and consumes the sweet nectar of pity from others. Every time he gets his ‘hit’ a solemn, melancholic burst of classical music announces his successful retrieval. He’ll even create is own severe version of a funeral dirge to be his own black cloud he wants to see in the world.
The lengths of which he’ll go in order to create is own self-imposed misery escalate in shocking ways. Each far more elaborate and devastating than the last. There is no end to his creativity; there is no end to his search of incidents that will generate the tears he has become addicted to. Which, in his diseased mind, becomes a form of self-care because being unable to cry is extremely dangerous to one’s health and points to another disturbing wrinkle in his personality – the ability to justify all his actions to himself.