“And then people stop pitying you. They get tired.”
After his debut film L in 2011, Greek director Babis Makridis’ second feature film explores the raw emotion of grief in a clinical, yet soul-gripping way – tight-roping between drama and black comedy. By casting light on the deeper thoughts and motives of its protagonist, Pity (2018) urges the viewers to both observe and sympathise with a tragic figure, shaped diligently by acclaimed screenwriter Efthimis Filippou, who is known for his collaborations with Yorgos Lanthimos on Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015).
A middle-aged, nameless lawyer (Yannis Drakopoulos) is called to raise his son and go about his life, while his wife (Evi Saoulidou) is comatosed after an accident. The pain and grief of his new reality soon elevate him to unprecedented levels of bliss and happiness, which he desperately wants to prolong as everyone around him pities him for his family’s tragedy. His addiction to tears and consolation cannot last forever though, and a strange turn of events will push him to the extremes in search of a renewed dose of much-needed pity.
By remaining anonymous, this strange upper class protagonist becomes a tragic figure that could be each and every one of us when addicted to a constant state of distress and sorrow. According to the director, he is sad when he should be happy, and he is happy only when he is sad. This encapsulates the victim mentality perfectly. Seen from a more abstract perspective, Drakopoulos is transformed into an ancient Greek tragedy hero, begging the gods for mercy, but losing his balance as he becomes dependent on the soul-feeding mercy of his neighbours, co-workers and relatives.
The actor’s solemn, almost unfazed face throughout the film is a mask that reveals his intentions better than any expression ever could. Drakopoulos’ comedic legacy helps him deliver his bland lines with either heart-wrenching emotion, or savage cynicism. The featured music transforms the visuals and dialogue through dramatic, contrasting sounds, building on the elements of black humour and conflicting expectations.
Though it seems absurd to pity a lawyer with an otherwise perfect life, the stylised cinematography and the austere performances end up drawing the initially detached viewers into a game of subverted emotions. We either observe the main lead with detachment, or fully identify with him at times. We also get a glimpse of what really goes on in the lawyer’s head every time his life is unexpectedly turned around – or whenever he loses some of the pity that helps him cope with life.
Pity abides by some of the rules of the so-called Greek Weird Wave, with its stylistic bluntness, alienated characters, and surrealistically make-believe scenarios. However, the Greek-Polish production builds more on expressing and dissecting emotions, with the screenplay masterfully severing all ties between words and actions. The focus of the film is not on the impossible fears and expectations of a fictional world, but rather on the actual survival mechanisms of a person lost in the ecstasy of sadness.
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