Monday, January 22, 2018

Sundance with Abe: Pity

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the fifth time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can.

Directed by Babis Makridis
World Cinema Dramatic Competition

A movie’s title sometimes says a lot about the film. A character’s name can convey that its protagonist is a memorable figure with a story of their own. A song lyric or excerpt of dialogue draws meaning from one scene or idea to encapsulate the entire film. When a feeling is used, that often speaks to a larger message about the world not necessarily specific to the characters featured in a film or the particular story told. That is certainly the case in “Pity,” a Greek film that obsesses over how others behave when they see someone else suffering.

A lawyer (Yannis Drakopoulos) is miserable. His wife lies in a coma in the hospital, and he goes every day to see her and tend to her, expecting little change but carrying out his duty as a man in deep anguish over his life partner being in this state. He quietly accepts the cake delivered to him on a daily basis by his neighbor, and accepts the optimistic consolation he gets from his dry cleaner every time he walks into the shop. He is committed to being solemn, forbidding his son from playing cheerful music on the piano. When his wife’s health takes a sudden turn for the better, he finds himself unable to escape from this permanent state of being pitied in which he has become trapped.

This film, the second from Greek director Babis Makridis, is co-written by Efthimis Filippou, best known for collaborating with Yorgos Lanthimos on “Dogtooth,” “The Lobster,” and “The Killing of a Sacred Deer.” That resumé should adequately prepare viewers for the overall theme and mood of this film, which doesn’t even bother to give its characters names but instills in its protagonist a compulsion to receive empathy and useless words of encouragement from everyone around him, to a point that he cannot truly be happy even if everything in his life is going well. There are many title cards that present quotes and other references to pity and what it truly means, and how it comes to affect those who become too used to it.

This film doesn’t imply any supernatural or futuristic influences that shape the world in which this lawyer lives, but instead internalizes the transformation that occurs within its main character, a form of psychological horror that finds him addicted to the attention and to the state of being sad with no hope for even glimpses of optimism. It’s much less disturbing than “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” yet still quite unnerving, and the payoff is far less worthwhile than the other films cited above. This is an intriguing – and unsettling – meditation on what this feeling truly means, well-shot with beautiful backdrops, but it doesn’t manage to be truly impactful or worthwhile by the time it reaches its conclusion.


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