Pity Review: LIFF 2018

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Pretending to cry is almost impossible, but for the sullen-faced protagonist of Babis Makridis’ exercise in absurdist dark comedy Pity, crocodile tears are everything.

Pity tells the story of a lawyer, played by the stern Yannis Drakopoulos, whose wife is recovering from a long-term coma. This tragic event clouds over the lives of the family, with the lawyer becoming gradually more dependent on the sympathy of his neighbour, who brings him a daily gift of orange cake, and the words of condolence from the owner of his local dry-cleaning store. As his wife returns home and his son begins playing more cheerful sonatas on the piano, the lawyer seeks out more far-fetched and often ridiculous means of satisfying his addiction to sadness.

The still, almost clinical, camerawork which relies heavily on symmetry and crisp cool colours echoes the lawyer’s precise scheming to extract sympathy from those around him. The visuals in Pity are just as coldly detached as the delivery of the actors, scrubbed clean of any emotion or feeling. The humour comes most strongly from disassociated remarks in the dialogue that tie together surreal repetitions. The lawyer’s intense sobbing therefore acts as a leitmotiv, introducing new chapters to the narrative. When the tears stop coming, his world is gradually dissolved.

Pity’s soundtrack is intriguingly minimal, with bursts of intense choral music at key moments of tension. Sadness is overpowering, and Makridis focuses the lawyer’s lack of control through these sound fragments. There is nonetheless some relief from these mechanical relationships and the overwhelming music from Cookie the pet dog, who concludes the film on a very cute and positive note.

Pity is perhaps not as shocking or unnerving as its early Greek ‘weird wave’ siblings including the infamous Dogtooth and The Lobster; yet Efythymis Filippou’s witty screenplay continues to bite. Much of Filippou’s writing is inspired by classical Greek mythology, and the lawyer’s ability to impose sadness on every aspect of his life recalls the story of King Midas, whose greed inevitably led to disaster. With postcard-worthy scenes of the Greek coast interrupted by solemn black title cards narrating the lawyer’s spiral into his obsession, Pity is a polished Kafkaesque story about the dangers of feeling just a bit too sorry for yourself.

 

Carmen Walker-Vazquez