x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Miss Violence examines the malaise in Greek society

In Miss Violence, Greek filmmaker Alexandros Avranas tells the story of a family dealing with their 11-year-old's death. The Venice Film Festival winner is screening at the Dubai International Film Festival.

Miss Violence director Alexandar Avranas. Courtesy DIFF
Miss Violence director Alexandar Avranas. Courtesy DIFF

Based on a real-life event, the haunting opening scene of Miss Violence sees a smiling 11-year-old girl jump off the balcony of her apartment block on her birthday. Her family insists that Angeliki’s death is a tragic accident. The authorities are not so sure and social services tell the family that they are keeping a close eye on them. What is the truth?

In his second film, the Greek filmmaker Alexandros Avranas takes us into the family home in the aftermath of the girl’s death. What is immediately strange is that no one is grieving. There is an insistence that everyone should forget and life should go on. Themis Panou won the Best Actor prize at the Venice Film Festival for his turn as the domineering father, who watches over his family and bends them to his will. The mother turns a blind eye to his excesses and his eldest daughter is pregnant.

Born in Larrissa in 1977, Avranas is part of the recent Greek wave of filmmakers taking a cerebral and analogous look at Greek families to describe the malaise in Greek society that has led to the current economic meltdown. As with the Dogtooth director Giorgos Lanthimos and the Attenberg filmmaker Athina Rachel Tsangari, Avranas is proving popular on the festival circuit, winning the Silver Lion for Best Director in Venice.

“Families are a very good way to speak about society. They are like a microcosm. We can analyse society through families,” says the tall, lanky director. “The family is a tool. Given this fact, it is normal that there are a lot of films centred on the family.”

Inside the house, the father has removed all the doors from their hinges, so from one room we can see into the next. Avranas makes use of this fact to give the impression that there is always something sinister happening around the corner. The use of the third space pays homage to Michael Haneke, the master of the warped family drama. The shocking tale of domestic abuse is based on a real story that the director heard, while living in Berlin, Germany. There was one aspect of the story that particularly haunted him: “The big difference of this story when compared to Giorgos’s film Dogtooth and the Josef Fritzl case in Austria is that here the house is open. People can go away, but no one does anything, no one leaves, or comes to help. It’s a big difference.”

Despite the film containing hard scenes of violent abuse, the director says, “The real story is very hard-core. He did more hard-core things than we show the father doing in this film. But I didn’t want to show all this, as it would have been too much.” Without giving too much away, Avranas also changed the ending, adding, “He was only an inspiration for the story.”

Avranas feels that people are able to get away with such heinous crimes because there has been a breakdown in community values. “We have lost our humanity. I have tried to make the protagonists be like next-door people. They seem perfectly normal from the outside.”

Yet his main criticism is saved for the Greek government and the policies that led to the current economic crisis. “The problem of the society is that everything is corrupt and people are selfish. No one has taken the position to fight for humanity,” he says. “The crisis makes the problem more clear. But the problem has been there for a long time. The Greeks need someone to show themselves to be the bad guy, before they can make a decision against them.”

artslife@thenational.ae