In the wake of the Great Recession, a myriad of strange and distinct filmmakers have emerged from the struggling nation of Greece. These filmmakers have dared to address the taboo, the disturbing and the unexpected, and are part of a postmodern cinematic movement known as the Greek Weird Wave. The movement is an extension of the concerns and problems Greece faced following one of the worst economic crises of modern times, illustrating the nation’s grief, loneliness and discontent. As such, the Greek Weird Wave examines authoritarian power structures at both the national and family level, often through the lens of an alienated protagonist. The movement is revealing of the disillusionment of Greek society vis-à-vis its political sphere throughout the 2010s, and particularly illustrates the pessimistic vision of young people about their future. The films of the movement are strange, morbid and even horrifying because Greece throughout this era felt like an anomaly, as if the nation had strayed off the wrong track and entered an entirely different region and unknown.
The leader of these Greek filmmakers on the international scene is Yorgos Lanthimos, an Oscar-nominated director known for his quirky black comedy style. Lanthimos’ films feature absurd dialogue and almost dystopian conflict, and although he is best known for The favourite, it is his previous filmography that deeply reflects his national origin. The grief and separation felt by all the people of Greece is embedded in his films as their nation seemed to crumble under the weight of economic instability and political corruption, with generational conflict often present in his films. dog tooth and Alps are two Greek-language films that illustrate the concerns of the nation, released at the height of the Κρίση (Crisis). Similarly, Lanthimos’ latest English language films, Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer, continuing to examine the director’s specific thematic concerns, each focusing on solving the unexpected. Indeed, Lanthimos’ films are always unexpected, in the plot, in the characters and in the dialogues, because the world around him deviated so much from this been expected.
As a staple of the weird Greek wave, each of Lanthimos’ films features an alienated protagonist. These protagonists often lack emotional intelligence and societal awareness, while struggling to form romantic and family relationships. Alps‘ Nurse, Monte Rosa (Angelique Papoulia), is perhaps the archetypal example, as she acts as a stand-in for the deceased to comfort her grieving loved ones. Monte Rosa struggles with attachment issues, both in terms of her roles and her patients, while being unable to form a stable relationship with her father after the loss of her own mother. Grieving is at the center of the film with Monte Rosa and her “patients” struggling to come to terms with the loss of their loved ones, a sign of the greatest collective loss in Greek society.
In Lobster, that of David (Colin Farrel) a particular society forcibly transforms those who are unable to find love into animals. Initially, David cannot form an emotional bond with a potential partner and therefore must fabricate similarities lest he be turned into an animal, like his poor brother. Similarly, Farrell’s character in The killing of a sacred deer, Steven Murphy, seems emotionally stunted and lacks warmth with his immediate family. On the contrary, he forms a deep attachment to Martin Lang (Barry Keoghanlisten)) despite their age difference, in an effort to help Martin get over the loss of his father. Alone dog tooth lacks a singular, solitary protagonist, focusing on a dysfunctional Greek family. However, each of the three children is forcibly kept out of society by their parents, illustrating the deep generational divides in Greece and the inability of young people to make progress in such a severe crisis.
As political corruption was a major factor in triggering the Greek financial crisis, Yorgos Lanthimos also examines authoritarian power structures. Although his films exist in our world, Lanthimos institutes key differences to create a sense of unease and uncertainty. Lobster Explicitly takes place in an alternate, dystopian society where freedom is limited by strange government policies. Most of the citizens have limited ability to act and offer no resistance, with their nonsensical dialogue throughout the film mirroring the absurd actions of the government. This absurd dialogue is directly correlated to the sentiments of Greek society as it is representative of the difficulties in understanding the drastic change in their economic situation.
Distrust of important people in society manifests itself in The Killing of the Sacred Deer, with Steven’s blunders as a surgeon creating the film’s central conflict. A generational divide is again apparent, as young Martin’s disillusionment with the accidental murder of his father highlights the general discontent of Greek youth in the political sphere. Conversely, dog tooth examines power structures at the family level, with parents acting as authoritative figures in the lives of their children. Children’s knowledge of the outside world is extremely limited, even a stray cat frightens them, and their ability to socialize and connect with each other has been abnormally twisted. Therefore, deep discontent is part of every Lanthimos movie, as normal society has been all but eradicated.
To convey the sense of unease and disconnect these societies bring, Lanthimos created his haunting cinematic style which bears similarities to many other Greek Weird Wave films. This style is disconcertingly sterile with bland, shaded colors emphasizing the emptiness of the protagonists and the worlds they inhabit. Symbols of Greece’s own decadence, the settings of Lanthimos feature crumbling infrastructure and once-luxurious spaces that seem to have been lost. that of the lobster first half and all of dog tooth are installed in oversized and isolated spaces with an interior without any real personality. Alps’ the scenes move from one deteriorating location to another: an isolated hotel room, a hopeless hospital ward, and an empty gymnasium. Even the most decadent of the four films, The killing of a sacred deer, features many scenes in dark hospital rooms and a dark restaurant. Lanthimos deeply interweaves its dialogue, characters, and settings to all represent its deep thematic concerns, grief, and loneliness at the top of its mind.
Yorgos Lanthimos remains the most illustrative director of the bizarre Greek wave, his absurd films having reached a surprisingly large international audience. As the Greek financial crisis finally began to ease in the early 2020s (slowly but surely), one wonders if Greek national cinema will once again change direction and style. But even Lanthimos seems to see a brighter future ahead of him, with an unusually simple line from Monte Rosa perhaps showing his desire to progress since such strange times: “But you must remember that death is not the end. On the contrary, it can be a new and often better start.
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