IFFR 2012 Review: L
Greek cinema is turning heads lately, scoring points at festivals worldwide, getting awarded left and right and ending up in people's Top-10 lists. This recent wave arguably revolves around the team which created "Dogtooth" a few years ago, from which several members have produced memorable output of their own as well. Most of these films show bizarre drama coupled with a dry, ironic sense of humor.
Which brings us to "L" which is the directorial debut of Babis Makridis, the scriptwriter of "Dogtooth". Certainly no stranger to odd symbolism, he has taken some of the weird atmosphere apparent in his scripts and created an entire movie from it, reshaping the world into a few abstract ideas.
Intriguing? Sure. Watchable? Read on...
A man earns his living as a driver, collecting honey from a farm each day and delivering it to a rich man in a mansion. But when a better driver appears, the man loses this job and this leaves him in a state of unrest. He starts searching for a different lifestyle, in which hopefully there will be something he can once again prove to be good at.
Yet as he proceeds to change (starting with destroying his car), his suddenly impulsive behavior shocks his family and friends. What should the man do?
Within minutes you will discover whether you will like "L" or not. It is an uncompromising and very absurd view at someone trying to cope with a big change in his life. Director Babis Makridis is not afraid to make his debut film a lot weirder than most people will be able to stomach. The world in it will never be misstaken for our own and adheres to its own set of rules. An example:
In last year's "Attenberg" (itself also a part of this new Greek wave), the main character spoke in an oddly emotionless, clipped way. In my review I wrote:
"Marina has an odd way of communicating: she fires off strings of formal comments and questions. These include embarrassing statements, brutal honesties, general observations and scathing remarks seemingly without distinction. It's as if language itself is a barrier Marina has raised to keep the rest of the world at a distance..."
Well, in the world of "L" EVERYBODY speaks like that. Conversations exist almost entirely of long monologues, with people patiently and politely waiting for each other, deadpan-faced, to finish before starting their own speech in reply.
In this universe of seemingly robotic drones we follow a single man in long, slow takes, who intensely focuses on... on... whatever he is doing. Everything he gets involved in gets his full attention, and the only emotions you will see him show all come from his eyes. He is played by Aris Servetalis who thankfully is fascinating to watch (it would be a VERY boring film without someone like him) and who can work wonders with only the slightest and most subtle facial movements.
The Man has friends but it never gets clear what friends exactly are in this world. He has family but... well, the same thing applies. People seem too dead and abstract in this film for relations to be comparable with what happens in our own world. The only thing that does get clear is how much confusion it causes when The Man loses his job. Given Greece's current economic problems, this probably is the message of the film: no matter in how weird a world you make this story take place in, a life-changing crisis like this will always be the same for the people experiencing it. It doesn't matter what anyone does or how they live, having the rug pulled from under you sucks.
The Man has reached an age where he wants to be seen and treated as an experienced professional. Going back to the role of learning something anew (director Makridis told the press that the "L" of the title is meant to be the one you always see on cars from driving schools), of being a child again almost, is hard.
I probably should stop this review now lest I spoil too much as the film is a minimalist one.
Seeing "L" is like being stuck in a weird dream. Its logic makes sense in its own off-beat universe but any attempt to allign our own reality to it will be bound to fail. By now you should be able to figure out whether or not this is your cup of tea.
This film is abstract, bizarre and unique. Its story is a simple enough tale of someone losing his job and encountering a mid-life crisis, but the execution is more akin to a Monty Python skit that lasts 90 minutes. As such it has split audiences in half, with many people thinking it is brilliant and many people hating its guts. I can see both sides and admire "L" more than I actually like it. Definitely an acquired taste...
Audiences at the IFFR gave it a 3.0 out of 5, and my guess is most votes ended up at the extreme ends of that scale.
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