Tag Archives: Greek

CAPSULE: KINETTA (2005)

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Beware

DIRECTED BY: Giorgos Lanthimos

FEATURING: Evangelia Randou, Aris Servetalis, Costas Xikominos

PLOT: “At a Greek hotel in the off-season, a chamber maid, a man obsessed with BMWs, and a photo-store clerk attempt to film and photograph various badly reenacted struggles between a man and a woman.

COMMENTS: If I am reviewing a film I enjoy or respect (or better yet, both), I am often apprehensive when I sit down to write about it. This is because, despite having written hundreds of reviews by now, I am always fearful I won’t find my “window” into the movie: that first sentence, or first idea, that opens up the rest of my thoughts as I write. If I am reviewing a film that I did not care for, this is not a problem, as there’s usually at least one withering put-down that acts as my window. With Kinetta, I was spoiled for choices. A high point in the movie came early on when I was relieved to find that I wouldn’t, as I was fearing, have to make use of “Closed Caption” subtitles: it turned out the film already had standard subtitles pre-rigged in the stream. This resolved, I watched and took notes; to my right, my cat, Goose, did the sensible thing and slept soundly through the entire film.

Whoever provided the summary on IMDb (which I lifted straight from the site, for the second time only), is a very well-spoken person. That is exactly what Kinetta is “about”, and no amount of “walk time” padding or shaky-cam “fight” footage can stop my train of thought from slapping quotations around everything in a vain attempt to convey how mind-numbingly pointless this cinematic exercise is. Of the three leads, the least charismatic (the “BMW”-fanboy, who may be a cop [?]) gets by far and away the most dialogue. Cameraman, with beard, has perhaps half a dozen short lines, but comes across as the only reasonable person of the bunch. The scene in which he saves the hotel maid character from a drug overdose makes for the only worthwhile stretch of movie—right in the final minutes. But well before that point, a question came unbidden to my mind, “Why don’t the MST3K or RiffTrax people make better use of their skills by tearing art-house garbage to pieces?”

I dove into this review because it was put out there by Management toward the top of the to-do pile. Though I’ve seen one of the director’s more recent movies (with other 366ers, no less), I was totally unfamiliar with his name. So I say to you, Mr. Lanthimos, as I am sure you are reading a review of your (kind of) feature debut from fifteen years ago: good job on overcoming the naysayers. While the likes of The Killing of a Sacred Deer and The Lobster prove you know how to make really good movies, Kinetta stands as proof-in-celluloid that you can make a really horrible one if you put your mind to it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Viewing ‘Kinetta’ with the benefit of hindsight, you can see inklings of visual and staging ideas that Lanthimos would explore more fully later on… But time hasn’t made it more than a cryptic curiosity.”–Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times (2019 revival)

3*. SINGAPORE SLING (1990)

Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma

AKA Singapore Sling: The Man Who Loved a Corpse

“You know the feeling of something half remembered,
Of something that never happened, yet you recall it well;
You know the feeling of recognizing someone
That you’ve never met as far as you could tell…”–Johnny Mercer, “Laura”

Recommended (with caution)

DIRECTED BY: Nikos Nikolaidis

FEATURING: Meredyth Herold, Panos Thanassoulis,

PLOT: A detective is searching for a missing girl, Laura, a supposed murder victim with whom he was in love and who he believes is still alive. Suffering from an unexplained bullet wound, he follows the trail to a villa where a psychotic “Daughter” and an equally insane “Mother” live in a sick relationship, hiring servants whom they later kill. When the enfeebled detective stumbles to their door, the two women capture him, dub him “Singapore Sling” after a cocktail recipe they find in his pocket, and use him in their sadomasochistic sex games.

Still from Singapore Sling (1990)

BACKGROUND:

  • Much of the plot references ‘s classic thriller/film noir, Laura, including prominent use of the famous theme song.
  • Director Nikos Nikolaidis is well-known in Greece and is sometimes considered the godfather of the “Greek Weird Wave” films (best known in the work of ). Singapore Sling is his only work that is widely available outside of Greece.
  • Singapore Sling was one of the top three vote getters in 366 Weird Movies first Apocryphally Weird movie poll, making it one of the most popular weird movies left off the 366 Weird Movies canon.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Warning: there are a lot of images in Singapore Sling which you would probably like to forget, but will be unable to. Among the least objectionable (believe it or not) is Daughter’s memory (?) of losing her virginity to “Father”: he appears as a bandage-swathed mummy.

TWO WEIRD THINGS: Earrings on organs; mummy incest

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Imagine a cross between Laura and Salo, as directed by a young dabbling in pornography, and you’ll have some idea of what you’re in for—but it’s slightly weirder than that.


Short clip from Singapore Sling (1990) (in Greek)

COMMENTS: Singapore Sling blatantly references Otto Preminger’s Continue reading 3*. SINGAPORE SLING (1990)

CAPSULE: ALPS (2011)

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Aris Servetalis, Stavros Psillakis, , Johnny Vekris

PLOT: A group of four people act as stand-ins for deceased loved ones to help families with the grieving process.

Still from Alps (2011)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Alps feels like a faint echo of director ‘ surprise (and Certified Weird) hit debut, Dogtooth. It has weaknesses typical of a sophomore effort: stylistically, it doesn’t distinguish itself from its predecessor, and conceptually it seems second tier, like an idea that was passed over and saved for later.

COMMENTS: There is a plot to Alps, but it’s secondary. This movie is more of a mood. The mood is muted anguish. If you were to watch Alps without reading the one-sentence synopsis, you would go through the early stages of the film baffled by the odd and strained relationships of the characters to each other; even armed with knowledge of the premise, there are moments in the story when you will question what’s “reality” and what’s an act. The slow-developing narrative concerns people who serve as emotional prostitutes for the bereaved, and (predictably) the strange and intense job (or hobby, since the actors’ motivations are never made clear) eventually takes a psychic toll on the chief protagonist. The story doesn’t develop in a particularly interesting way, however; Lanthimos’ interest is more in creating an alienated mise-en-scene than in telling a story about the emotional toll of being a stand-in for deceased loved ones. Alps features flat-affect characters who respond to tragedy with mundane conversation about coffee mugs and lamp taxonomies, awkward hugs and gawky lovemaking, framing that’s deliberately off, with chopped off heads and characters speaking from off-screen, out of focus backgrounds, bilious lighting, and other unnerving effects that, piled on top of each other one after another, create a growing sense of existential nausea. Almost all conversations are clipped and nearly emotionless, but often interrupted by odd behavior—as when the nurse tries to play tennis with a nearly comatose patient or the gymnast suddenly strips topless and stretches her leg above her head while talking to her coach. Aggeliki Papoulia alone of the cast allowed to show any real emotion, and then only pain and desperate despair at the very end. Every character has a perpetual look of buried sadness, and the surrogate loved ones, who perform their substitutions like amateur robots, can hardly supply any comfort to the bereaved when they have no warmth or passion in their own lives. Alps presents us with a depressing, autistic world, where the possibility of a human connection is a bitter joke. But… how does all this social anomie among the living connect back to the movie’s ostensible theme of grief? Is this movie about the way the living remember the dead, or is it about the living dead? In Dogtooth, the isolated children had a reason for acting relentlessly odd, and that movie had a metaphorical conceit that gave it form. Alps radiates a shapeless pessimism that is especially nasty because it has no cause or focus. Where Dogtooth was like a smack in the molar with a brick, Alps is like a throbbing toothache that won’t go away.

If you want to know what it’s like to feel suicidal in Eastern Europe today, try watching a triple feature of the New Weird Greek canon: start with Dogtooth, follow up with Attenberg (starring Labed as an alienated, asexual woman with a dying dad), and use this one as the final nail in the coffin.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Lanthimos delivers another heady dose of weirdness. Loopier than a frog sandwich but rather wonderful.”–Simon Crook, Empire (contemporaneous)

LIST CANDIDATE: ATTENBERG (2010)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Athina Rachel Tsangari

FEATURING: , Evangelia Randou, Vangelis Mourikis,

PLOT: A strange young woman tries to cope with her father’s impending death and her disgust at human sexuality with the help of her equally odd but extremely promiscuous best friend.

Still from Attenberg (2010)


WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: Because you can use the first scene, which begins with the least erotic lesbian kiss ever put on screen and ends with the two girls dropping on all fours and hissing at each other like cats in heat, to clear any unwanted squares out of the room.

COMMENTS: “If ever there was a possibility of escaping the human condition and living imaginatively in another creature’s world, it must be with the gorilla,” proclaims Sir David Attenborough from the TV screen—but that’s only because he never met Marina. The conceit in this study of the ineffable otherness of others is that we watch Marina and her friend Bella as if we’re watching a nature documentary about creatures whose rituals we can only dimly grasp, but not entirely understand. To remind us of that fact, the pair will break into weird dances of their own invention, or suddenly slip into animalistic hissing, spitting, and primal chest pounding. Yet, despite these alienating narrative techniques, we still manage to sympathize with strange Marina, thanks to Ariane Labed’s affectingly melancholy performance and confident direction which manages to keep the uncomfortably absurd from sliding into the merely laughable (as many commentators have pointed out, the girls’ dances are reminiscent of outtakes from Monty Python’s “Ministry of Silly Walks” sketch, only with more crotch-grabbing). Even when the movie avoids experimentation and plays it straight, Marina is one odd bird. She believes herself to be asexual but forces herself to practice French kissing with her best friend, and eventually to seduce a visiting engineer (played by Dogtooth director Lanthimos). The resulting sex scenes are so painfully awkward they make losing your virginity on prom night a model of erotic smoothness by comparison. Marina’s deepest relationship is with her cancer-stricken father. There’s a naturalness and comfortableness to their conversations; it comes across that she’s been in the habit of confessing her bizarre thoughts—like the fact that she imagines her father naked, but without a penis—to him for years, and he’s been in the habit of gently steering her opinions into more conventional channels. When he dies, who will constrain her deranged imagination? If normality and integration into society is the goal for Marina, however, then her only friend Bella is a bad influence, encouraging her in her apparent dream of becoming an avant-garde choreographer for Martians. Bella’s very existence, and her devotion to Marina, is something of a mystery in Attenberg. She is Marina’s mirror image, reversed along the sexuality axis: where Marina imagines fathers without penises, Bella dreams of a forest of phalluses, then worries that “seeing genitals in your sleep is a bad omen.” Attenberg is at its best when it’s spying on these intriguing creatures and their shocking individuality. In those few occasions where it widens its lens to suggest a wider sociopolitical metaphor, as when the dying father pontificates about the death of the twentieth century, Greece’s future, and “petit-bourgeois hysteria,” we politely indulge the discourse as we would the observations of any dying man who’s being used as a director’s mouthpiece, but secretly wish Marina and Bella would get back to dancing like circus monkeys hopped up on fermented bananas. Although “normal” movie audiences will find the casual, naturalistic surrealism of Attenberg insufferable, around here we see it as a case where an infusion of welcome weirdness spices up what otherwise might have been a dreary drama about a disaffected daughter and her dying dad.

First with Dogtooth, and now with Attenberg, it appears that the economic and social crisis in Greece has put national filmmakers in a weird mood; or, at least, that’s what The Guardian believes. Regardless, Greek drama hasn’t achieved this level of weirdness since they were making up stories about guys ripping out their eyes because they accidentally had sex with their moms.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…each commonplace action has some weird twist… Part of the film’s success comes from Labed’s performance as Marina, who infuses all that weirdness with a barely there vulnerability.”–Stephanie Merry, The Washington Post (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Gnosos, who described it as “another [G]reek weird movie.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

79. DOGTOOTH [KYNODONTAS] (2009)

“SOCRATES: Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets… men [pass] along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

GLAUCON: You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

SOCRATES: Like ourselves…”–Plato, The Republic, Book VII

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Giorgos Lanthimos

FEATURING: Christos Stergioglou, , Hristos Passalis, Mary Tsoni, Michele Valley, Anna Kalaitzidou

PLOT: A Father and Mother raise their three children—two girls and a boy, aged somewhere between their late teens to twenties—in an isolated country estate with no knowledge of the outside world.  The children spend their days playing odd games, engaging in strange family rituals, or learning new words with incorrect definitions; they are taught that “sea” means an armchair, a “motorway” is a strong wind, and so on.  The one outsider they know of is Christina, who Father brings in weekly to satisfy Son’s sexual urges; inevitably, she discloses facts about the outside world that disrupt the family’s artificial harmony.

Still from Dogtooth (2009)

BACKGROUND:

  • Winner of the “Un Certain Regard” prize (which recognizes works that are either “innovative or different”) at Cannes in 2009.
  • Nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2011 (only the fifth Greek film so honored).
  • According to writer/director Lanthimos, the three actors who played the children got into character by inventing games (like the “endurance” game the kids in the film play) to pass the time.
  • Mary Tsoni, who plays the younger daughter, was not an actress prior to this role; she was a singer in a band.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Dogtooth is a movie made more from concepts than from imagery.  Most likely, the scene that makes the biggest impression is the one that best encapsulates the family’s strange rituals.  To celebrate their parent’s wedding anniversary, the two girls perform an awkward, shuffling dance, as invented by two children who have no knowledge of choreography, while their brother accompanies them on guitar.  After the younger girl bows out, the rebellious older one begins throwing her body around with bizarre, manic abandon, until her parents object to this display of individuality.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: Beginning with the conceit that the meanings of ordinary words have been changed, Dogtooth presents us with an unsettling vision of an “ordinary” family where the basic rules of social behavior have all been unpredictably altered, for reasons that can only be guessed at.


Original trailer for Dogtooth [Kynodontas]

COMMENTS: “Dogs are like clay, and our job here is to mold them,” the dog trainer explains to Continue reading 79. DOGTOOTH [KYNODONTAS] (2009)

RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Nikos Nikolaidis

FEATURING: Meredyth Herold, Michele Valley, Panos Thanassoulis

PLOT: An alcoholic detective searches for a lost love, presumably dead, and ends up acaptive of two psychotic women. The women (a mother and daughter) ceaselessly torture the helpless and incapacitated victim. He remains mute as they participate in bizarre sexual practices and flaunt their derangement, sometimes literally in his face.

Still from Singapore Sling (1990)

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Singapore Sling is one of the rare films where practically every frame is teeming with weirdness. The imagery, behavior, and even the strange nuances in the women’s dialogue are often over-the-top and perverse, yet even while the viewer is made to feel uncomfortable, there is an overwhelming desire to see what comes next. Just when you think it couldn’t possibly get any weirder it somehow manages to top itself.

COMMENTSSingapore Sling is one messed up film.  It is a twisted take on the film noirs that filled cinemas in the early part of the 20th century.  Specifically, it pays homage to Otto Preminger’s stylish classic Laura (1944).  I use the word homage very loosely here, however.  The original film’s music theme is used sporadically throughout, the detective’s lost lover is named Laura, and the nutcase daughter has a painted portrait of herself like Gene Tierney’s Laura character.  The similarities pretty much end there.  Deviance always played a central part in noirs, but not anywhere close to the degree that is on display here.  I have to smile thinking about a dolled up 1940’s socialite having a night out at the theater, dressed to the nines in her pearl necklace and pillbox hat, witnessing this vulgarity.  “What is she going to do with that kiwi fruit”?  Gasp!

Film noir translates to “black film” and Singapore Sling is the purest black possible.  Actually, the black and white cinematography is surprisingly lush and almost seems too perfect for a film with this subject matter.  The beautiful crispness works to its advantage and the film would not have the same impact if shot in color.  The contrast of the blacks and whites are stark and sets the mood perfectly.  If I have any quarrel with the movie it is with the decision to Continue reading RECOMMENDED AS WEIRD: SINGAPORE SLING [Singapore sling: O anthropos pou agapise ena ptoma] (1990)

GUEST REVIEW: DOGTOOTH [KYNODONTAS] (2009)

UPDATE 2/16/2011: Dogtooth was placed on the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies of All Time; the Certified Weird entry is here.

Imagine a world where up is down, hot is cold, red is black, dandelions are zombies and that mysterious slit between a young girl’s legs is called a keyboard.  Welcome to the bizarre world of Giorgos Lanthimos’ deep black comedy-cum-Greek tragedy oddity, Dogtooth.

Still from Dogtooth (2009)The strange story of a father who keeps his three adult children locked away on their country estate, allowing them no knowledge of the outside world other than what he and their mother (almost a prisoner herself) let them know—most of which is a twisted version of reality.  Never allowing the children (and though they all seem to be in their twenties, they are still very much children emotionally) to set foot outside of the family gate, the father tells them no one can venture outside the home except in the family car.  Only he ever does.  He drives his car ten feet past the gate to retrieve the son’s lost toy airplane.  Down on all fours and barking at unseen terrors lying in wait just outside of the family compound, these are not your normal cinematic children.  Though they live in what they perceive to be reality (and the only world they know) they could very well be living on another planet.

Essentially prisoners, these children are like experiments to the father (much like the dog training he is introduced to at one point in the story).  Each day they learn new words that have no correlation with what they actually mean in the outside world.  They are told that they can leave home only once their canine teeth fall out—a thing that of course we know does not happen without a bit of forceful persuasion.  At one point, the father begins bringing home a young woman he works with (blindfolded, of course) to have her engage in sexual relations with the son—a thing that is done without emotion, without fanfare and without any seeming pleasure on either end—only to have her betray his confidence by beginning to have a sexual relationship with the youngest daughter in exchange for presents.  Again, this is done without any semblance of emotion or passion; the daughter simply tells the girl if she licks her “there” (pointing to the obvious spot) she can have a gift.

Playing off Shyamalan’s The Village (though without the ridiculousness of that film) but done in a very matter-of-fact style typical of Greek cinema (or any Balkan cinema really) and especially of the nation’s cinematic icon Theo Angelopoulos, Lanthimos’ odd little movie reeks of possible exploitation, both in character and in style.  But, instead, it comes off as almost experimentation—as much as the father’s experimentation (i.e., the dog-like training) upon his unknowing children.  Yet, even with the passionless approach to characterization (including the most banal sex scenes ever filmed) we can feel the tremors begin beneath the surface, and we know that eventually there is going to be a deeply felt emotional explosion from at least one of these children.  Of course this emotional A-Bomb does eventually come (culminating in that aforementioned forceful persuasion) and we are left with a haunting final image that may be the inevitable conclusion to a psychologically dangerous tale such as Lanthimos’ bizarre Dogtooth.

This review was originally published at The Cinematheque in a slightly different form.