DIR: Alexandros Avranas • WRI: Alexandros Avranas, Kostas Peroulis • PRO: Alexandros Avranas, Vasilis Chrysanthopoulos • ED: Nikos Helidonidis • DOP: Olympia Mytilinaiou • CAST: Kostas Antalopoulos, Constantinos Athanasiades, Chloe Bolota
It’s Angeliki’s (Bolota) eleventh birthday but while candles are being lit and the music played, there is a strange air of unease permeating the various family members. Except, that is, for the father figure (Panou) who seems to be genuinely enjoying himself as he smiles and dances with his children and grandchildren who look like they’d rather be anywhere else. As the family gathers to cut the cake, Angeliki strolls casually to the balcony of the apartment they live in, gives the camera a knowing, taunting smirk and jumps. What follows is a close but intentionally fragmented examination of this family; a family ruled through fear by their controlling, overbearing patriarch. Eventually social services get involved to investigate the eleven-year-old’s suicide and slowly cracks begin to appear in this carefully constructed visage of a happy, normal family as we move closer to discovering just why Angeliki so willingly and happily took her own life.
On a technical level, this film is exceptionally well-crafted. The acting from everyone involved is superb. The child actors play convincing, believable children who are equally convincing when confronted with the real horrors of their own family. The standout is Panou, the controlling patriarch who only continues to reveal new depths of horror and depravity as the film continues. His quiet, highly controlled performance adds a mounting tension to almost every moment he’s onscreen with another character. He’s completely unreadable and could be just as likely to slap a child as buy everyone dinner. This is aided by Avranas’ direction which complements and reinforces this sense of apprehension.
Confining the film almost entirely to the apartment that the family lives in, Avranas chooses to populate the film with largely flat, static shots. This has the double-edged effect of denying the audience clear spatial awareness of the geography of the apartment (with the exception of one elaborate tracking shot near the end) and creating a distinct sense of claustrophobia, both of which add to the overall unease which continues to mount and grow as the film continues. This is unfortunately also where the film fails to a degree. While it achieves everything it sets out to do, it does so to a detrimental extent. The end goal of the directing, cinematography etc. is to create a distance between the audience and characters in a very similar vein to Funny Games. Sadly this works a little too well.
Initially the harsh cuts, the half-seen actions and dialogue half-heard add to the intrigue. However, as the film goes deeper down its own rabbit-hole of implied awful deeds, the distance only grows between the screen and the viewer. The alienation isn’t quite as complete and insufferable as Haneke’s efforts but it does create an increasing detachment and disinterest in the viewer for what they’re seeing. Seemingly anticipating this weariness, two-thirds of the way in the film unleashes a sudden, vicious rape scene shot in the same static, unbroken style as the rest of the film which certainly jump-starts any waning attention spans but to the film’s detriment.
Aside from the shear unpleasantness of the scene itself, it feels extremely cheap as both a payoff and as a lazy grab for shock-value. The film has, up until that point, done an excellent job of giving us just enough of a glimpse into the unsettling undercurrent of this family through the careful maintenance of an air of unspecified menace, that to show so explicitly what was only alluded to, feels like a lack of conviction on the filmmaker’s part. One can’t help but feel used for the remainder of the film, especially since no grander revelation or point is ever reached. In fact, a later scene manages a much more devastating moment with the same implication but played with far more subtlety to much greater effect. The exploitative, unsettling voyeurism of the rape scene never feels justified unless you accept that an explicitly Haneke-esque point is being made and while that argument could be put forward given the overall direction and specific shots that bookend the film, it just doesn’t ring true.
On the whole this is an undeniably striking piece of cinema. The performances deserve all the praise they can get and the levels of control and nuance they display is highly impressive. The direction too is superb and complements the performances with its own control and nuance. It’s just a pity that it succeeds too well in keeping the audience at arm’s length from everything that happens and only continues to do so to an increasing degree until it loses all integrity and takes the easy way out. Ultimately then, it is quite flawed but still a noteworthy film and, on the whole, significantly more hit than miss.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Miss Violence is released on 20th June 2014