Yorgos Lanthimos’s films have the feel – though not the visual style – of watching CCTV footage of a rowdy Saturday night. You are always aware that terrible violence could erupt at any moment, but you don’t know when, and it’s all you can do to watch in a state of helpless suspense. His characters enact obscure rituals which backfire on them in grotesque ways – sometimes funny, sometimes blood-chilling. There is the sense of a satirical point, but it can be hard to nail down.
They are, at their best, utterly compelling. Even the Academy couldn’t deny the power of his most famous film, Dogtooth, which gatecrashed the often-staid world of the Best Foreign Language Feature category with its graphic incest, unwatchable self-mutilation, suburban satire and bizarre use of anaesthetics. At their worst, they’re like Kinetta, his debut film, which is receiving its first home viewing release – anywhere in the world! – on Second Run DVD. Kinetta takes a classic Lanthimos premise – a trio of misfits in a Greek ghost town obsessed with re-enacting crimes – and wastes it on an aimless, superficial narrative captured by cinematographer Thimios Bakatakis using perhaps the most enervating shaky-cam in cinema history.
Let’s talk about the camera first. Even your reviewer, who has been known to ferociously defend the work of Paul Greengrass, found it unwatchable. At times, the camera shakes so quickly it leaves the ghost of a dark part of the image – a man in a suit, say – burned into a lighter part of the frame. It is literally moving faster than the eye can process it. In the Tate Modern Q&A with Lanthimos included as an extra, an audience member asks about this extreme stylistic decision, and Lanthimos suggests it was a reaction to the clean, professional look of the commercials he started his career making. Lanthimos’s other features are all notable for a very arch, careful compositional style with minimal camera movement, and it is to be hoped Kinetta has satisfied his desire to use handheld to this extent.
But even if it were possible to see what was happening in the film, there’s still not enough to make a film in Kinetta. As in Dogtooth and its follow-up Alps, Lanthimos allows his characters’ absurd behaviour to sit alongside long, observational scenes of them performing mundane tasks. This time, either the behaviour isn’t absurd enough or the everyday material is too boring, because the mix doesn’t work. It might well be the former – Kinetta sets up its points about voyeurism, materialism and repression early on, meaning nothing the characters do really surprises the audience. Dogtooth could also be accused of having a fairly simple “repression makes you weird” message, but it at least dramatises this theme in an eye-poppingly weird and explicit way. In Kinetta, once you’ve seen one clumsily play-acted fight, you’ve seen them all.
As well as being Lanthimos’s debut, Kinetta was the first film produced by Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Haos Films. Lanthimos’s closeness to Tsangari, the director of Attenberg, has inspired some critics to declare a movement, provisionally dubbed the “Greek Weird Wave”. In Second Run’s accompanying booklet, Michael Ewins cautions against this, noting that Tsangari was educated outside Greece and most of the directors named as members of the movement have nothing to do with each other. So it’s not quite Greek and it’s not quite a wave. (The weirdness is undeniable) Ewins’s essay is as good as Second Run’s booklets always are, providing vital context for this often confounding film. It also has a comprehensive list of other horrifying-sounding recent Greek films about incest and extreme behaviour, if that’s your bag.
• Presented from a new HD digital transfer with restored picture and sound, approved by the director.
• In conversation with director Yorgos Lanthimos – a new and exclusive feature filmed at Tate Modern, London.
• 12-page booklet featuring a new essay by writer and critic Michael Ewins.
• New and improved English subtitle translation.
• World premiere home video release.
KINETTA IS OUT NOW ON SECOND RUN DVD