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Sundance 2018: ‘Pity’ Is An Absurdist Drama of Adequate Awkward Laughs

Tragedy brings out the best in humans.
Pity Sundance
By  · Published on January 20th, 2018

Tragedy brings out the best in humans.

When you are the victim of a tragedy, the world revolves around you. The Lawyer (Yannis Drakopoulos) is a disenfranchised soul who finds himself at the heart of tragedy—and the perks of ensuing compassion. The latest contender for 2018 Sundance, Pity aims to provoke awkward laughs. Director Babis Makridis has a committed stoicism with every frame, with idle shots of shores and well-groomed interiors. The Lawyer inhabits a very much nothing-can-go-wrong paradise.

The Lawyer’s wife has been laying in a post-car accident coma, with no hope of her awakening. The first-half follows the Lawyer’s every day beats as he copes with the emptiness and burgeoning addiction to pity. With lingering shots, the camera matter-of-factly shows Lawyer relaying his woes. He rambles about his heartache to his father and even imitates his dog’s grief gestures. He scolds his son for playing cheery tunes on the piano and, in the funniest and most depressing scene, sings a mourning tune he had composed in preparation for his wife’s demise.

His neighbor bakes him a cake out of condolences, which he would breakfast on with his son. Though later, he pragmatically hires a cook, much to his son’s chagrin, to supervise their diet. He knows that pity is unhealthy when over-consumed. Still, he relishes the payout of pity more than he would like to admit: The dry-cleaner gives him a discount and friends are all ears for him. He isn’t wholly selfish and pays the compassion forward: He tells his bereaved client, who lost her father in a grisly murder, that he’ll be there for her.

But then a miracle: His wife awakens. Order is restored. Or is it? The aftermath appears too hilariously sweep-clean. He implores his wife to have a mammogram for breast cancer, in a pathetic attempt to will havoc back in his life. The Lawyer still scrounges for any pity, even demanding his neighbor to devote more time to bake him another cake. He’s not after the cake as he is after the human attention of pity. He even rubs his eyes to invoke tears, but alas, he is dried faucet of emotions. The healthiness of the situation only disillusions him. While Makridis does not prescribe a true root to the Lawyer’s malaise, he suggests that the Lawyer finds the mechanics of ordinary domestic life too numb for real emotions of positivity or genuine human connection.

There’s a meta-commentary offered on the authenticity of grief on the movie screen. Over a game of bridge, the Lawyer recaps a sad movie and muses about a child actor’s tears appearing real. Negativity is just more real and true to the Lawyer.

The nature of pity is deconstructed as the film progresses, like a cruel test on the audience’s patience. From the first frame, Makridis allows us to see the Lawyer, isolated and sobbing at his bed, as a hero in is own right, a survivor. By the second half of the film, Drakopoulous dares us to extend our sympathies to the Lawyer’s increasingly churlish deeds to fib his way into more pity. After all, a comical craving for human connection motivates him. But soon his actions slip outside the acceptable parameters of morality and Makridis mischievously stretches our patience for the Lawyer.

Drakopoulos allows his character to be a walking enigma and ambiguous hero, his intentions hushed and committed to going about his existence. He has the grumpish permanent pouty frown that never wavers, perfectly molded into the deadpan nature of the film. Rather than an explicit voiceover, the Lawyer’s contemplations are expressed through a cut of a text, not unlike the dialogue boards of old-timey films. The Lawyer bears a countenance of intensity that can look both compelling and comical.

While the dramatic escalation is deliberately lulled, Makridis delivers a gruesome outcome, which feels both calculated and dissonant. Mileage will vary on whether Makridis has achieved his goals for his finale.

However you’ll decipher the ending, you’re laughing awkwardly at the banality of it all.

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