Character and narrative: love, family and community through the lens of Yorgos Lanthimos

In the second of our ‘Notes on the Screen Door’ series, ESSEX FILM COLLECTIVE’s 
Lee Lawrence considers the history and growing popularity of Greek New Wave cinema, with a focus on filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos.

In December 2008 Alexis Grigoropoulos, a 15-year-old student, was shot down and killed by two policemen in the Exarcheia area of Athens. This murder sparked nation-wide riots that lasted three weeks. Worldwide events in support of the protest were staged. This tragic death seemed to ignite a simmering hatred for the corrupt and reckless way Greece was being managed, and, as the main event of 2009 was coming close, more political scandals of irresponsible money lending (and spending) were uncovered with none of the corrupt politicians being held accountable. This nepotistic political model points to the danger of family and business as an inseparable unit. Too many risks are taken without fear of consequence.

By 2009 the financial crisis had peaked, more exploitation of the people was exposed, and distrust of the state was widespread. Greece’s politicians had brought the country to its knees; it was economically and morally bankrupt, and Greece’s citizens were left to pick up the pieces and rethink the social values that they had previously based their lives upon. This rethinking of societal values changed the way Greek citizens identified themselves. This altered the community narrative and had an inevitable impact on the young filmmakers of Greece and of the cinema of this period.

The economical cataclysm led the latest generation of Greek filmmakers to explore new subject matter and to begin to create societal statements that filtered outrage. Diverging from alienation, this disenfranchised generation set up their own systems of operating and created their own communities and networks to support their filmmaking.

“The cinema of Yorgos Lanthimos expresses a struggle to build substantial personal narratives and the need for complementary social narratives that cultivate individuals and support their free will.”

This way of making cinema did not have to rely on the inadequate funding structures and services that the state had in place, instead gave freedom and identity back to this new generation of creators. I would argue here that cinema presented a way through which narratives could allow individuals to reflect upon society; the emergence of a unique cinematic style in the 2000s in Greece would have been a vehicle for questioning and transforming the Greek citizen’s world view. Yorgos Lanthimos played a significant role in this process and has continued this beyond Greece.

The cinema of Yorgos Lanthimos expresses a struggle to build substantial personal narratives and the need for complementary social narratives that cultivate individuals and support their free will.

The Favourite is a film that questions the function of love in a society; the film shows that love can be used with manipulative intentions and should ultimately be looked at with considerable skepticism.

Dogtooth shows the failings and harm of a false reality constructed by parents. It reveals family to be a failing means of preparing children for the world and asks if it is capable of creating autonomous individuals.

The Lobster upholds this idea, emphasising the unattainability of truth, of a true self and true living. We can see from the analysis of each film that the characters live in worlds that do not cultivate healthy relationships. The societies rather suppress and remove any chance of authenticity in the search for meaning and substantial stories of self.

Alienation, destruction and self-loathing is framed by Lanthimos to be a result of a social system that fails to cultivate coherent narratives that bind us and positive personal narratives that form a network of harmonious communities. Through researching this paper, I have come to the conclusion that Lanthimos tries to intervene in the process of narrativising self by presenting narratives that seek the truth of things, no matter how ugly or ‘weird’ they may be. Lanthimos’s films create a space where introspective questions can be examined, a space for self-reflective learning, that in turn has the possibility and power to alter individual stories and community narratives.


Lee Lawrence is a fine art film and moving image artist. He runs theblokhouse in Southend-on-Sea, and is a director of ESSEX FILM COLLECTIVE. @LeeLawrence.Studio

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