[SFF 2012: Review] L
Next screening: Tuesday June 12, 6.30pm – details
The first of two Greek “weird wave” films screening at the Festival, L is a tragi-comedy that says more about the current state of Greece than any financial report could. These are not happy people, but they’re trying to survive without losing their faith in humanity. Writer/director Babis Makridis wants to know if they’re succeeding.
L’s antihero is an unnamed 40-year-old man (Aris Servetalis) who lives in his car. Literally: he doesn’t step out of his Volvo until the hour-mark, and the camera never lets the car out of its sight. It sounds claustrophobic, and it is. The vehicle is not only his work (he’s a courier of sorts, driving into the countryside to pick up jars of honey for a rich eccentric), but also his home (he eats, sleeps and hosts visits from his estranged family, all from the driver’s seat).
Despite this bizarre scenario, he maintains his civility. He says a firm “thankyou” to everyone, does his best to please his unreasonable employer, and fulfils his paternal duties via regular outings with his children. It’s evident that he’s keeping it together because the car isn’t just his physical reality, it’s also his religion, complete with comforting fictions, mantras and rituals. And herein lies the problem.
Upon encountering a dying motorcyclist on a country road, sideswiped by a hit-and-run driver, he loses belief in his god. It isn’t long before he’s lost his job, freaked out his kids and destroyed his car in order to be initiated into a motorbike gang. Witnessing the destruction of the Volvo as he calmly rams it back and forth between two pillars in a deserted carpark is a truly disturbing experience.
Having swapped his car for a motorbike, he’s set up for a joyous “rebirth” story. But the awful irony is that he’s swapped one nonsensical religion for another: the protection of the car for the protection (and increased claustrophobia) of the helmet. As the denouement plays out, one fears he may be doomed to an endless transient future, moving from one false idol to the next.
L forces you to constantly reassess whether it’s funny or sad, and for this alone, it’s recommended viewing. The camerawork and editing rhythms are as unflinching as the protagonist himself – in fact, the stoicism demonstrated in all aspects of the film is extreme. Makridis may be suggesting that one can’t be this stoical without having something to believe in – but he’s obviously worried that in the case of the Greek people, the belief is in fairy-tales.