WARNING: there are spoilers in this review. Spoilers that will definitely affect your first viewing of the film. Just sayin’.
I’m going to tell you about a film I recently saw. Pity (2018) is a Greek film directed by Babis Makridis. I’m giving you information about the director because that’s what people usually do when they review films. I, however, care more for the writer: Efthymis Filippou. Filippou has previously written two other films which will forever hold a place in my heart and in my film recommendations, namely the Greek film Dogtooth (2009) and The Lobster (2015). Both those films are award-winning works directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.
Now, back to Pity. As this is the first film by Filippou that I’ve seen without Lanthimos in the director’s seat, I was curious to see if Pity would have the same strangeness that Dogtooth and The Lobster have–the former in particular. And boy, did Makridis come through. The film takes its time to establish the routine of the protagonist–a middle-aged lawyer, repeatedly showing how he goes through the motions. He waits for his neighbor to bring him and his son a fruit cake every morning for breakfast, he goes to the dry-cleaners, he goes to work, he goes for a swim after which he takes a shower, he visits his comatose wife in the hospital, and so on. The scenes sometimes feel like they’re dragged out for just a few seconds too long, as if the editor was hesitant and uncertain about when to cut them. It gives viewers the sense of something more; you’re always waiting for something else, something to change. At most, the protagonist might turn his head to look at something else.
The audience is quickly informed that the wife of the protagonist is in a coma due to an accident. This is why a stream of people are constantly showing sympathy towards the lawyer. His neighbor, his dry-cleaner, his secretary–they all show him forms of sympathy, ranging from fruitcakes to lowered prices, to hugs, and most of all through their words: “we can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you”. And he revels in this pity. He thrives.
Early on in the film, he visits his father. He confides that their dog, Cookie, keeps him up at night because she’s whimpering and crying at the wife’s side of the bed. His father gives little reaction, brushing it aside. The protagonist is visibly unhappy at his father’s nonchalance. Soon after, his son plays the piano, to which he reacts angrily: how could he possibly play such a happy song when his mother is on the brink of dying?
The moment of truth comes when he’s taking a shower after swimming. He gets a phone call, very obviously from the hospital. They’re giving him news about his wife: however, the audience can only hear his side of the conversation. He asks when it happened, and then says that he’s on his way. During the scene where he’s rushing to the hospital, I placed a bet with the person I was with, loser buys the winner a round of drinks. He said the wife had passed away, I bet that she had woken up. I was right, and I can now highly recommend Pumpkin Party by Gebrouwen Door Vrouwen (a brewery by two sisters with really great craft beer).
What it comes down to is that all this man wants is pity. He goes to great lengths to still get that pity from the people who used to give it to him after his wife wakes up. She makes a speedy and full recovery and everyone congratulates him: it must be so great to have your wife back, what a miracle! And he cannot stand it. He repeatedly approaches his neighbor asking whether she would bake one of her fruitcakes again for him. He continues the sad facade with his dry-cleaner up until his wife visits the dry-cleaners herself again. He continues to lie, in a vain attempt to live the way he did when his wife was still in a coma. Ultimately, he spirals out of control, going to lengths which he can never come back from. This is where the movie ends and it is unknown whether or not he is able to continue to live in his misery.
If you haven’t seen Pity, I’d highly recommend it. The film depicts self-pity and someone putting themselves in a victim role in a very accurate yet extreme manner. Filippou and Makridis have done a great job of capturing the nuances of a man whose mental health is in turmoil but who still attempts to keep himself together. They have paced his descent into desperation just right, giving the audience time to figure out what the fuck this guy’s deal is. If you have seen Pity, then I’d say take the chance and watch Dogtooth or The Lobster. Overall, these Greek men–Filippou, Makridis, and Lanthimos are whack but in the best way possible.