There’s dark comedy, and then there’s Efthimis Filippou. While the former flirts with death and depravity to score bubbling belly-laughs and cheeky chortles, the latter crafts a humor so macabre it makes audiences itch, their laughs coming out more like alarmed barks or gasps. Teamed with writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos, the Greek screenwriter wrung comedy out of the repressive, incestuous family in Dogtooth, the passionless matchmaking of The Lobster, and the repulsive revenge of The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Now, he’s teamed with lesser-known director, Babis Makridis, for their co-penned Sundance entry, Pity. And it’s just as twisted–yet uncomfortably funny–as you may have hoped.
The premise centers on an unnamed lawyer (Yannis Drakopoulos) in deep despair because his wife (Evi Saoulidou) is in a coma. His mournful eyes and hangdog expression demand pity, concern, and extra consideration from everyone, from his gruff father, to his beleaguered dry-cleaner, and a friendly neighbor, who each day bakes him a cake as a sign of condolence. Unease settles in as we realize the lawyer not only expects such special treatment, but craves it. He’ll harangue the neighbor when the cakes stop coming, and will soil new suits for an excuse to see the dry cleaner. So when his wife awakens from her coma, things go from dark comedy to full on Filippou.
Gone are the cakes and special considerations, and in their place stands a usurper who has snatched away the lawyer’s spotlight. To reclaim his sadness and that coveted pity, he will go to grim and shocking extremes, testing audience endurance and scoffing at our empathy.
Pity romanticizes and satirizes the self-indulgence of feeling sad. Stark black and white title cards clue us into the lawyer’s poetic inner dialogue, revealing the thought process lurking behind his sullen exterior. His increasingly absurd and dangerous behavior tilts from laugh-inducing to cringe-inducing, like when the lawyer opens a can of tear gas in his home so he can cry. Still, we can relate on some level. Sometimes it feels good to wallow in a bad mood. So you put on the love ballad that co-ordinates with your heartbreak, and play it over and over. Or maybe it’s more like picking at a scab. It’s not healthy, and it’s painful. But damn, isn’t it bloody satisfying? However, Pity won’t let us rest on our intellectual understanding of this behavior, pushing its taboos to a breath-taking breaking point.
Methodically paced and boasting the kind of stone-faced performances associated with Filippou’s Lanthimos collaborations, Pity artfully plays with big emotions in a purposefully restrained tone. This, plus its unapologetically horrific final act will make it repugnant to most mainstream moviegoers. But those who were elated and unnerved by Dogtooth, The Lobster and/or The Killing of a Sacred Deer will likely cherish this chilling comedy about a man made desperate, deranged and dangerous by pity.
Pity makes its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this weekend.
Kristy Puchko (@KristyPuchko) is a New York-based film critic and entertainment journalist, her work has appeared in Vanity Fair, IndieWire, Nerdist, and Pajiba (to name a few). Ms. Puchko a co-host for the Sirius XM show It’s Erik Nagel, and has taught a course on film criticism at FIT. To see more of her work, visit DecadentCriminals.com