Appetite for Lobster (thoughts on Lanthimos’ film)

The artistic recognition of “The Lobster” (co-written and directed by the greek director Giorgos Lanthimos) in the 2015 Cannes Festival combined with a cleverly-designed anticipation for the release of the film, if not global at least Europe-wide. In London, promotion of the film was distinct. For weeks the BFI website and Facebook Page excited the imagination of the cinephiles with micro-scenes, teasers and unofficial movie trailers. In most artistic cinemas the well known in its abstraction poster of the one-person hug  was put in place long before the release of the film while human size cardboard copies of the poster urged cinema goers to be the hugging person and get photographed as such. 

But what about the film itself?

The Lobster describes a society in which not being in relationship is forbidden. Those single (Loners from now on) are (self?)exiled and find refuge in the woods. If they ever find themselves in the city they can be at risk of stop and search by the security forces, and will be asked to provide a relationship certificate/verification and prove they do not belong to the Loners of the woods. This is a persecutory and oppressive attitude by the established society which reminds of the police attitude towards the migrants for instance, or the young blacks  and muslims of London suburbs, if I had to draw a parallel to the real society. The Loners appear to be a similarly marginalized, stigmatized and criminalized social subgroup.

On the unfortunate occasion you become a Loner, the Lobster society forces you to check in in an “idyllic” hotel (brings “idyl” to mind -“romance”) with a 45 day deadline to find a new mate. If you do not succeed then you transform into an animal of your choice (Lobster is Lanthimos’ main hero’s choice). The rules of the hotel, as absurd, wacky and bizarre as they can be, are strictly and indisputably followed, as if the transformation of a man into an animal is indeed an indisputable metaphysical determinism. The relationship between the Loners is depicted as a war game of survival. The Hotel Loners are both hunters and candidate preys to a violent play in the woods in which they desperately try to hunt and “drug down” each other  in order to earn a little more time before they end up turned into animal.

The first part of the film, the hero’s staying in the hotel, is a dark, grotesque demonstration of the absurdity on behalf of a social majority against those who do not comply with the rules laid down. The Loners, from initially “volunteer” hotel guests, now turn into desperate inmates who feel the clock ticking against them. Compliance with the rules can only lead to psychopathy, in the sense of the absolute incapacity and aversion of relating, removing any trace of emotional contact among people desperate for contact. Exactly the opposite of the alleged aim of the hotel’s society.
The second part, the hero’s running away in the woods, continues dark and grotesque. The viewer realises quite quickly that the society of the consciously Loners in the woods is only the antipode of the society in the Hotel. The same irrational, bizarre, wacky rules. With similar semi-insane, psychopathic supervisors for their implementation. And those who can not follow the rules suffer in a similar way. Those who still maintain a basic emotional world ready to have it revealed in a love relationship, find themselves on the same desolate confinement. This psychopathy is what is brilliantly illustrated in the Lobster. And the despair of love relationships too, in a fashion delightfully comic.

One of the obsessions of the protagonists is the matching of their personal characteristics. The heroes are anxious to find common traits that will make them a couple, eg nearsightedness, a frequent nosebleed, a limp leg. Feelings, love, emotional contact itself does not play a role, these have been replaced by compulsion, the external necessity of relating, a cold, inanimate and unimaginative approach between two caricatures. It is no coincidence that the word matching is a typical word in dating apps like Tinder. You add your features in the app, and the other add their own, a fancy algorithm then will look for matching and eventually you will be notified on your the desktop or  phone screen that your mate is found for you. The cold, calculating way to relate with each other lies at the core of the film.
The scene where the main hero realizes that the only common trait (nearsightedness) he shares with the woman he loves is lost when she gets blinded  is a tragic scene. He begins to desperately ask her if she can speak German, if she plays the piano, if she loves blueberries, only to receive negative responses by her. For love is there, but it is as if it is not, as if it doesn’t matter, as if love is something humiliated, substituted by a checklist of mutual characteristics, as if indeed man is transformed into an animal. And the communication codes, the language of love that testifies matching and union with its presence is converted here in a restricted, degrading, ridiculous process that causes the viewer laughter and sorrow. What is the norm in love, passion and physical contact, is the object of criticism and the reason for punishment in the world of the Lobster.

Faithful to the distinctive approach of the characters in his films, Giorgos Lanthimos creates heroes who have no depth, no history, no other dimension beyond these he allows depicted. All heroes in this film, both protagonists and secondary, are nothing but caricatures. And the way they relate with each other highlights their nature. Their movements and behavior are deliberately allowed to resemble a children’s show.

And all this for two reasons.

The first is that in the Lobster, main protagonist is the Relationship itself. The Relating and more specifically the lack of it. The second reason is that Lanthimos wants to state that in no way should we relate in such a way. Such relating is ridiculous, psychopathic, we need to be kept in distance from it, not to allow any approach. The funniest moments of the film, and also the most grotesque and the most cynical, are precisely those where the director allows us to get closer to the way Relating is permitted to the protagonists. The fact that the director’s insistence on it increases not only its ridiculousness but also the actual discomfort of the viewers (eg the jacuzzi choking scene, the dog murder scene or the knife scene at the end) just shows the creepy non-human nature of the type of relationship depicted.

Looking into the movie as a whole, its purpose is achieved. I think that the film suffers elsewhere. In the first part, in the hotel, there was a serious risk of repetition of the same scene over and over again. A mannerism in terms of both form and content was fortunately averted before completely spoiling the solid result. However, the risk averted in the first half reappears in the second one and leaves its footprint. The sense of balance on the second part seems to be lost in the woods. The initial internal rhythm of the film is left behind and the narrative from half the film on seems to lose its cohesion and leaves the viewer with the uncertainty of where exactly the story goes. Without doubt this film has a large number of good ideas that translated into some brilliant scenes, but it appears that this occurs at the expense of its inner pace and consistency of telling the story. As if the director did not manage to contain his anxiety of needing to show how many good things he had in his mind. As if impressing the viewer with his inventiveness was more important than the essence of the story. I think this is a matter of experience, I’m pretty sure in his next film Lanthimos will be more dominant on his own ideas or more thoughtful of what exactly he would need to show.

In summary, I found the Lobster an excellent cinematic study on the issue of love relationships in our post-postmodern era. The idea of ​​the film is given with a series of brilliant scenes, through an incredibly clever screenplay and via a hard-worked personal style, however some kind of narrative anxiety unfortunately blurs the total film result. I respect Giorgos Lanthimos and I very much like his work. I think he is own way of realising the many good potential he has. His journey in this seems to be safe and this is because it is well and hard worked and because he and his associates seem to be talented and intelligent. I look forward to Lanthimos’ next work wondering if he will indeed manage to keep up to the expectations he created.

Nudism is socialism

If what is reported about this photo is true, it could only be a pleasant surprise to see the Chancellor of Germany in her youth enjoying her naked body, freely and with confidence, hanging around in the company of her cute girlfriends, away from the nightmarish evocation of her current role. As a young socialist back then, she might have also been involved in the Freikorperkultur movement, that solid German nudism movement dating back to the Weimar Republic years, which required decisive activist persistence and disobedience to secure its existence in the East German regime.

Afterall, naked body is the best way to discard class identity. And probably the most humane one. The DDR regime not only was unable to prevail over the naked body but conversely, and perhaps more consciously than any other attempt of liberalization, it adopted it as a  socialist model of sexual freedom and social progress.

Even in this way, even if this comes from this mastermind of policies that save banks and destroy Peoples, this photo did remind me that nudism is actually socialism. And what is more, a voluntary, anarchist socialism. Synonymous to freedom, to personal independence, self-determination, autonomy. And synonymous to equality. This intact, classless equality. Nudity and nudism, and perhaps most of all the east German one, remind me more than anything that freedom in every aspect of life is the most important tool to raise humanity in the happiest state of living. And certainly the most visible one.

avant Lagarde

 Greek parents have to take responsibility if their children are being affected by spending cuts. “Parents have to pay their tax,
Christine Lagarde, International Monetary Fund chief

The dominant ideology of this woman, and of every neo-liberal of this world, is that this thing we call poverty does not exist. If there are poor this is due to their personal errors. Whoever gets poor, whoever impoverishes, are responsible for their poverty, responsible for their impoverishment. They are the ones to blame. The symptoms of neoliberal policies are turned into intrinsic disadvantages of the victims, a deficit in their characters, into laziness, social indifference, irresponsibility. Violence, prostitution, the forced migration, addictions, increased rates of suicides, every kind of social pathology of its new form, as the consequence of poverty, destitution and misery resulting in reality from this policy, is therefore due to the problematic personalities in the society, because of the  irresponsibility of these personalities and of other evils as well, but not due to the implemented policy. And of course, it is absolute justice for those inherently irresponsible tax evaders to watch next generation, their children, sinking into depression.
Thatcherism would have at least glorified the capital, the owners of the wealth, before demonising the impoverished and the wasted. Langardism on the other side , does not even bother.

 

tales from the greek communist underground

I am happy to say that after 35 years of political rivalry, the Greek Marxist-Lenninist Communist Party (M-L CP) and the Greek Lennininst-Marxist Communist Part (L-M CP) have merged to one, now titled M-L CP (L-M).

This brings to my memory another amazing event from the greek underground communist scene, which during the 80s had nearly become an urban political myth among the comrades.

In late 70s, just a few years after the fall of the greek military junta, revolutionary left reached its heyday. Part of this self excitatory movement was a tiny Maoist Communist Party which didn’t involve more than 5 or 6 persons, the majority of which university students including some intellectuals too. This party had strong political and – as retrospectively proved- emotional affinities with a specific group of Chinese comrades members of the then central committee of the Chinese Communist Party. To note that none of the Chinese comrades had any idea about the existence of their Greek admirers. One day, one of the Greek comrades heard the terrible news that some Chinese comrades of that group had a minor argument about something which to them appeared an enormous issue, probably exaggerated by the huge distance between Athens and Beijing and certainly confounded by the overwhelming awe of this long distance one way relationship. Greek comrades felt obligated to transfer this argument some thousand kilometres away. They themselves caught up in an argument which inevitably and expectedly resulted in the splitting of this much promising revolutionary party.

Oh yes, here’s a great one taken from the crosswords of the 6 monthly journal of a tiny Greek Stalinist Communist Party, again back in the 80s:

This was never made by Joseph Stalin.7 letters.

The answer: Mistake

So I guess following the above, this short scene from the Monty Python’s famous film can only be rather too passée.

instead of shouting out

With only few exceptions which traditionally confirm the rule, the so much renowned Greek culture hasn’t offered as much these past decades, contrary to the grandiose perception commonly shared among the modern indigenous Greeks. Modern poetry, I am happy to say, is one of these exceptions, and can be probably the only thing that a Greek migrant should bring with in their hastily packed suitcase.

Celebrating the World Poetry Day I would just like to share my sheer passion for one of the most important -but paradoxically less known to the English speaking audience- Greek poets. Manolis Anagnostakis.

Manolis Anagnostakis (10 March 1925 – 23 June 2005) was a Greek poet and critic at the forefront of the Marxist and existentialist poetry movements arising during and after the Greek Civil War in the late 1940s. Anagnostakis was a leader amongst his contemporaries and influenced the generation of poets immediately after him. His poems have been honored in Greeceʹs national awards and arranged and sung by contemporary musicians. In spite of his accomplishments, Philip Ramp notes that Anagnostakis ʺis the least known, to an English speaking audience, of the major Greek poets of his generation.ʺ

Anagnostakis’ poetry is not pessimistic. Though its tone is sombre, though its verses often flirt with despair, in its innermost core there glows a light that looks more like the gleam of dawn rather than the dim glimmer of dusk. This light pervades his poetic work with an existential hue. Rather than being just an ideological poet, Anagnostakis is an existential poet, and this trait means that he strongly diverges from the category of political poets. As a result, he leans more towards the existential poets of his generation. (source)

Here are two of my most favourite of his poems. Even if they were written decades ago, Ι only have to succumb to their timelessness to feel modern before I utterly realise that a dead country is only that one who has forgotten of its poets.

O ΝΕΚΡΟΣ – THE DEAD MAN
The first telegrams began to arrive
The newspaper presses ground to a halt and waited
Orders were given to the proper authorities.
But the dead man would not die on the appointed hour.
All wore black ties
Rehearsed broken‐hearted postures before their mirrors
The first lamentations began to be heard. the grievous laudations.
But the dead man would not die on the appointed hour.
Finally the hours dragged into days
Those dreadful days of waiting
His friends began to protest
Closed their offices, stopped all payments
Their children wandered in the streets like outcasts.
They watched flowers withering.
But the dead man would not die on the appointed hour.
(So many many things never foreseen
So many incalculable consequences, so many sacrifices,
To what responsible person can you protest, where can you shout?)
And the dead man would not die on the appointed hour.

==========================================

Η ΑΠΟΦΑΣΗ – THE DECISION
Are you for or against?
At least answer Yes or No.
Youʹve thought the problem over
Iʹm certain of course itʹs troubled you
All things in life trouble us
Children women insects
Noxious plants wasted hours
Difficult passions rotten teeth Mediocre films.
And this no doubt troubles you.
Well then, speak out like a responsible person.
At least with a Yes or a No.
The decision is up to you.
We donʹt ask you naturally to give up
Your activities to interrupt your life
Your favorite newspapers your discussions
At the barber shop your Sundays at the ball park.
One word only. Well then, go ahead:
Are you for or against?
Think it over carefully. I shall wait.

This post is titled by another of Anagnostakis’ poems.

next to resist instead of next to suffer

Associates from Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK have begun to connect my Greek origins to well-informed questions about what is happening in Greece and how the situation will evolve. Just before I give them my answers (and to let off some steam at the same time) I can’t help noticing the contradictory nature of their consequent responses: “We are next” English-speaking people respond; “We are next” the others respond too (despite my constant remarks that I speak little of their language) and then they all stand in silence, staring into vacancy as if they were trying to picture an abstract future in their homeland. Sadly they can’t alleviate my sorrows; I actually function more as a mirror on which their insecurity and feelings of awkwardness are reflected, together with a secret hope that they will irregardless escape Greek misery.

 

In a final effort to gain some succour from our communication, I repeat their words “We are next” focusing on the necessity of reversing the negative charge on these words. If people really feel that they are next, I try to convince them that they should be “next to resist” instead of “next to suffer”. But then I realise that this viewpoint does have the desirable relieving effect, however not on them, just on me.
I need to insist, though. Besides being a token of the most prominent export product of Greece, i.e. the scientific proletariat, I also have to become the carrier of what Greece now is morally obligated to export; Resistance. The Greek problem is an international problem, but resistance is not yet similarly internationalized. Globalization of resistance seems the only obvious way to starting getting rid of the problem itself and also of its creators (those who now try to convince us that they are the solution).

 

 

The first signs of dispersion of the Greek spirit of resistance has started becoming visible now, even in the UK. Universities, which face continuous cuts in funds, human resources and science departments, mention the Greek people in their protests, campaigns and debates. Not Greek suffering, but the Greeks’ resistance! This must be continued! The massive demos in the streets of Greek cities, the general strikes, the occupations, the highlighted and symbolic storming of the Acropolis by Greek workers, all these are not just a cause of sensation but the source of inspiration and repetition (well, you don’t need to occupy the Acropolis!)

Eight years after the 2004 Summer Olympics, Greeks can safely say it out loud again: “The whole world is watching”. This time, let them show the world something that will really help it improve.

initially posted on 16.5.10, here

they’re back

Image

The sound effect of capturing the picture above instantly attracted the attention of this lovely young lady sitting next to me on the train, a freshly waken commuter, English in her origins, who raised her eyes from the morning newspaper and as if responding to an implicit obligation she tried  to make the connection. She then looked at me and smiled. I looked at her as well and as I was sensing her confirming her initial assumption with the help of my racial characteristics, I wondered whether I had actually managed to project to her this emotional confusion I found myself in first thing  that morning.
“It seems they are back”, I said to her with an accent and hopelessly abandoned the idea that she could understand this connotation which leads to a well known 1948 Greek film (depicting the horror of nazis returning to a country devastated by poverty and civil war).
“You have a beautiful country”, she replied, welcoming my accent and refreshing the start of the day.
I said nothing. And the silence that followed did not help at all …

all english to me

This is the first post of a Greek blogger living in London who has decided to share his thoughts and experiences in English. There is nothing of interest in this post other than the humble information of how this blog is going to be like.

Most of the posts will be adaptations of the original ones from my Greek – written blog that can be of interest for the English speaking reader. This blog can be found here. Its thematology consists of mainly political issues from everyday life with a clear anti-capitalistic/antifascist orientation.

I do believe that sharing experiences and thoughts derived from a former wealthy EU country which has now politically, economically, socially and morally collapsed might be useful for people who fear that their precious and prosperous country currently enjoying its incredible wealth might be next in line for the dubious and dark future.

I certainly lack of a personal style in my English writings but I guess this is another issue of no interest at all.

Thanks for reading this and please don’t hesitate to respond if you feel like it.