Greeks’ tragedy

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM - DON­ALD CLARKE TARA BRADY

MISS VI­O­LENCE Di­rected by Alexan­dros Avranas. Star­ring Themis Panou, Eleni Roussi­nou

Club, IFI, Dublin, 99 min What­ever else you might say about this high-brow Greek sen­sa­tion piece, you’d have to ad­mit that it has one of the most ar­rest­ing open­ing se­quences in re­cent cin­ema. In the aftermath, the film’s ap­par­ently re­spectable fam­ily find them­selves un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by so­cial ser­vices.

We are aware from the be­gin­ning that cor­rup­tion runs through the house­hold. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween fa­ther and el­dest daugh­ter is eerily akin to that be­tween hus­band and wife. A sense of men­ace hangs over the apart­ment. But the pre­cise na­ture of the perver­sion is un­veiled im­pres­sively slowly. There is no great rev­e­la­tion. One grim in­ci­dent fol­lows an­other un­til we find our­selves in the most squalid of cor­ners.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties with Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’s great Dog­tooth are im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore. Both films con­cern a de­ranged pa­tri­arch and his tyran­ni­cal dom­i­na­tion of a house full of women. The look is also sim­i­lar: an icily cool ex­am­i­na­tion of closed doors and clin­i­cal hall­ways. There is a sense of both film-mak­ers view­ing the Greek home – in­deed, the mod­ern Greek state – as a sort of op­pres­sive, un­yield­ing in­sti­tu­tion.

Miss Vi­o­lence is a less sat­is­fac­tory piece of work. Whereas Lan­thi­mos imag­ines an ab­surd, quasi-comic uni­verse, here di­rec­tor Alexan­dros Avranas seem un­sure as too how deep into sur­re­al­ism we are ven­tur­ing. At times the film is hor­ri­bly real. At oth­ers, it plays like a bleak para­ble. There is an im­mer­sion in the more sor­did in­ci­dents that oc­ca­sion­ally drifts to­wards sala­cious­ness.

Still, this re­mains a deeply un­set­tling pic­ture that con­firms the rude health of Greek cin­ema. If the artists are to be be­lieved, that coun­try has be­come one scary place.

ARTHUR AND MIKE Di­rected by Dante Ari­ola. Star­ring Colin Firth, Emily Blunt, Anne Heche, Ster­ling Beau­mon

15A cert, 93 min A di­vorced, dead­beat dad, played by Colin Firth, fakes his own death and hooks up with Emily Blunt’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl for an all-Amer­i­can road trip. Woo-hoo! Arthur and Mike ought to be an ab­so­lute riot.

Ex­cept it isn’t. Not even a lit­tle.

Firth’s char­ac­ter, Wal­lace – a des­per­ate, de­pressed void of a man – leaves be­hind a lover (Anne Heche), an ex-wife and a teenage son who can’t stand him. A for­mer golfer, Wal­lace hopes to steal the iden­tity of an­other golfer, Arthur New­man, so that he might take up a post on a course in In­di­ana.

Iden­tity theft be­comes some­thing of a grim habit: Wal­lace meets hot mess Char­lotte (Blunt), a schizo klepto who has as­sumed her twin sis­ter Michaela’s iden­tity, and now calls her­self Mike.

Wal­lace/Arthur and Mike/ Char­lotte be­gin an af­fair, and find so­lace in break­ing into empty houses and tak­ing on the ab­sent own­ers’ iden­ti­ties. Will this un­ortho­dox ro­mance sur­vive? Or will they both wise up and re­turn to face their re­spon­si­bil­i­ties?

Un­hap­pily, even stars as charm­ing as Firth and Blunt can’t raise view­ers’ damp­ened spir­its. US high­ways have sel­dom seemed as un­ap­peal­ing: the sun glow­ers mer­ci­lessly, rather than shines, from North Carolina to In­di­ana. The script codes deep ideas about act­ing and im­per­son­ation. How­ever, like the road trip and the ro­mance, it’s hard to see where this is go­ing. Or why we’d ever want to visit.

It’s a mys­tery how Firth and Blunt be­came at­tached to such an im­plau­si­ble story pop­u­lated by such un­be­liev­able people. Might this be is a low point for ca­reers that have al­ready been var­ied enough to take in to Sal­mon Fish­ing in the Ye­men and Gam­bit?

THE ART OF THE STEAL Di­rected by Jonathan Sobol. Star­ring Kurt Rus­sell, Jay Baruchel, Kath­eryn Win­nick, Kenneth Welsh, Ter­ence Stamp

15A cert, 96 min To re­fer to this mid-budget ca­per as de­riv­a­tive is like de­scrib­ing Siberia as some­what large and oc­ca­sion­ally nippy. It reeks of those late 1990s thrillers by Guy Ritchie and oth­ers that at­tempted to process Quentin Tarantino’s own mus­ings on the works of El­more Leonard.

The Art of the Steal in­volves a gang of thugs with colourful names. Ti­tles flash across the screen at ran­dom in­ter­vals. At least two char­ac­ters find them­selves in the trunk of a mo­tor­car. You know how these things go.

The largely Cana­dian film is rea­son­ably well cast. Kurt Rus­sell is dry and abra­sively charm­ing as Crunch, a high­end hood who, af­ter be­ing be­trayed by his brother Nicky (Matt Dil­lon), ends up do­ing time in a Pol­ish prison for the

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