Apparent normalcy shattered by a sudden death becomes the starting
point for one to decipher the malign force that controls the lives of
the members of a
Greek family. Concealing crucial information about the family
mechanics, director Alexandros Avranas uses a calculated pace to explore
authority, and compliance. In his film, evil doesn’t have a single
face, but instead becomes a shared responsibility. Cautiously revealing
its secrets with
utmost precision, “Miss Violence” is a brilliantly perverse work
that is sure to shock and leave a lasting, unsettling, impression. The
film has received
numerous awards in its homeland, as well as in Stockholm, Venice,
Montreal, and most recently at the Los Angeles Greek Film festival.
Avranas talked to us from Greece and shared the stories behind the making of this marvelously intriguing film.
Carlos Aguilar: This is such an impressively unsettling and successfully cryptic story, what’s its genesis?
It’s based on a real story that happened in Germany in 2011. I heard it from a friend in Berlin, and then I did some research and I found out even more
things. Then I wrote the script and, of course, some elements are not taken directly from that story, but the concept is based on true events.
Aguilar: You chose to start the film with a very shocking opening sequence, and then we spend the rest of the film looking for the reasons behind that
event. Why did you decide to start the film in that way?
Firs of all, what happens in that opening sequence is the first thing I heard about the story. I was very shocked and touched. I decided to open the film
in this manner so that audiences can something to encourage them to explore this family and this situation. It was very risky to start with something so
shocking and powerful because it would have made it very easy for the film to turn out flat the rest of the time. When you start with the crescendo it is
not easy to keep that going the whole time. But I think the reasons behind it were right, and that’s why it worked here.
Aguilar: There is a lot of concealment in your film. We don’t know the names of these people or who plays what role within the family. Did you want the
audience to know as little as possible for a large portion of the film?
There is a big difference between European and American cinema. Sometime we start from a point in which you don’t know anything and you don’t understand
anything. If they don’t know anything, you can create a specific way for the viewer to think about the film. From there they can start understanding or try
to find out what’s going on. At the beginning you don’t fully understand the family mechanics and their relationships to each other. It’s so complicated
but at the same time is really easy. This encourages the viewer to develop a particular way of thinking about this film.
Aguilar: One of the strongest characters here is the father played by Themis Panou. He spearheads the film and really plays a big role on how the other characters
interact with each other. How difficult was it to write and then cast this character?
When I was casting this role I knew I wanted someone that was elusive. Before winning the Hellenic Academy Award for this role, Themis was not a very well
known actor. He would often act in supporting roles. I tried to use this feeling or quality of never being the protagonist to enhance the character. Since
he had never been the protagonist, it would be interesting for him to be the protagonist, or the lead, in this family. It was almost like a game. For me,
this wasn’t the most difficult role to write or cast because the whole thing is based that part of his personal story. The character himself has a lot of
things to work with. He is hiding behind his actions. Other roles in the film were more difficult to develop.
Aguilar: Family remains normal in the face of the horrific things that happen around them. Where does this strange and unfitting normalcy come from?
Family is the first society we are part of. The way we exist or act within our family is the same way we relate to the larger outside society. Family
shapes your point of view on things. Therefore, these people believe that all these things that happen in their family are normal and they thing that they
happen out of love. They believe they are showing love to each other because they don’t really know what love is.
Aguilar: The father is the one in charge and who should be blame for all the terrible crimes committed. However, no one ever really challenges his
authority. Are they all to blame for what goes on in the family?
He started it, but the mother is also someone else that could be blamed for it. She knows what’s happening and she has never spoken out about it.
Eventually, she decides to do something against it, but it’s too late. In the real story she never when against him or spoke out about it. She went to
prison for 15 years because she never said, “Yes he did it.” On the other hand, even if she had said that, she would have still gone to prison because she
knew. In the film there is the same motive and situation. The mother knows but never speaks out. I also think the film questions when does the victim stops
being the victim and starts being a perpetrator? This is something the viewer must answer for himself. What are the boundaries or limits between a victim
and a perpetrator? Eleni (Eleni Roussinou)is a victim of course, but she also becomes the perpetrator for the younger sister. It is very complicated.
Aguilar: What was your approach to working with the young actors? How much did they know about the matter at hand?
For this film we rehearse a lot. With the main actors we rehearsed for almost a year, and for the young children I took a long time to cast them, probably
around six months. When I found them, I spoke to them as if they were young adults and not children. I told them the truth, everything about the script.
Their parents were also very supportive. It was not so difficult to get what I wanted because when I cast somebody it means I believe they have something
in them that related to the character and I’m trying to get it out. They don’t really have to act, they have to be themselves and I place them in the
correct situations for the film.
Aguilar: What inspired you to make the film when you heard the original story? Was it the secret and how shocking it was? Or was it the story behind
Making the film meant taking a very big risk because the subject is very sensitive, and I didn’t want to make the film to simply shock people. If you
compare the film with the real story, the film is very soft. It is nothing compared to what really happened. It was very difficult for me and for the
actors because it is not a happy story at all. For me the most interesting part was to explore what happened in this small society, as well as the
symbolism behind is as a reflection of our current society. Since we don’t live in a time when the enemy was very clear in the form of wars or
dictatorships, this is my way to criticize our society, not only Greek society, but all of Europe. The crisis is not only Greek, is European. The moral
crisis is everywhere. It was very important for me to get across the political meaning behind the film: a leader in a society and why people don’t do
anything against him. Why do people in this society still trust him to be a leader?
As a Greek director I’m very happy that Greek cinema is very strong right now, but I don’t believe there is a wave. No one really talks about it like the
French Nouvelle Vague or Dogma. Those were groups of people that shared similar philosophical or aesthetic beliefs. We don’t even know each other. Lanthimos
and Tsangari are friends, but I don’t know them. I’ve said hello to Lanthimos before but I’ve never met Tsangari. This is why we can’t call it a “wave,”
because we don’t have anything in common. Maybe the one thing we do have in common is that we are young people that want to make films and speak out about
what’s going on. That’s the only commonality I can see.
Aguilar: Perhaps one of the most powerful images in your film is when see the family standing around the dead body, why would you say that’s the most
symbolic image in your film?
That image – which is on the film’s poster – is very symbolic because, just like the film, the poster doesn’t lie but it doesn’t tell you the whole truth.
When you see the poster you get the feeling of the film because you cans see that something happened but you don’t know what exactly happened. There was a
murdered, but you don’t know who has been murdered. You see the truth, but you must find out many other things. I think this is how society and politics
work as well. We sort of know where they start but we don’t know exactly how they work. I think in a sense the film reflects how political systems function
in our time. We don’t know everything.
Aguilar: Why “Miss Violence”?
It was very difficult to find the right title. The film is not only about abuse, or family, or about politics. Every title I had in mind made the film
sound very closed, and I think the film is very open in many levels. The title is sort of a play on words. “Miss Violence” could be taken from the sentence
“I miss violence,” someone is missing violence. But it also has to do with the fact that in the story the protagonist is the father, a male, but the film
is really about the women. “Miss Violence” could refer to a female. It is not about women who perpetrate the violence, but those who are
the victims of violence.
Aguilar: How has the film been received outside of Greece? Is it too difficult for people to take in?
I was in Toronto, New York, and many other European countries and I witnessed how controversial the film is. Half of the viewers loved the film, and the
other half doesn’t want to believe these things happen. They prefer to close their eyes to things like these. Society works like this in regards to many
other matters. This is why some things are taboo. We know about them but we prefer not to talk about them. But for the most part I’ve always felt it has
been very well received. It is a heavy film, and it was very heavy for us to make, but it’s an honest film. It tells the truth.