This Friday sees the return of Greek wunderkind Yorgos Lanthimos, the filmmaker behind the Academy Award nominated stunner "Dogtooth." He's back in select theaters with that film's anticipated follow-up, the equally oddball ensemble drama, "Alps."
His latest finds him re-teaming with "Dogooth" co-writer Efthymis Filippou for a tale that concerns a nurse, a paramedic, a gymnast and a coach who have formed a service for hire: They stand in for dead people by appointment at the behest of relatives, friends or colleagues of the deceased. Everyone operates under a discipline regime demanded by their leader the paramedic, except for the nurse who threatens his rule.
Indiewire ran a snippet from our long chat with Lanthimos last month, where he teased three upcoming projects of his, all in English. Below find our full interview with the filmmaker, in which he explains his move to England, what inspired him to follow-up his breakthrough with what is arguably his most challenging film to date, and what he thinks about the state of the Greek film industry.
The Guardian in their review of "Alps" described you as the laughing mortician of contemporary Greek culture. What's your take on that?
Well you know it's not that specific. It's great when other people can define or give characterizations to what you do, but I don't think there's any point (or at least I can't find one) in making films with such concrete notions of what it is that I do, and how I do it. These things are interesting to read, but I just have to work much more instinctively. I never know what it is exactly I'm doing. I don't want to analyze it too much. I just want it to feel right and be spontaneous as much as possible.
Yes of course I know what works for me, and what kind of tone I want my films to have. But all these terms are not something that I use.
So you're of the viewpoint that your instincts are influenced by your surroundings?
With that said, what do you make of the recent surge of films coming out of Greece and their success on the festival circuit?
Not much. I just think it's a happy coincidence. There's a new generation of filmmakers which is just natural. The other people are getting older and dying, so there's a younger generation making films that are different. I think that within that there are good films and bad films. I think the fact that Greece is very popular at the moment because of the financial crisis has helped people who look into this country and try to find the positive stuff. Having a couple of films that were successful internationally has made the film community aware of the films coming out of Greece. I think there's a movement, but I don't think there's a common film language. There's nothing that ties all these films together other than they're Greek films.
There is a through line with your films however. Only three films in and many have already pegged you as an auteur. How do you characterize your body of work this early in your career?
I just do whatever I feel is work and whatever I'm interested in exploring. I just try to be true to what I like to do. It gets difficult more and more, because you start to have a body of work and start thinking, 'What do people expect from me.' Maybe it'd be easier to make films if I had a criteria people expected of me. At one point it starts becoming more difficult in a way to be true to yourself and just do what you want to do.
We were fortunate enough to shoot "Alps" -- write the script and shoot it -- right after "Dogtooth" premiered in Cannes. So we didn't just sit around and wait to figure out what to do because "Dogtooth" was successful. We just wanted to make another film fast, so we just went ahead and did it.
We actually made "Alps" under much worse conditions that we did on "Dogtooth" -- the opposite of what you'd expect. The fact was that we didn't all of a sudden have more money, we had less money because of the crisis. So we had to deal with that and go ahead and make the film.
Now we're setting up a film in the UK, in the English language just to try something different. I've made three films in Greece in very similar conditions, very hard conditions. Because of the success of the previous films, we have the opportunity to do a film in a different way, with a kind of proper financial structure. I don't know if it's going to be worse or better. We'll figure that out [laughs]. I've definitely noticed that it takes much longer.
I'm even thinking of making a short film beforehand, just because I want to do something creative and not deal with the practicalities of making a film.