Director Lanthimos Says He Had to Leave Greece to Make Movies

Directors Yorgos Lanthimos (Photo by Arthur Mola/Invision/AP, FILE)

Weird Wave Greek film director Yorgos Lanthimos, whose movies aren’t for the faint-hearted, said he couldn’t have made his acclaimed works if he’d stayed in his home country because moviemakers can’t make it there. “I moved to England because the way we worked in Greece no longer fulfilled my needs,” he said in a blast at the atmosphere that doesn’t reward people in cinema.

“There was a handful of people who made films, because they love films. But nobody was paid, everyone had to mortgage his car or clothes to make ends meet,” said Lanthimos, whose latest psychological thriller, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, won best screenplay at Cannes Film Festival. That was based on the ancient play Iphigenia, drawing inspiration from ancient Greece, unlike his other dystopian films such as Dogtooth, about a husband and wife who keep their children ignorant of the world outside their property well into adulthood, or the Lobster, in which single people are given 45 days to find a romantic partner or otherwise be turned into animals.

“I wanted to make real films. If I wanted to progress as a filmmaker, I had to leave home,” he said. Lanthimos, 44, was born in Athens and studied directing for film and television at Hellenic Cinema and Television School Stavrakos in Athens.

In the 1990s, he directed a series of videos for Greek dance-theater companies and did a lot of TV commercials as well as music videos, short films and experimental theater plays and was a member of the creative team which designed the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

His third feature film Dogtooth won the Prix Un Certain Regard at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 83rd Academy Awards. His fourth feature film Alps (2011) won the Osella Award for Best Screenplay at the 68th Venice International Film Festival.

The script for his fifth film The Lobster was awarded with the ARTE International Award as Best CineMart Project for 2013 at the 42nd International Film Festival Rotterdam and won the Jury Prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival.

The British newspaper The Independent wrote that his movies are difficult to watch without flinching and have scenes such as that in The Lobster in which a man is forced to place his hand into a burning toaster and in Dogtooth when a father beats his daughter over the head with a videotape.

Then there’s the opening of The Killing of a Sacred Deer that starts with showing a beating heart during surgery.

Each new world presented by Lanthimos comes with its own established rules (masturbation and film-watching the no-nos in the case of the latter two). Naturally, disobedience ensues and punishment’s inflicted, the paper said.

“Having rules means that sometimes people break them and that means punishment,” Lanthimos says with a wicked smile. “I’ve not consciously decided that (it’s) an important issue I need in my films – it’s a result of the structure of them.”

“What I want is to allow people to be engaged actively in watching the film,” he says. “I like to construct films in a way that makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, [but so you’ll still] be able to enjoy them, be intrigued [and] start to think about the meaning of things – and hopefully by the end of it, you’ll have some strong desire to keep thinking about them.”