When paradises on Earth become playgrounds for devils

Updated: Nov 16, 2018

Sundance candidate Pity is about a monstrosity in the Mediterranean

Babis Makridis’s Pity starts with an establishing shot of a Greek city, most likely Athens. The spotless sunshine and unspoilt azure make it postcard-perfect. Especially for a dream life after retirement. What could go wrong in this slice of heaven?

Yet, in the next scene, a middle-aged man (Yannis Drakopoulos) is crying his heart out on the side of his bed. His reasons for sorrow are perfectly valid, as they emerge a few moments later. His wife (Evi Saoulidou) is in a coma after a car accident, and her chances seem slim. Before we learn this, we see him in front of his door in the morning, waiting for someone. The bell rings, and it turns out to be a sweet neighbour who brings him a Bundt cake for sympathy. It’s not only the dessert he’s eager for—it’s the pathos behind it that he’s got a taste of. Like a tiger who slurps blood and can’t wait to sip more, our man too keeps prowling about for pity, wherever he can find. And you know what happens when a tiger runs out of the meat they’ve been feasting on.

The lawyer fishing for hugs from his secretary.

What’s as interesting as the film’s concept is its setting. A Harlem-like gangsta land would have kept our lawyer friend—yep, that’s what he is—on his toes, even through the night. But then Greece boasts some envyingly low crime rates. The man’s handling only one case—a middle-aged brother-sister duo losing their dad to a killer with a yellow bike. No wonder our nameless protagonist leaves and reaches home on the dot.

A chock-a-block schedule would have impeded his tiger-like search for the titular reaction. The quest for sympathy is a normal human tendency, so the first half of the film feels relatable. But then how many times has our pity party lasted enough to reach extreme limits? Rarely. Because life happens. So does work.

“Very sad. A real tearjerker,” says our protagonist.

Amping up the lawyer’s sympathy-seeking behaviour feels a bit too much. The tonal shift from comic to macabre actually made me eye the exit in terror. It even came across as an exercise pandering to the festival circuit. (Also, why use tear gas when you can chop onions?)

But the what-if scenario seems strangely plausible with the mere choice of location. And thank heavens the disturbing climax wound up quick to make way for a lighter but open ending. The last bit felt good—like karma catching up.

Pity makes the case for a constant engagement of the mind, through a dark, twisted plot. Instead of #StaySad, the mantra should be to #StayBusy. Watch it if morbid comedies float your boat.

See the trailer here:

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