Reaction to a polluted society

Screened to a packed house at an after-midnight session last November at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, «Soul Kicking» did not take long to generate reaction. After the first hour, unable to bear the tension, certain overwhelmed members of the audience walked out for some badly needed quiet. Some of them were able to return to their seats. Those that stayed on until the film’s very end spoke of a «film experience.» This is not the first time that director Yiannis Economidis has driven both actors and viewers to the point of combustion. «Matchbox,» his previous film and an extreme, violent and risky outing, had prompted similar reactions. Through his films, the director depicts daily life as a pounding and merciless procession, without remorse. His main characters in «Soul Kicking,» workers at a lighting fixtures factory, are realistically portrayed without the aid of any beautification. Their way of talking is coarse, brutal, dirty and vitriolic. This is the Greece which Economides will portray at the next Cannes Film Festival. «Soul Kicking» was selected for the major international festival’s Critics’ Week section, which was established to present new talent that showed boldness, opinion and vision. With the film’s upcoming Cannes Festival screening in mind, Kathimerini spoke to the director. What hadn’t been said in «Matchbox» which made you return with a similar topic for «Soul Kicking»? There are differences between the two films – new personal gambles that I’ve taken, new roads that I wanted to explore – so I wouldn’t call it a return, but a case of further exploration. There’s deeper examination of human psychology and character analysis, as well as the perversion of the human soul. I wanted to make a film that was murkier, darker, more dangerous, more vitriolic. Despite the tension and violence, «Matchbox» also carried humor and affection. «Soul Kicking» is more Dostoyevski-like. Do you make observations about social change during the three-year period between films? We live in the same pollution, but the atmosphere becomes more stifling as the years go by. We’re heading toward the outbreak of violence in all aspects – relationships, family, social, cultural. And the worst thing of all is that there won’t be specific reason – violence without a cause. Somebody on the road says something to you, and you just smash his head with a crowbar. We’ll soon be afraid to look each other in the eye. Are you referring to Greek reality? No, not at all. It’s about the impasse of capitalism and civilization. I think that, in Greece, we haven’t reached the level of badness and cynicism witnessed in other societies. Why do you insist with bombardment of repetitive dialogue in your film? After the second or third time, the framework of each character’s life has become clear. There are two ways to tell a story, either by making a film, or writing a book… I don’t make sentimental, psychological films, but biological ones. This means that something happens to the viewers of my films – pulse, nerves, perspiration, a change in body temperature. What happens to them is what also happens to the characters in the film. They are swept over by the film’s atmosphere. I understand that that can be unpleasant and, often, disturbing. But I dare anybody to come up and tell me that he or she did not understand what I’m trying to say and address, or what the screen action’s about. It’s important for me to manifest reality in a real way. Not cerebral, though. I don’t want the viewer to say «I understood it» but, rather, «I felt it.» There’s a lot of ego hidden in reaction. We’ve all become very arrogant. Nowadays, nobody allows anybody to annoy. You’ve got to feel what lingual claustrophobia means: violence of language. You’ve got to experience it under your skin, as is the case in the army. Is there a common logic between daily life in the army and your film’s factory scenes? The lack of logic, lack of language, stagnancy, and the timeless state when you’re a soldier is the kind of madness also inherent in the factory scenes. They’re people who look like they’re permanently fixed behind the work benches, their hands function mechanically and they say unbelievable things because there’s got to be some drama between them, for relief and conflict. The continual repetition of the same things is a neurotic reflex. Does the emotional impasse felt by the main characters also express an impasse in their thoughts? Yes. However, although all the characters at the factory are uncivilized, that doesn’t stop their minds from generating perverted thoughts. I was interested in seeing how the mind is led to perversion. Like the mind of a hooligan or a thug who can recreate scenes from Dante’s «Inferno.» Never underestimate the hooligans in the stands. The hooligan’s behavior leads to fascism. It’s easy for others to manipulate them by using the violence button. My references did not only have to do with the army and how far the mind can go, but the stadium’s stands, too. It’s amazing what you get to hear – how imaginative the language of people with limited vocabulary suddenly becomes. They create amazing imagery… Society’s fodder Don’t the characters of the film belong to society’s fringe? I’ll disagree with that. They’re neither imbeciles nor on the fringe. They’re recognizable characters of the modern urban working class. They belong to the modern proletariat of cities, which represents about 30 to 40 percent of Greece. If you take a walk around [Athens’s] western suburbs, you’ll see all the characters of the film in front of you. Your main characters are constantly mixed up in hostilities. That’s not a realistic depiction of things. Nobody can bear living that way. In essence, the film follows the last 10 days of the main character’s life, before the final explosion. So it could not be anything but a bleak film… Do your characters have hope, and, if so, where is it derived from? The main character, Takis, has three faults. He’s poor, uneducated and sensitive… If you lack the basic finances, you’ve descended to the underworld. So, nowadays, we have a world of people born without hope and excluded from any kind of future. Social classes are constructed with little flexibility. The destruction of the middle class is the beginning of many ills. People have been converted into portions for the meat machine. I want to talk about this. This topic is of great concern to me.