‘False Alarm’ unlocks emotions

What happens when a car alarm rings out incessantly in a seemingly quiet Athenian neighborhood? The tenants of several buildings lose their cool and their lives spin out of control. «Someone is trying to scream,» says filmmaker Katerina Evangelakou – whose latest film, «False Alarm,» is on at theaters – about the sound that, symbolically and realistically, dogs her heroes one summer night, tugging at their already taut nerves. «Neighbors who are bored and uninterested in others. Everyone knows what the face of the apartment across the street looks like, but no one cares what’s happening inside or they haven’t got the time to bother with it,» she says. «Their individual stories become entangled into a ball of coincidences that are perhaps not much crazier that those that happen every day in real life, perhaps not as funny as real ones and perhaps not as frightening as living in present-day Athens.» Evangelakou films a society living on the edge. She records life in five apartments on a normal night, under normal conditions. The alarm rings even after the car has been wrecked. Is this so that we will hear it? The symbolic power of the alarm can only be justified by this scene. Otherwise it would have been just another realistic element that lends itself to the creation of action. But, when the car has been completely destroyed and its wires are hanging out, then the ringing alarm proves to the audience that it is something more. It is our thick skin that will not allow itself to be penetrated by anything. That’s rather pessimistic. I think that any intelligent person living in this day and age must have an optimistic reaction to things when feeling deeply pessimistic. Where does your optimism come from? Everywhere. We are surrounded by the dignity and kindness of man. At times it’s veiled, at others it’s out in the open, but we have to be willing to see it. We shouldn’t complain all the time. Does the city also make us whiners? The city, the state, the institutions… Do we mix politics into our whining? Yes. I think we have been doing that since the birth of modern Greece, because the state has been built on a famous give-and-take system: a friend, a cousin… The average Greek does not trust the state and by extension, himself. Does this mutate into aggression? Into what we see in the film? Of course, when you grab a crowbar and bash a car to bits with people around you cheering…. Whose side are you on in this scene: the people cheering or the ones who condemn the act? Personally, I would never be the one to do the destroying. I would exhaust all other means. I may even hire a lawyer, but I would never destroy someone else’s private property. It is not because of fear or cowardice, but a mechanism that prohibits me from hurting others. On the other hand, I get the person doing the breaking. It’s about education, what lessons we learn, how we understand kindness, generosity, manners. Kindness cannot be a Christian thing, a thing that belongs to the Church. We must rediscover the concept. We must be able to be good without necessarily being pious. Are the characters in your film separated into camps? They probably all belong to the same camp and that may make the film poorer. They are all people who believe in nothing. They have lost all concept of faith – and I don’t mean religious or political faith. I am talking about the feeling of importance that man can reach. About feeling he has things in common with other men. This is something we Greek don’t have: a sense of community and common goals. Even with the man who bashes the car up, no one around feels they should join him in dealing with what is happening. That they should seek a solution together. Do your characters hope for the best? No. The best would probably surprise them. They may not even know is has happened if it does. They lie at the greatest depths of individualism, where they have no more demands, save material ones. If we look at old photographs from the 1950s and 60s, people were serious. They didn’t smile as if someone were tickling them, but their eyes were seeing something. Because this thing we call «faith» exists first in our senses. Our eyes see something all the time, in the depth of field. They don’t focus in front of us, at 2 meters, as if we’re watching television. How will the next day be for your characters? Exactly the same. Doing something different won’t even cross their minds. The TV will continue to cover all other sounds of life and reality. Would even this not have changed them? Not at all, because all 10 of the characters have a basic flaw: a flaw of character that hides all the others and even magnifies them. I wouldn’t agree that my film is very dark though, because for each character we have tried to find a bright spot.