Miss Violence: Venice Review

A precision-tooled portrait of a hermetically closed family unit.

Greek director Alexandros Avranas's second film stars Themis Panou as the paterfamilias of an oddly unemotional clan that has to deal with the suicide of one of the children.

An apparently average Greek family comes under scrutiny after one of the children commits suicide on her apparently not-so-happy birthday in Miss Violence, the second feature of director Alexandros Avranas (Without).

Oddly, after the fatality, the entire clan seems to pretty much continue on living as if nothing happened and the reasons for that are only gradually revealed in this precision-tooled film that’s less part of the current Hellenic Weird Wave (Dogtooth, Attenberg…) than a more classical -- in all senses of the word -- Greek family tragedy. Though the supposedly shocking revelations in the latter reels aren’t unexpected or even startling, it’s the poker-faced lead-up to these revelations that’s chilling in hindsight. Avranas’ portrait of a hermetically closed family unit that deals with all domestic affairs behind closed doors should be able to transform its Venice competition berth and subsequent Toronto screenings into a solid festival run.

Leonard Cohen’s holocaust-inspired song Dance Me to the End of Love is playing and family members are dancing when angel-faced 11-year-old Angeliki (Chloe Bolota), whose birthday they’re celebrating, jumps off the family apartment’s balcony to her death.

Child Protection services call in Angeliki’s mother, Eleni (Eleni Roussinou), who comes accompanied by her father (Themis Panou), in whose Athens apartment the entire clan lives. They’re unable to cite a single potential reason for the child’s inexplicable act but once they’re home it becomes a priority to act like as normal a family as possible for the upcoming visit of the Welfare employee (Maria Skoula).

Avranas, who co-authored the screenplay with Kostas Peroulis, takes his time to set up the relationships in the family and audiences will need a while to figure out that little Alkmini (Kalliopi Zontanou) and Filippos (Konstantinos Athanasiades) are Angeliki’s siblings but Myrto (Sissy Toumasi), who’s not only about the same age as Angeliki but even dresses alike, is actually the dead child's aunt.

The wrinkly matriarch of the clan (Reni Pittaki) watches the goings-on with a severe expression but otherwise keeps herself at a disinterested distance, with Eleni and especially her Dad running the family ship on a supposedly very tight budget, as only Granddad occasionally seems to work.

Hitting the children is a normal way of disciplining them, with Alkmini in one sequence, shot with a rare moving camera that circles the actors, forced to hit her little brother for having been aggressive at school. The punishment of peer-on-peer violence with more peer-on-peer violence suggests that different rules apply inside the family and outside in the real world, one of several points that slowly but effectively bubble to the surface as Avranas observes the protagonists’ day-to-day behavior.

A visit to a gynecologist (Martha Bouziouri) confirms that Eleni is pregnant again and that, like her other kids, the father is again unknown, which should set off major alarm bells for anyone still unsure whether something’s not quite right in this family that’s too eager to appear normal. 

The disclosure of what’s exactly been happening comes late into the proceedings -- and is well-placed, right after the dreaded visit from Welfare -- but doesn’t quite pack the punch the film thinks it does (as evidenced by the brutal and in-your-face way Avranas tries to stage the “revelation”).

But attentive audiences will have long figured out what’s up and what’s most disturbing about the film is indeed its placid, almost non-descript surface -- also echoed in the production design and camerawork -- and the knowledge that unspeakable things are happening offscreen and behind closed doors. As the initial enigma slowly gives way to certainty, tension deflates but Avranas still has his painfully logical ending up his sleeve that keeps everything appropriately in the family.

Performances are all pretty much expressionless, which the film has in common with its Weird Wave colleagues, though the distinct strangeness and odd metaphorical devices of those films are entirely lacking and here there’s an understandable and valid reason why everyone seems to either act like a robot or jump off a balcony.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Competition)
Production companies: Faliro House Productions, Plays2Place Productions
Cast: Themis Panou, Reni Pitakki, Eleni Roussinou, Sissy Toumasi, Kalliopi Zontanou, Konstantinos Athanasiades, Chloe Bolota, Maria Skoula
Director: Alexandros Avranas
Screenwriters: Alexandros Avranas, Kostas Peroulis
Producers: Vasilis Chrysanthopoulos, Alexandros Avranas
Executive producers: Christos V. Konstantakopoulos
Director of photography: Olympia Mytilinaiou
Production designers: Eva Manidaki, Thanassis Demiris
Costume designer: Despina Chimona
Editor: Nikos Helidonides
Sales: Elle Driver
No rating, 99 minutes.