Screen speaks to the Venice winner about his unsettling drama.
The winner of the best director and best actor prizes at the 2013 Venice film festival, Miss Violence is drawing plaudits for its unsettling depiction of a family living under the brutal control of an abusive father. Screen spoke to Greek director Alexandros Avranas at the Reykjavik International Film Festival – where Miss Violence was given a special mention in the New Visions competition – about casting the film, making it universal and bringing a warm aesthetic to dark material
What was it about the story that made you want to make Miss Violence?
During the time I was shooting the film and writing I was asking myself why these people don’t do anything against it. It’s the same as in Greece: all the time we had the same problems and the same wrong people to govern us politically and I was asking why don’t they say go away? Because the interesting thing is that the house is open. You can go outside, you can go to the police, or you can leave. But nobody left the house. It’s like Greece. They all accept they have something to lose. Is this love? Is this the food somehow? Something they are used to? I don’t know what, but they don’t want to escape. I had the same feeling about Greece.
How did it come together?
I don’t know what happened with this film but I wrote the first draft in three days. I heard the story in Berlin and then I started to research but I didn’t want to write anything, I was only taking input. And after one month I went back to Greece and then one day said okay, I will start writing, and I wrote it day and night for three days. Then I skipped working on it for six months, then I found the scriptwriter [Kostas Peroulis] and we wrote it together. But the feeling of the film is like the first three-day draft.
The film was backed by Faliro House Productions
I went to Christos Konstantakopoulos and said I need this money, I have this script, I have this and this… are you interested in making the film? He said okay I’ll take a look and I will call you. He called me the same day and said okay, I like the script, let’s talk. The next day we met and he said okay, let’s do it. He put all the money up for the film.
How did you cast the film?
All the actors are theatre actors. After I wrote the first draft I started looking for actors, to imagine all these people and their faces. These are the elite of the Greek theatre, so they are the best. The main character, the father, he was not famous and he had never been a protagonist. But I was very interested in that.
I was looking for a long, long time to find the children because it was very important for it to be very realistic when you see the film that this is a family. I was never interested in making a Greek film with Greek faces: they are a little bit European, or North European, faces. Blonde with blue eyes. I was very interested in making it universal, because it is a universal film.
I had the father, the wife of the father and the daughter. And then I was looking for the children and the young daughter, and I had some problems finding them because the scenes are a bit hard. But I was very honest with the parents of the children. I gave them the script, I told the kids what was going on and why we were doing the film.
How did you work with the actors?
At the beginning we read the script a lot and discussed it. And then we rewrote the script and dialogue because when you are writing you want to say something and you want to go somewhere with the dialogue but then you have to put it in the mouth of the actor, you know, so that it can be normal and very honest and realistic. I made five new versions of the script based on the actors.
We did all the work on the script then I found the main apartment. Then we did the rehearsals there and I let them live inside the apartment as a family. For three days one time and we were there every day and they slept again. I only had the keys as the father of the film. Like the father in the film, only he has the keys.
How did you approach the look of the film?
I operated the camera and my DOP made the light. I was the camera operator because it is [about] the feeling. And for me it’s very important to be on the set, not to stay behind the monitor.
The place where the family are living is the grandfather’s house, so it is Seventies and Eighties with new elements, from IKEA, from everywhere. But the clothes are today’s, everything is today. But it’s somehow without time because they don’t have mobile phones because it is a way of communication so they’re not allowed to have them, or a computer.
I was very interested in having a beautiful aesthetic and a warm aesthetic because it’s like the sun, it makes you open. And when you’re open you accept other ways of feeling. And it’s a contrast to what happens in the film.
The sound was a lot of work because I didn’t want to have music so much: I have music only from the television and some from radio. But the sound is the music of the film. We play a lot with what you see and what is behind with the surround sound.
What are you working on next?
I have one script ready but I’m not sure if I will do it. I have another idea that I like a lot, it’s about revenge. It somehow has a connection to this film. I’m very open to making a film in English or German, or to making a very good TV series. I think it’s the new cinema.