Reviewed by James Karas
Miss Violence is an extraordinary movie that examines a highly disturbing topic. It is directed by Alexandros Avranas on a script by him and Kostas Peroulis and received its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The taboo subject that Avranas tackles head on and at times graphically is incest. The strength of the movie is the superb sensitivity and finesse with which he directs an astounding cast. The climax of the film is dramatic, cathartic and jaw-dropping.
The situation and the setting are completely mundane and ordinary. A family is celebrating a girl’s 11th birthday. She comes out of her room dressed in white, blows the candles on her cake and dances with a happy middle-aged man who we learn is her grandfather. The young girl is not smiling and she goes to the balcony and jumps to her death. Avranas has already astounded us and the plot proceeds from there.
The building blocks of the film are low-key, routine, indeed humdrum acts of a middle-class family in Athens. The family consists of a middle-aged couple (played by Themis Panou and Reni Pittaki), their daughter Eleni (Eleni Roussinou) and her four children, including the one who committed suicide. Avranas shows them watching television, having dinner, cleaning the apartment, disciplining the children and carrying on under the difficult situation of the recent death.
However, there is a subtle undercurrent and nothing is quite as ordinary as it may appear. The father appears like a disciplinarian at first, perhaps a bit severe for some tastes, but we start sensing in our gut that there is something terribly wrong with him. His wife is uninvolved and uninterested in family affairs. She seems to be in her own world and frequently in her room with migraines. Again, we begin to sense that there is something odd with the conduct of this mother and grandmother.
Those suspicions increase when we watch the pregnant Eleni and hear nothing about the father of the child that she is carrying or of the father of the other children. Things get progressively, methodically and meticulously worse as we face the enormity of what is happening in this superficially normal family that is coping with a terrible loss.
There are numerous memorable scenes that gain great significance in retrospect as you unravel this marvelous cinematic achievement. I do not want to reveal more of the plot for those who will be able to see the film when it is released for general viewing in November. Suffice it to say, that the humdrum activities reach levels of cruelty and depravity that are deplorable and disgusting.
Themis Panou gives a superb performance as the Father of Eleni and grandfather of her hapless children. He looks concerned, loving, a disciplinarian, yes, but a man with the welfare of his family as his foremost concern. Panou gives us that personality as well as the other side of the depraved father and grandfather with astonishing ability.
Eleni Roussinou hides a world of secrets behind her straight-faced look and her go-along-with-the flow appearance. She shows us that she is hiding something but we do not realize the monstrousness of it until much later in the movie.
Myrto (Sissy Toumasi) is the main victim of this psychotic family and we see in her young, pretty face all the vileness and horror of what lies in the closet of this family. A superb performance by Toumasi.
Miss Violence was awarded the following distinctions at the Venice Film Festival: the FEDEORA Critics’ Award, the Arca award, the Silver Lion for Best Director to Avranas and the Coppa Volpi Award for best actor for Themis Panou