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Lucas Testro [Film Festival 08.07.12] Greece comedy drama

They say in hard times we turn to comedy. So, with Greece such an economic basketcase at the moment, it's perhaps not surprising to see a Greek filmmaker turn out such an absurdist comedy as Babis Makridis' L. The emphasis here is definitely on 'absurd' 0 it won't be to everyone's taste and some may even question where the 'comedy' actually is. But the biggest surprise is, for all the lunacy of its plot and style, L is actually a film with some serious stuff on its mind.

The movie's unnamed protagonist (Aris Servetalis) is separated from his family, and lives in his car. His children join him for weekly drives, and on his birthday his whole family crowd in to watch him blow out the candles on his cake. The man works in his car too, as a professional driver. Allusions are drawn to the kind of underworld jobs that are usually cool in movies - his driving gloves lead someone to liken him to a professional killer, and he does regular pick-ups of merchandise for a mysterious buyer, complete with elaborate passwords. But he is anything but cool and, true to the film's absurdist bent, the merchandise he's collecting isn't money or drugs, but instead honey.

The man tries to remain positive but we sense his strain building. His pride in his skill as a driver seems to be all that's sustaining him - the last vestige of his self-respect. So when he loses his driving job too, the man's isolation from society becomes complete and things start to unravel fast...

Babis Makridis skillfully creates a unity of tone, with every element of the film contributing to the surreal feeling of a life that no longer makes sense. The actors deliver their lines deadpan, in formal, unabbreviated language. No one blinks. The cinematography is distinguished by long static shots, the camera so rigid that occasionally a character will wander out of frame completely, leaving us to rely on audio to work out what they're up to. And the score is composed mostly of a cassette recording of someone (perhaps one of the man's children) stumbling clumsily through a piano performance of Moonlight Sonata - a device that manages to be both funny and sad as the context changes throughout the story.

For most of its length, L is sad but kind-hearted. But Makridis also creates a number of striking images that are vaguely discomforting. In one dream sequence, the man is visited by his dead friend, who crawls towards him out of the darkness in a moment reminiscent of Sadako's approach in The Ring, before announcing he is actually a bear (a jump cut later, the guys are driving home with the friend eating a raw fish as he sits in the passenger seat). The man also has a series of encounters with a gang of motorcyclists, who never take off their helmets and idle on their bikes in overgrown scrubland looking unmistakably like antelope grazing on an African savannah. And when one old motorcylist discovers his vision is going, he elects a bizarre and haunting kind of hara kiri, with his compatriots gaffer-taping him to his bike and then sealing up his helmet so that he slowly suffocates on the carbon dioxide he is exhaling.

L is a challenging and odd movie, and definitely not the comedy to watch if you're in the mood for something brainless. It's much more the sort of crazy dream you'd have after eating too much late-night pizza than it is the kind of film you'd want to watch while eating that pizza.

While I found it periodically amusing, I had few laugh-out-loud moments and I don't think I'd recommend it purely for comedy. But its images get under your skin and linger long after you leave the cinema. So if you're feeling adventurous, it's definitely worth checking out for a poetic, compassionate examination of the struggles of one man lost on the fringes of his life.

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