Sundance 2018 Review: "Pity"

Sundance 2018 Review: "Pity"

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There has to be a name for individuals who benefit from other people's physical sickness and pain. It's not wholly narcissism, but also not entirely Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, but somewhere in between. In Pity, our tragic lead is one such person who thrives on the attention he gets from others while his wife lies in a coma. If this sounds like a wild premise, that's because it's from the writer Efthymis Filippou who brought you The Lobster, Dogtooth, and Killing of the Sacred Deer.

The lead is a nameless lawyer (played by actor Yannis Drakopoulos) is a well-to-do upper-class lawyer who becomes addicted to being miserable and the benefits that come with misery.  He likes this lifestyle so much that part of him hope his wife doesn't wake up from her Coma. He even goes so far as to invite others to participate in his pity party. Underneath the deadpan melancholy facade, his sadness is weaponized manipulation used to garner sympathy from others, so the void in his life is filled with gestures of kindness. When encountering others who are suffering, there is lingering jealousy. He studies those in mourning not because he feels compassion but because he is learning how to deceive others.

The lawyer's actions are suspect but why is he going through all the trouble for sympathy? He has a life that is well put together, has a good income— why does he love misery?  Sometimes the repetition of life can be so mundane that anything outside the norm is a cheap thrill. Just a tidbit of action can send anyone into a tailspin yearning for more. It is a way to be acknowledged, a way to exist in the world as pity seems to be the only time humans are empathetic to one another. But the film also shows there is a danger of being so self-absorbed you can't tell what's real and what is not.

Most of Filippou's work lies with director Yorgos Lanthimos, but working with director Babis Makridis on Pity reaps a grounded work that reflects a familiar reality. That sarcastic, monotone style resonates with captivating questions about human emotions and how humans react to the emotions of others. Driven by the joyfully awkward, and dry performance by Drakopoulos, Pity is a charming, foreign drama that reminds me that some people in this world just want to be noticed and will go to great lengths to make that happen.

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