The sudden suicide of an 11-year-old girl on her birthday triggers the revelation of the secrets that her family is colluding to preserve.
At her eleventh birthday party with her family with cake and candles, and after waltzing with her father to Leonard Cohen’s lugubrious Dance Me To The End of Love, Angeliki (Chloe Bolota) looks beatifically at the camera, and then calmly steps to her death from the balcony of their claustrophobic flat. Afterwards her family collude to create a front of normality as if she never existed. It’s the puzzling start to a movie that gradually reveals horrific abuse and denial hidden within a family dominated by a controlling (unnamed) patriarch (Themis Panou), who is balding, overweight and outwardly mild-mannered and apparently caring.
It is some time before we can get the rest of the ambiguous family relationships sorted out. Is the nervous young women Eleni (Eleni Roussinou) he feeds tranquillisers to his wife or his daughter? Is the blank-faced unnamed older woman (Reni Pittaki) his wife or his mother-in-law? Eleni announces she is pregnant again but there is no outward reaction from the others. And she shows less grief at the shocking death of her daughter Angeliki than one of the neighbours. She has three other children, yet no father is mentioned. And with no obvious source of income, how does this middle-class extended family with the confusing web of relationships live?
Apart from the father taking the children to and from school, they rarely seem to leave the enclosed apartment – the promise of trip to the beach is withdrawn and they are made to do housework instead – and the sense almost of imprisonment and isolation is created by recurring shots of doors opening, closing and being locked. The apartment itself is neutral coloured and sterile and the family are shot with stylised fixed camerawork, squarely framed, turning us into observers of the disturbing and fearful interactions, in a similar way to a Haneke film. Members of the family are statically shot, looking perhaps accusingly at the camera. The family dinner table is a particularly stilted and unhappy gathering.
Slowly it becomes clearer that the father is the sexual abuser of the two female generations of his family, while his wife is apparently herself physically abused into apathy. And even more horrifically, his abuse extends to pimping them out for money to other abusers, which is revealed in the final act. Though the paedophilia takes place behind closed doors, the build-up and aftermath of it is chilling, and there’s a prolonged scene of multiple violent rape of the teenage daughter which is difficult to watch.
Director Alexandros Avranos is one of the Greek New Wave which brings us troubling films about Greece’s internal turmoil. The dysfunctional family is understood to be a metaphor for the state of the Greek nation with the controlling pater familias at its head. In Greece’s recession, the father is an unemployed accountant, who has a short-lived stint in a job creation scheme for the over-fifties – perhaps there are few legitimate ways left to survive.
Investigation by social services into Angeliki’s suicide is the catalyst for the start of the unravelling of the enclosed world of punishments disguised as caring created by the dominating father. When repression can be borne no longer, there’s a sudden, very violent denouement behind closed doors that has a sense of a bloody Greek tragedy and gives us the necessary catharsis. But, though beautifully shot, and with great artistic merit, Miss Violence is also an unremittingly harsh, disturbing movie to watch, and it leaves its taint behind in the memory.
Miss Violence won the Silver Lion for Best Director for Alexander Avanas at the Venice Film Festival in 2013 and Themis Panou won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor.
Miss Violence is released on 20th June 2014 in the UK