Miss ViolenceThere are those films that make for an uncomfortable viewing experience, and it would be difficult to describe Alexandros Avranas’ sophomore feature by any other choice of words.

Despite an uncomfortable viewing experience it is a thought provoking piece of filmmaking that stands out as one of the films of the year. HeyUGuys recently spoke with Avranas who took us under the skin of a film whose subject and style of storytelling is universal.

Why a career in filmmaking? Was there that one inspirational moment?

I studied sculpture, and so I was a part of the art scene for a long time. On a personal level it is very important for me to make art and to make films, because I want to say something political; to say something about the society that I live in. So from my perspective this is the only reason for art and cinema to exist, and this was always the source of my motivation and interest.

Going back to your childhood can you remember when you first discovered storytelling?

I grew up in a small city, and so I was exposed to the theatre more than I was to cinema. I mostly saw theatre plays, and then at age seven I had my first actual encounter with art or storytelling through theatre at school. But I was always interested in the very political aspects of punk music and graffiti, as well as being a part of a society, and that interest also came through the arts.

What was the genesis of Miss Violence?

The reason I made Miss Violence was in a sense political, because I am always looking to criticise or honour the society and the system that I believe could be better. But it is also through this approach that I am trying to better understand for myself.

It is based on a true story that happened in Germany, where I was actually living at the time. Naturally I was very shocked when I first heard the story, but it was political for me because it was a symbolic story about European society – the family and how people want to have a leader, but when they are not happy they fail to take action against it. I believe that this is something that is happening nowadays in Greece but also in Europe.

The human experience is international and it is fitting to confront such subjects through cinema, which doesn’t understand boundaries. Cinema belongs to itself as an art form rather than to individual nations.

I think this is one of the most interesting aspects of the film, and it is why it was well received at the Venice Film Festival, because the subject and the style of storytelling are universal, and it does not relate to only one country.

How important are film festivals in contemporary cinema?

The greatest concern and source of anxiety for any director is finding the financing. Festivals offer people the chance to see films from all over the world, and from the other point of view the festival creates more of an opportunity to find financing for your next film. This is because film festivals have a voice and they can somehow be a label. Of course this is very important, and for me personally I hope that after Miss Violence it will prove easier to make my next film.

How do you compare the experience of your first two feature films?

The first film was a totally different film in every sense. The big difference was that with Miss Violence I was interested in moving towards the audience, whereas in my first film this was not of particular interest. Rather the audience were on the other side and they had to confront the events on screen. But Miss Violence interacts more closely with the audience, and I’ve tried to ensure that they understand what it is that I want to say. This will also be the way I approach my next film.

Watching Miss Violence echoes the theatrical experience in the way you stage the film by setting up the camera in one position, and having everything revolve around it.

I was previously a camera operator, and I want to be the kind of director who is behind the camera. This approach allows to me to sense the feeling of the film, and to also be closer to the actors. The interesting thing is first of all I was trying to shoot in a way that was very direct to camera – not dissimilar to documentary. I was always changing the perspective or the point of view between the subjective and the objective, and so sometimes it was the audience that we were looking at. I believe this allows the viewer to feel closer to the characters and the story, but to also feel more uncomfortable because of the feeling of directness – it’s there; it’s present in front of their eyes.

So this was the thought process behind the cinematography. But in taking this approach I was trying at the same time to hide details from the audience. It was not about lying to the audience, but choosing to not show them the whole truth, so that later on it will play with their minds when they realise that it was in front of them from the very first scene. In that moment they will realise they didn’t want to see, and that they were in denial.

It was very important for me to show that from the outside this family looks like a normal family, because sometimes we are very political in our expectations. It was very important to change the point of view of the viewer because everybody believes that people such as the father have something in them that people should somehow recognise. But it is not about being more sensitive and more sensible in order to see that. So that was why I was trying to make them perceive everything as being normal and to show the opposite.

There is a school of thought within storytelling that you should stay away from creative influences, the reason being that they can intrude on the creativity or work of the individual. How do you perceive creative influence as a filmmaker?

I have heard a lot of people remark that this film reminds them of Hitchcock. Whilst he’s a very important director and I like him very much, I don’t think I had him in mind when I was making the film. There are those directors I like a lot such as Federico Fellini, Rainer Werner Fassbinder or even Michael Haneke. But it is not that I am trying to channel their influence consciously or to even imitate their style. I’m trying to tell the stories I believe in.

Would it be fair to describe that for you personally, cinema is a means of having a conversation. 

Cinema is a way to speak with and to communicate with other people. If this is not inside the film; if it is missing I think it’s a dead language. I make cinema for other people, as a means to communicate and express my thoughts and questions. But I also make films for myself, and with this film I was asking myself all the time why is the boy not running away from his house. This question also occurs to the audience also. If the question is no longer there one day then I will have to stop making movies.

The film handles the subject discreetly until one scene in particular disrupts this approach towards the end, and transforms Miss Violence into a different film to the one we have been watching even it is just a natural or inevitable escalation. 

The film is very discreet at the beginning, but in this moment I had the need to show the sex scene because I wanted to make clear what it was we were talking about. This scene is very important for the film, and of course there is always the risk that somebody will say, “It’s another film or it’s another way of narration or storytelling” but I believe it was time to see what we had been half-heartedly talking about.

The scene is no longer than one minute and thirty seconds and yet interestingly everyone believes it is closer to five minutes. Perhaps because it is emotionally heavy it is hard to accept, and so it is working in this way.

But it would have been wrong to show the rape of the child, and so that’s why I never showed it. But this scene is very important. It’s not pornographic and it’s not about sex, rather it’s about how these people use, and the pride of the human being depicted by the father. Also you have to see what he does to the girls because this is what we’re talking about throughout the film, and so we have to see it somehow.

You leave with the same experience as the actors leave with, and in this sense I do believe it is necessary to have the same experience in order for you to feel what they are also feeling.

Miss Violence is released on June 20th.