Review: Miss Violence ★★☆☆☆

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The latest in a string of critically lauded Greek arthouse films, Miss Violence arrives in UK cinemas after its tremendous reception at last year’s Venice Film Festival, where it picked up the Silver Lion award for Best Director and the Volpi Cup for Best Actor.

Sitting uncomfortably somewhere between pitch-black comedy and unrelentingly bleak drama, Miss Violence proves a far from pleasant experience. Strangely enough, it often feels almost like a cruel perversion of the sort of quirky American indie that flourished at Sundance and beyond in the wake of Little Miss Sunshine. Absurd though the comparison may sound, director and co-writer Alexandros Avranas frequently treads the same dangerous line of favouring superficial oddness and idiosyncrasies over real depth and substance.

He frames his subjects rather like Wes Anderson, crafting geometrically staged scenes of in front of intricately styled sets. His blank-faced characters are prone to placing themselves dead centre in order to stare directly into the camera, or neatly arranged around dinner tables to form stylised and unnerving tableaus. But if this is a film made as a storybook (as Anderson’s films have often been described) it is one divorced of all grace, whimsy and charm. Instead Avranas fashions his meticulously drab surfaces in order to convey the growing cracks in their veneers, from which truly horrifying undercurrents eventually emerge. This is the film’s real focus: the façade of the slick, clean, and ordered family home, and the many dark secrets it can obscure.

The more obvious comparison (and not simply because both hail from Greece) is Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2009 breakout, Dogtooth. The two films share a penchant for dark and highly unsettling humour, and an interest in the potential for cruelty and oppression in the family unit. But Miss Violence falls far short of Dogtooth’s bewildering brilliance.

Despite strong performances throughout and a number of effective moments, Miss Violence is most notable for being thoroughly difficult. This is immediately apparent in Avranas’ handling of the relationships between his characters, which prove not merely unclear but actually actively confused, to the extent that the majority of the audience’s experience is apparently meant to be spent untangling murky familial webs. But more troubling is the way the filmmaker treats his subject matter. Ultimately the film becomes too powerful to easily dismiss, but it is hard not to feel that this power comes a little cheaply. Disturbing acts may make for a disturbing film, but whether that film is worthy of praise and admiration is another question entirely. Avranas trawls the very lowest reaches of humanity in his slow dissection of the “happy” family, but seems to do so more in order to shock than to illuminate.

Miss Violence, directed by Alexandros Avranas, is released in UK cinemas by Metrodome Distribution, Certificate 18. Watch the trailer below:

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