The greek response to the movie Parasites (Bong Joon-ho, 2019). Keeping up with Roman Polanski or Michael Haneke’s cinema, Michalis Konstantatos plots in All The Pretty Little Horses a familiar thriller as a backgroung in order to reflect the discomfort of the Greek bourgeoisie. The atmosphere becomes muddier by creating a growing feeling of restlessness. Konstantatos alternates between drama and thriller elements to describe the ins and outs of the class struggles.
How do you feel when reading your film has been called the Greek response to Parasites?
I would like to start by saying that the characterization “Greek response” is not correct, since in time my film preceded Parasites. The fact that two creators from different parts of the world are dealing with a similar issue is remarkably interesting to start with, and it says a lot about the common problems of our time.
I had a strange feeling watching this film. There is this thematic relevance between them, but on the other hand it is a completely different approach to the subject in terms of the tone of the film, the choices of the script, and ultimately the moral stand. So, while I was watching it, the movie seemed familiar and at the same time very alien to me.
Why have you chosen a child’s wind-up carousel to give the film its title?
The film is named after an old traditional American lullaby, ‘All the Pretty Little Horses’. The landscape of the sound of the film is very essential to me and its dramaturgy. Very often when I write I “get stuck” with specific sounds or tracks. This is also what happened with “All the Pretty Little Horses.” When at some point, while writing the script, I heard one of its old versions (by Odetta), I immediately felt that I was listening to my heroes. It was not initially so much its lyrics as the feeling of the track that attracted me to it. It sounded exactly like what I would use instead of words to express the emotional state of my heroes at the given moment in their lives.
At the same time, it though it interesting – and I think it was no coincidence – that from the beginning of the script there was this idea of the lullaby that runs through the whole story, each time acquiring a different, new meaning both for the story and the main heroes. A lullaby is a song the value of which lies within its soothing ability, its ability to reassure and provide a feeling of safety through a promise – a powerful element that had been engaged in me as an idea from the very beginning of the script. My heroes, in this confusing period of their lives, are trying to hold on to their own promises, with the hope to find the strength and ability to keep them.
A lullaby provides a promise of peace and serene images. But will just a promise do?
Your debut feature, Luton, also dealt with many of the same themes. How much does both your own personal and national anguish fuel your art?
Luton, like “All the Pretty Little Horses”, was a product of my need to talk about the things that I experience, the things that I read about, and the things that happen around me. Not only on a national level, but also globally.
My work is always linked to the actual present and reality.
I am interested in real characters and real situations.
I am interested in “humans” and in the extent to which they realize the way they live and the choices they make. How they stand up to them and how responsible they are to face the truth. I am interested in the violence we hear in everyday life, in the violence of silence. I am very interested in focusing on detail… on these very small things that at first glance are not visible, but are capable not only of shaping, but often of explaining human behavior. All the above are common points I think in my two films.
Luton was essentially talking about one aspect of things that led to the crisis. A mindset of people that flirts with apathy and tolerance. It spoke directly about the concealed violence in our daily lives. “All the Pretty Little Horses”, in brief, I would say it is about the post-crisis era. The impact that the crisis had on the psychology of people who until then lived in the bubble of prosperity, while evil was there early on, and evident.
I wanted to deal with what the crisis has done, or rather what it has revealed to these people. At the same time, however, one finds that when crisis has struck, leaving wreckage behind, it is almost certain that it is lurking to strike again. Because the question is not what crisis comes or goes, but whether we are prepared and openminded to see our reality and our mistakes as they truly are. They only way things will get better is if we stop hiding behind our finger.
Does your formation on Sociology and Architecture infuse your films?
Sociology and architecture were both disciplines that I wanted to study in my attempt to acquire the skills to understand the world. In the end, I think that this synthesis of my studies in cinema, sociology and architecture has also shaped my cinematic identity in a way and to a certain extent. For instance, the way I am interested in humans and their attitude within the societies they shape and shape them, the relationship between space and man, and the qualities of the behaviors that are formed within him, as well as my obsession with frame detail as an expression of all these thoughts, are probably influences from these scientific disciplines.
Greek society went blind for some years, being inside a bubble of prosperity. Were you looking for a metaphor of the national self-delusion by blurring the line between reality and the fantasy world your characters habit in?
Yes, the film acts as such a metaphor.
The great shock suffered by Greek society, following other societies abroad, was the economic crisis. The shift from the bubble, the economic prosperity that generally prevailed, to a new condition where people were losing money, homes, jobs, families, relationships. At the same time, the widening of the gap of economic inequality made things even worse. It was entrenched in the consciousness of the middle class that “a life of mere survival is a luxury.” Workers’ rights have been restricted and in many cases the workers themselves have been blamed and targeted. All this change could not leave me unaffected. I have watched for years people all around me losing their identity entirely. Being out of work and money, there was nothing left to define them anymore. It is tragic. And the most tragic thing, too, is that many people in this condition have refused to admit it, to look it in the eye and to face it. This is one reason why Greek society will not recover from this anytime soon. Let alone now when while it seemed that the crisis was beginning to fade, just before the pandemic, signs of danger started resurfacing.
However, the economic crisis and, by extension, the great change in social structures was not sudden; it was a slow process. Greek society kept turning a blind eye for many years, existing within an illusion of prosperity. Hence the fall was more violent and, in many cases, uncontrollable. This is also what happened to the heroes of my film. The period of denialism was over and at some point, they had to look each other in the eye. This is exactly where the film begins.
In the end, I believe that for someone to be able to deal with these kinds of crises, one first needs to admit the problem and its causes and have the will to move forward. It sounds simple but in practice it seems that in Greek society, openly facing our issues is harder than anything else, and that is not at all promising.
According to your own words this movie as an existential thriller without a killer. How is that?
It seems that the darkest stories are hidden behind simple everyday life. The heroes of my film find themselves in an unknown situation, deprived of the roles and image they had created for themselves. This is precisely what disrupts both their psychological state and the relationship between them. Alice and Peter are confronted first with themselves, their desires, their choices, their mistakes. There is an internal anguish about whether they will eventually be able to find themselves, an agonizing feeling about whether they will be able to get out of the difficult situation they find themselves in. My cinematic lens follows the heroes and their environment with the intensity and suspense that I feel exists in their attempt to rediscover themselves.
Since the first moment I started writing the script, the tension created within me from “living” with my heroes, seemed like watching a thriller where the protagonists, struggling to save themselves or the others, are not looking for the killer, but for their true selves.
Do you consider yourself as part of a new Greek cinema along directors as Yorgos Lanthimos and Ektoras Lygizos?
We all belong to a new generation of Greek directors who have grown up within the same social link, with similar apperceptions. Other than that, everyone has his own aesthetic identity, a different degree of sensitivity, and of course their own way of approaching the issues that concern them.
You have declared music and sound as the biggest influences on you work. Which songs and sounds have inspired this film?
It is true, most of my influences come from music and sound. When I write a script, first I hear the sounds in my mind, and then the images take shape. The rustling of leaves in the countryside, the silence of a large empty house, the water of a running pool, water dripping from a defected tap, the sobbing of a woman, the sudden braking of a car, the breathing of a sleeping toddler, the barking of a dog in the middle of the night, the sound of a man swallowing his saliva, All the Pretty Little Horses by Odetta and Nick Cave, Thom Yorke’s music, Jonny Greenwood’ Burial, Johan Johansson, Krzysztof Penderecki, were a few of my sound stimuli.
How much does the film echo the friction and resilience of love in last year confinement?
The film premiered at a strange juncture in relation to its subject, and I think it reflects the ordeal that relationships and love go through. The violent change we are experiencing is unprecedented and fierce. I fear that the impact on our emotional state and our relationships will be enormous, and I believe that this is already apparent. The term love, now, is the adhesive material, not only between people but also for our own individual personalities. At the same time, however, love, patience, understanding are elements that are now being tested every day. Moreover, a series of mishandlings in the economy will lead to a crisis even bigger that the one we have gone through. Therefore, I think that it is crucial not to misunderstand the much-proclaimed term ‘distance’. I mean, it entails the risk of having deeply rooted into our minds that to cope with this difficult situation we need distance. On the contrary, we need companionship, we need to come closer than ever, without wearing “masks”. And I mean this of course in the figurative sense!
This crisis is much more than a health crisis. It will affect all areas of our lives and it will be more difficult (due to the health element) to understand who is “bad” and who is “good”. It will even be difficult to comprehend what we have already lost and what we will lose in our lives. The big question to ask is if we have learned anything. The indications so far are not good. But it is still early. The near future will show us whether we have learned anything or not. What is certain is that we should avoid complacency. Life is not just about being able to breathe in and out; for it to happen we need clean air.