Yorgos Lanthimos delivers a memorable BAFTA David Lean Lecture
by Kaleem Aftab
- The Greek director of Dogtooth and The Killing of a Sacred Deer addressed the London audience in his own idiosyncratic style
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos delivered the BAFTA David Lean Lecture in his own idiosyncratic style, choosing to sit on a comfy chair rather than stand behind a lectern, and telling the audience that rather than give a lecture, he wanted to share “common cultural influences in popular culture that we have all been exposed to; but also, in addition to that, share with you some of my experience that might be more foreign to you, just because of where I come from or the particular circumstances of my life”. He then told the audience that they may end the evening none the wiser because “as with many of my films, I’m not really going to draw conclusions for you in the end; you’ll have to figure out for yourselves what all of these things mean if you put them together”.
He described his youth growing up in Greece in the 1980s and 1990s, watching films such as Back to the Future, Dirty Dancing and Top Gun. He said that movies like Rocky, Jaws and Flashdance had an influence on Dogtooth [+see also:
interview: Yorgos Lanthimos
film profile], but his big obsession was with Bruce Lee films – particularly Enter the Dragon, which in Greece is rather inappropriately called The Yellow Asian from Hong Kong. He showed a clip from his film Alps [+see also:
film profile], which featured a scene in which he paid homage to the Asian in question. At an open-air cinema in Greece, he discovered the work of John Cassavetes and Robert Bresson, two of his favourite filmmakers, and juxtaposed scenes from their work. His early career was in TV advertising because it was the only way he could see himself getting paid to direct, and he used the funds he made from his day job to pay for his first three movies.
One of the men he worked with was Dimitris Papaioannou, and he showed a dance clip from one of Papaioannou’s films that had a beguiling abstract visual quality similar to that found in his own work. The influence of choreography on Lanthimos cannot be underestimated. Also, dancing, drinking and eating remind him of summers spent with his grandmother in Ikaria. Perhaps the most interesting clips that Lanthimos chose to share had nothing to do with auteurs working in cinema. One he had found on YouTube showed two old men dancing a Greek war dance called Pyrrhichios at a wedding, another was a traditional Cretan song from the 17th century called Erotokritos, and the final clip was of an actor reading Ancient Greek text from Sophocles’ Antigone. The other clip he showed, on an occasion when he said that he wished he could spend the whole night showing videos, was from another Greek director who influenced him, Nikos Papatakis.
His lecture was followed by a Q&A session led by Tanya Seghatchian, where he said of his own cinema, “I’m not analytical in any way when I’m trying to create something; I’m not doing that afterwards. So I think it’s just an accumulation of things that I like, of things that I experience, of relationships with other people, experimenting with things. I’m also very practical: I like to try things out and see how it works, so I think one of the reasons I quite appreciate dance and physicality is just because you do things; you try things out, try it this way or the other way. So it’s very grounded in a way at the same time: although the ideas that we’re trying to bring to fruition and the situations we create might be absurd, the process grounds it, and there’s an interesting conflict that goes on between the two.”
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