Interview with Yorgos Lanthimos, member of the Feature Film Jury

Yorgos Lanthimos - Member of the Feature Films jury © Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images

Unveiled at Cannes in 2009 with Kynodontas (Dogtooth), winner of Un Certain Regard, Yorgos Lanthimos has been making an impact ever since with films that tend to border on the absurd. His latest film, The Favourite, saw Olivia Coleman awarded the Oscar for Best Actress for her role. He is now a member of the Feature Film Jury, chaired by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and tells us about his beginnings in Greece, his influences and his working method. 

After Kynodontas (Dogtooth) won Un Certain Regard, you entered the Competition twice more with The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Three films, three prizes. How do you think Cannes has contributed to your career?

It changed my life. Kynodontas (Dogtooth) was only my second feature film, after Kinetta. I made these two films in Greece, with barely any resources, surrounded by friends who helped me. At the time, we made films out of love for the cinema, presuming only our circle of friends would see them. We never imagined that they would be seen outside of Greece. Then Cannes happened. Followed by awards, other festivals, Oscars, and so on. As a Greek director, I wasn't particularly ambitious because the film industry barely existed in my country. It was a huge surprise. At first I didn't know how to manage the success, but later it gave me the opportunity to make more films, on a larger scale. Then, after Alpeis (Alps), I met English-speaking actors and that's when I thought about making films in English. 

You made three films in Greece before you moved abroad. What motivated your decision?

I have always wanted to leave Greece and experience life in another country. Having made my first films on a very low budget, constantly asking friends for help and borrowing equipment from the advertising companies I worked for, I knew I couldn't carry on like that. I couldn't be asking people for favours all the time. Even for filming locations, we were forced to go to friends' houses. We borrowed everything we could from them: their car, their clothes, their house. In a sense, it allowed us to be spontaneous and free. I learnt a lot from this experience, but I knew that if I wanted to make films with more structure, I had to leave. The structure and financial resources in Greece weren't allowing me to make the kind of films I had in mind. 

I try to tap into things that do not manifest themselves consciously in our daily lives and see what lies beneath the surface.

Do you think that a lack of financial resources encourages creativity?

To a certain extent, yes. I learnt some directing techniques in Greece that I love and always apply in my new films. For example, I don't like using artificial light, I prefer to work with a small team, with not much equipment and I don't like my actors wearing too much makeup. In Greece, filming like this was a necessity since we had nothing. Subsequently, it became my working method. I find that imposing rules and limits helps me to be more decisive and creative. It generates a more pertinent and concise result.  

After Kynodontas (Dogtooth), you were quickly associated with the "Greek Weird Wave". Can you tell us more about the origin of this movement? What does it say about the country of Greece?

I don't think such a movement exists. For me, it was just a time when the younger generation realised they could make films on a low budget. And suddenly, the entire international community began to take an interest in our part of the world, declaring that the films were part of a specific movement. You know, people like to use labels. The films they associate with the "Greek Weird Wave" are actually very different from each other. I think the movement was born from a coincidence between Greek films starting to meet with international success, like Attenberg and Kynodontas (Dogtooth), and a generation of young filmmakers starting to make more films. 

At the start of each film, you take very serious social issues that you push to the extreme, until they reach the absurd…  

It's like doing an experiment. I take a situation where I explore extreme conditions and see how people react. It reveals a lot about human nature. I try to tap into to things that do not manifest themselves consciously in our daily lives and see what lies beneath the surface. Creating these situations in my films says a lot about my characters, but also the feelings of the audience. That's why I like creating ambiguous films. It allows the viewers to be directly involved and to form their own opinion, without deciding for them.