Exploring The Queerness of The Greek Weird Wave

ACT I: What is the Weird Wave?

A piece of media can act as a time capsule, often containing the reflections of current reality and acting as the author’s attempts at creating a cultural memory. This is the same for film waves, which often depict a cultural shift at that very moment. One of the most intriguing film movements of the last century is the Greek Weird Wave. A series of films from 2009-2015 that act as surreal vessels into the cultural and political turmoil that many Greek citizens had to face. Following on from the Greek financial crisis, many young filmmakers had to work with very little, their films usually surviving based on attention from international audiences. When asked about the Greek Weird Wave, Yorgos Lanthimos (one of the main figureheads of the wave)  states “The common thing is we have no funds, so we have to make our own very cheap, very small films.” What makes these films so culturally relevant is their sub-textual criticism of the Greek government which at that moment, was dealing with an internal crisis that was bred from years of nationalism and fixation on the Greek family model. Athina Rachel Tsangari (producer of Dogtooth and another figurehead in the wave) explains “It’s a greek obsession. The reason our politics and economy is in such trouble is that it’s running as a family. It’s who you know.” This model discriminated against those that strayed from the mantra at the time, “Fatherland, Religion, Family.” This politically charged act of filmmaking whilst acting as a lambasting of the government for their failings also focused on the alienation of the people crafting these works.

Two women stand facing each other, leaning in as their tongues reach into each others' mouths.
Attenberg. Image courtesy of Haos Films.

ACT II: The Characteristics 

The two cornerstones of the Greek Weird Wave are Dogtooth (2009) directed by Yorgos Lanthimos and Attenberg (2010) directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari. Both are independently made films that were highly influential in bringing attention to the Greek film industry; Dogtooth itself was nominated for the best foreign-language film at the 83rd Academy Awards, securing it as a prominent film that year that many international audiences were drawn to. Dogtooth follows “Father” (Christos Stergloglou) as he keeps his family isolated from the outside world whilst Attenberg follows a young woman in an unspecified industrial town as she’s faced with her father’s inevitable death. Both films focus on the how the older generation of Greece has affected the younger generation, seen through the films’ inherent oddness, a weird landscape where characters come across as alienating and uncomfortable, often demonstrating a “shift away from the history of Greece” and a turn towards “current reality” exploring Greece through the lens of “Sharpness, irony, demystification and cold criticism with the family and the anxieties of identity.” The reality of these films is difficult to grasp. They feel like glimpses of another world that parallels our own. What makes these two works fascinating is their queer subtext and how that reflects on the societal norms of Greece at the time. The anxiety of identity is present in both of these works, their notion of Queer identity offering a vision of a country’s people trying to subvert the expectations placed on them. 

ACT III: The Dogtooth 

Whilst Dogtooth and Attenberg differ in their thematic content, both approach queerness and gender identity in similar ways, opting to explore their world’s through the lens of the coming of age tale. It is somewhat more buried and abstract in Dogtooth, as we follow Eldest (Angeliki Papoulia) as she goes from an ideological representation of childhood to adulthood with Lanthimos’ staging it through a subversive lens. It’s established early in the film that the children of the house can only leave when the “right Dogtooth falls out”. This is a piece of information used by the Father to keep his children under his control. With this information, we’re shown Eldest ( the children aren’t named, only referred to by their titles, stripping them of any potential for their own identities) as she transitions from child to adult in the context of the family home. In the Queer Greek Weird, the house of Dogtooth represents the fabrication of narrative, one that is representative of the archetypal family structure. Marios Psaras states in The Queer Greek Weird Wave, Ethics, Politics and the Crisis of Meaning that the regime-like the structure of Dogtooth’s family “thematises the loss of individual autonomy within the traditional patriarchal family space.”  Queerness is pushed to the foreground as the father’s attempts to heterosexual-ise his micro-society leads to an act of queer rebellion. One of the only named characters of the film is Christine (Anna Kalaitzidou), who Father brings to the house to appease the sexual needs of the Son (Hristos Passalis), with the daughters being merely a secondary concern to the Patriarch. The father enforces a patriarchal rule on the children, with the son being the centre-piece. Dissatisfied with the son, however, Christine turns to Eldest for sexual favours. What begins as just that soon transforms Eldest against the nationalised narrative that she has been forced to grow up in. Soon she takes sexual agency as she barters with Christine for videotapes, the tapes themselves being major Hollywood blockbusters like Rocky IV and Jaws. They offer an entirely new perspective for Eldest and give her glimpses of the outside world, an act of defiance that she is later punished for. In Dogtooth’s portrayal of the family, Eldest is the queer rebellion that is set to dismantle it. 

ACT IV: My Name is Bruce 

The earliest sign of the fabrication of narrative in Dogtooth is the recontextualization of words. It’s an opening scene depicting a tape recording of the mother’s voice explaining new words to her children and giving them their own fictionalised meaning; a sea is a “leather armchair with wooden arms” and a motorway is a “very strong wind.” Information or the spread of misinformation is a component of fascism that keeps those under its rules unaware of their very circumstance. This acts as Father’s downfall, however, as a lack of context allows newfound Queer identity to surface. After Eldest has watched the films that she has received from Christine she asks to be called “Bruce”, a traditionally masculine name. Gender identity is something thoroughly explored in the Greek Weird Wave, these films often feel like they exist to go against the traditional norms that are so often forced upon us, highlighting the arbitrary nature of narratives. When we’re given a glimpse into these parallel worlds, we’re left to ponder the ridiculousness of age-old traditions. It’s why Eldest changing her name to Bruce is an important turning point for her, gone are the patriarchal mechanisms latched on to her by her father, and what’s left is a re-examination of gender identity that allows her to break free. Gender becomes contextless, allowing for it to be re-defined.  

Still from 'Dogtooth'. Features two girls stood quite rigidly, looking unhappy. A man on the left sits and plays guitar. There are party decorations in the room.
Dogtooth. Image courtesy of Boo Productions

ACT V – This Body is Not Your Own 

Dogtooth is about the suppression of queer identity in the family home, Attenberg is the alienation of the queer experience in a place that often eradicates it. Attenberg reflects the experience of being a stranger in your own country. The film is less subtle about its coming of age structure; we’re shown the world through the protagonist’s distanced point of view as she comes to terms with her own identity. Whilst Dogtooth focuses on the psychological effects of queer repression, Attenberg is more focused on the biology of queerness. A recurring motif of the film is the nature documentaries that our protagonist often finds solace in. The comfort comes from how easily explained animals’ behaviours are. Confusion over sexual identities often act as a precursor to our own transition into adulthood. Mariana (Ariane Labed) finds herself confused over the sexual attractions in her life. It’s explored thoroughly in the film’s opening scene, focusing on an awkward kiss between Mariana and her friend Bella (Evangelia Randou). What begins as an exploration soon becomes alienation, less so at the psychological exploration of the kiss and more so on the biological – the kiss itself lacks any sexual attraction with Steve Rose declaring “They look more like two birds trying to feed each other.” The film never really confirms Mariana’s sexuality, and it doesn’t really need to. While the film’s slow and offbeat nature will feel alien to some, the film explores the notion of human sexuality through our protagonist’s glance. It leaves the sex scenes de-eroticised and lets us examine them from our protagonist’s point of view, leading them to feel like the nature documentaries that the film often refers to. One scene in particular has her father Spyros (Vangelis Mourikis) acting as a stand-in for the older generation, re-affirming to her “I leave you in the hands of a new century without having taught you anything”. Much like Dogtooth, Attenberg’s look at sexuality is a proclamation of identity. As a generation left with nothing of our own, it stands to us to redefine our identity. 

EPILOGUE: I Leave You With Nothing 

While it may not be apparent at first glance, Dogtooth and Attenberg ask us to look deeper into our own anxieties over our sexual identities and the roles that the older generation wants us to play. They remain startling looks at a society that often looks to marginalize those it deems to not fit in with its own nationalism. It’s what makes these films and The Greek Weird Wave so important with each frame of these films we’re given time capsules of a younger group of people left with only pieces that they have to put together themselves.