Monday, December 9, 2013

AGGELIKI PAPOULIA (Dogtooth & Alps): The most unique comedic actress working today...

Dogtooth (2009)
Next year Yorgos Lanthimos will be yet another foreign director in a semi-recent string of prominent foreign directors to make the transition from "foreign arthouse" to American/English speaking cinema with his next film; The Lobster – a dramedy/science fiction love story. While I am very excited about this (it's one of my top 5 anticipated films of 2014, assuming it's coming out in 2014) I'm also a tad bit worried. Anyone that’s seen Wong Kar Wai's My Blueberry Nights (2007), Park Chan Wok's Stoker (2013) and even Haneke's remake of his own Funny Games (2008) should know that acclaimed foreign auteurs don’t always have the best luck on American soil (I personally enjoyed the Funny Games remake very much). In the case of Yorgos Lanthimos I'm even more worried because his brand of dry/dark/tragic humor is very much an acquired taste. He makes comedy out of stuff like; incest, diabetes, death, paralysis & violence against women. I'm not sure the average American movie goer would be in to his work. That's not to say he doesn’t have any American fans. I mean, I exist. Furthermore, my (American) friends over at The Pink Smoke are fans of Lanthimos as well. I've also had a 100% success rate in recommending Dogtooth to my other American friends (Lanthimos' 2nd feature which surprisingly got an Oscar nomination for best foreign film in 2010). So it’s not like all Americans don’t "get" his brand of cinema or can't find humor in traditionally unfunny things, but I can’t think of too many prominent dark comedies that have done well over here in recent years.
The Lobster obviously won’t be a big budget/Hollywood film but I'm sure part of the goal of it is to reach a wider audience so it will probably get pushed harder than Lanthimos' previous work.

Alps (2011)
I'm most anxious/concerned about this new film because Yorgos is bringing along his muse/most recognized collaborator with him to America in the form of Aggeliki Papoulia - the star of his last two films (Dogtooth & Alps) and quite possibly the funniest woman in cinema right now. I've recently come to the realization that Alps is shaping up to be one of the best films of the decade so far, and a big part of that has to do with Aggeliki's performance. I'd really love for her to crossover and gain more fans. Lanthimos’ English speaking debut with Aggeliki Papoulia couldn’t have come at a better time given that comedic actresses have started this unofficial "women are funny too" movement over here in America with figures like; Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Zoey Deschannel, Rashida Jones, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph and a few others (the interesting thing about this is that people like Maria Bamford & Amy Sedaris, two of the funniest women in the world, haven’t really been included in this scene). I've said this before and I'll say it again - I don’t like subcategorizing people according to race, gender, sexuality, etc but Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph and the rest of the gang have essentially embraced the "funny woman" label to a certain degree so I'm just going with it. Hopefully in the future we can acknowledge all comedic actors & actresses together in one group.

Sure, it’s the perfect time for Aggeliki Papoulia to gain a wider audience now that women are taken seriously as comedic actresses (...if that makes any sense) but the thing about her style of humor is that its light-years ahead of all the aforementioned women (and men) in my opinion. I'm not sure if people will appreciate her the same way I do. She's intense & dry yet somewhat physical & silly at the same time. A lot of that has to do with the excellent material she's given to work with courtesy of Lanthimos. To be honest, I can't picture her under the direction of any other filmmaker. Unlike your average female comedic actor, she doesn’t rely on a combination of wacky faces & mannerisms mixed with cuteness. Her face is always a mixture of worried, concerned & curious. Come to think of it, she hardly smiles or even looks happy half the time which is what adds to her unique delivery (note her facial expressions in the images throughout this write-up)There aren’t too many interviews with the Greek actress and I don’t know much about her but I'm convinced she takes herself extremely serious and is a very intense woman (I’m not basing this assumption on much). Not that there's anything wrong with that. An actor should take their craft seriously. But I think that she thinks she's a serious dramatic actress when she really kinda isn’t. I don’t think she knows how funny she really is or is aware she's acting in comedies. I honestly believe that after Yorgos Lanthimos yells "cut!" (on these kinds of scenes below) Aggeliki Papoulia still stays in character afterwards and doesn’t break or smile...

Other highlights from her career so far include a quick solo reenactment of the fight between Rocky & Drago from Rocky 4, the scene in front of the mirror at the end of Dogtooth, the way she takes a blow to the head in Alps and just her all around awkward disposition all throughout Alps
While violence against women has pretty much become an unfortunately accepted thing in cinema over the years, she seems to embrace it and own it in a funny way (admit it, that scene in Dogtooth where she gets whacked over the head repeatedly with VHS tape is hilarious). Has there been a film yet that Aggeliki Papoulia has appeared in where she isn’t beaten?
I'm fully aware that my own personal sense of humor is a little different. I've lost count of how many times I've recommended a Tim & Eric Skit to someone only for them to come back and simply say: "This wasn't funny." My appreciation for Aggeliki Papoulia might just be the same. Dry awkward humor ain't for everyone. But I guarantee the average movie-goer (or even some so-called "movie buffs" whose knowledge of cinema doesn't go beyond Christopher Nolan & Darren Aronofsky) can't name an actress working right now as unique as her which counts for something. There's a handful of talented actresses out there right now who could have certainly played the same parts that Papoulia is known for but it wouldn't have been as genuine. I truly believe there's a real piece or her in the characters she plays.

Ariane Labed in Attenberg
And she's not the only unique up & coming actress from Greece to potentially gain a wider fanbase. Ariane Labed (co-star of Alps) has a unique charm & delivery as well. Besides winning best actress at Venice for her performance in Attenberg (one of my favorite films from 2012) she also had a small part in Richard Linklater's Before Midnight this year. Like Papoulia, she also has the same brand of dry (non-forced) awkward humor.
Every time I see Greta Gerwig, who lays on the whole "Hey guys, I'm the awkward girl!" a little too heavy sometimes, I cant help but wish Yorgos Lanthimos' actresses could get the same spotlight...
Am I the only one who finds her absurd impersonation of Prince (below) to be hilarious?

Given the projected cast of The Lobster with actors like; Lea Seydoux (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol & Blue Is The Warmest Color) & Ben Winshaw (Skyfall) I imagine Aggeliki won’t have a starring role this time around but I don’t think Yorgos would come this far in his career with his leading lady (who essentially made his films what they are) to suddenly give her a small insignificant part in what could possibly be his "biggest" movie to date. Actually it would be awesome if she ended up stealing the show from the more recognizeable actors. 
Will Americans/those unfamiliar with Lanthimos & Papoulia's style of humor & drama be open-minded & accepting? We'll have to wait next year (hopefully) and see...

Both Alps & Dogtooth are currently available on netflix


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