Sundance 2012 Review: “L” by Babis Makridis

A heart wrenching comedy that slips into your blind spot and crashes into your brain.

How can a scene, where a driver crashes his car intentionally, repeatedly and rather insistently into a concrete column, tug at your heartstrings? And how can the sight of a blood-soaked man, holding a severed hand, make you laugh?

In Babis Makridi’s “L”, the conventional interpretation of any one scene is instantly rendered obsolete. What you see and what you feel don’t necessarily coincide and watching this film is like watching a regular movie through a distorting mirror.

The story is fairly simple: a man lives in his car until everything around him falls apart. He fights and loses but instead of giving up, he tries to change. He abandons his beloved four walls in favor of two, and enters a brave new world: the world of motorcycles!

The thing is, a story like that doesn’t just flirt with absurdity, it’s the very definition of absurdity, and can’t possibly be interpreted as anything other than a metaphor. A metaphor about that defining moment when you’re forced to reinvent yourself and rediscover the world you once knew, starting your life from scratch.

“L” is a story about a tragic downfall, spiked with the optimism of new beginnings. It’s about the desperation of uncertainty, the fear of the void and the euphoria of landing on your own two feet, only to start all over again.

Everything that happens in “L” could easily belong to a soap opera or even an ancient Greek tragedy, but the narration doesn’t retain the clichés of the first format nor the dramatic pompousness of the second. “L” speaks a language of its own, with brand new rules and an enunciation that’s like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

At first sight, the format feels a little contradictory, like the idea of a man, run over by a car, lying in the middle of the road waiting for another car – the ambulance – to save his life. But in “L’s” universe, the conventional goes hand-in-hand with the unconventional, or at least they hitch a ride in the same car!

Through the windscreen, the landscape is truly mind-blowing. A world of empty parking lots, grey asphalt, green fields and characters mostly defined by their eccentricities. Structured with incredible precision and complemented by exemplary photography, it benefits from a very strict visual style coupled with heretic storytelling and a disturbingly expressionless Aris Servetalis in the lead. The supporting cast is pitch-perfect and the entire thing, from the very first eye-popping frame down to the final crescendo, spiked with a weird, melancholic sense of humor, is nothing less than mesmerizing.

At first sight it might come off as a handful of impressive images and isolated incidents, but further down the line you will realize that they all click together in a complex ensemble that’s pounding with tension, soundlessly slipping into the blind spot of your rear view mirror. It would be easy to file this film under bizarro comedy and forget it ever happened, but deep down you’d know it’s much more than that. It a deeply unsettling work that charms you as much as it disorients you and, most importantly, it’s the kind of film that follows you out of the theater, slips next to the driver’s seat and refuses to leave your thoughts, no matter what…

Check out the trippy new trailer: