LFF 2013: 'Luton' review

★★★☆☆
Michalis Konstantatos' debut feature and LFF contender Luton (2013) paints a disturbing portrait of contemporary Greece, whilst lacking little of the recent Weird Wave's deadpan satire. The film begins with a sultry and incredibly uncomfortable close-up of a woman running on a treadmill. Her heavy breath is amplified by the camera's perturbing proximity, evoking a tight-chested degree of anxiety that will continue throughout this suffocating drama. Luton focuses on three seemingly different individuals. The first is the lady we're introduced to on the treadmill, a beautiful young trainee lawyer in her thirties.

The other two subjects are both male: one a wealthy high school student trapped within an autocratic domestic prison of manners and etiquette, the other a convenience store owner who we first observe staring at the phone sex adverts in the local newspaper. There seems to be nothing linking these three distinctly different individuals, each originating from different social, economic and professional backgrounds. However, as the film unfurls to its cataclysmic conclusion, it transpires that there's a deeply visceral connection shared between all three of them. Throughout, Konstantatos' uncompromisingly extreme close-ups smother the audience, rarely stepping far enough back to elude to the bigger picture.

Luton is a film that demands you read the fine print before signing up for the full experience. Utilising the same aesthetic blueprint as both of Haneke's morally-detached Funny Games offerings and the stark social realism of Puiu's Aurora (2012), Konstantatos' static camera and flat photography presents us with an insular trio of protagonists unable to express their anxieties to the outside world. The film's oblique and unashamedly austere direction is further inhibited by the monosyllabic dialogue of a disjointed script, purposefully removing any sense of vivacity from proceedings. It's tempting to read Luton as yet another reactionary convulsion to the financial crisis in Greece, but on further examination Konstantatos' curio is far more about greed within a society force-fed capitalism.

The violence that seeps into the film's chaotic dénouement is clearly intended to mirror Greece's recent years of turbulence, with this escape from the catatonic state of commercial reliance shown in a strikingly anarchic and psychologically lacerating fashion. Luton's languid pace and sterile construction is required in order to make its final conclusion so powerful, yet there's no denying that it makes for a laborious experience. An engaging and thoroughly thought-provoking debut, it's just a shame that Konstantatos' bold didactic and explosive finale is exponentially more enjoyable than its gruelling reality.

The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our LFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble

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