Directed by Filippos Tsapekis | Review by Prarthana Mitra
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here is no end to Greeks and their dabbling in tragedies, goes the popular saying. The same can be said for the filmmaking talent that constantly emerges from the country’s “weird wave,” even after poster boy Yorgos Lanthimos set sail westward.
On that note, Filippos Tsapekis’s latest short offers a promising set piece for the Grecian oeuvre on the contemporary global stage. 9to5 lifts off from the classical battle between the mortal realm and the unknown while extrapolating dystopian elements to make a statement about the very modernist concept of ennui-laced exhaustion, tying it back to the titular feeling of always running out of time amid the break-neck pace of this world.
Yet, the short film which runs for about 12 minutes has none of the bearings of a cautionary tale, nor does it attempt to hide its gravity behind a darkly comic veneer like most of its peers.
Tsapekis is very serious about the thematic overtures of his work, but never over-conscious even as he builds up to a momentous final climax which serves both as exposition and an epilogue. The basic premise is simple: In the world of 9to5, tiredness is forbidden and those found guilty are relegated to a lower life. For those truly weary souls, the choice of easeful death awaits.
The film’s protagonist, a lawyer, puts himself in the unenviable situation of having to prove he is not tired, governed as he is by omniscient and invisible forces that forbid bodily and mental exhaustion, for reasons that unknown. Nowhere are the moral ramifications of such a mandate manifest in the film, as it leaves it to the viewers to arrive at their own interpretation. It is also not clear whether the totalitarian world Tsapekis paints is a social commentary on the utilitarianism of late capitalism, or if it’s more akin to the grossly automated world we live in—which cares only about productivity and encourages the burnout culture.
These adjudications are, in fact, secondary and subjective; the film’s ability to elicit such diverse readings that deserve to be delved into in greater detail. The cinematic impact of this short banks itself greatly on the convincing performances of actors Yiannis Papadoupoulos and Kora Karvouni, the brilliance of which is enhanced by Eirini Bitta’s script which withholds more than it gives away and Pantelis Mantzanas’s exquisite cinematography which draws out the sinister and the bleak at once.
Yiannis with his nervous twitches and Kora as the authoritarian representative who is not fooled by his attempts to hide his weariness depict the constant struggle of power, while a dystopian gymnasium serves as the backdrop for most of the action. The film unfolds in the form of a conversation that soon takes the form of trial, where the lawyer tries to defend his innocence against all the odds. The sense of a surveillance state is palpable like the interrogation he is subjected to, while Yiannis tries his best to escape the dismal fate that lies in store for a tired man. One must, after all, imagine Sisyphus happy.
The final scene is a single take which tracks across a warehouse floor after Yiannis has failed his test. It is also the first time we get an inkling of the punishments meted out to those who fail it, and those who wish to be eternally exempted from the state of awakening. The film closes to a melancholic Theremin score, played to a powerful image of sleeping bodies that are as good as dead. As the end credits roll up, this image of surrender conveys the existential dichotomy of Tsapekis’s world— true rest can arrive only at the cost of death.
Prarthana is presently in between odd jobs and obtaining her master’s degree in literature. She loves modern poetry and meditative cinema. Based out of Calcutta, Prarthana observes people, football, films and enjoys writing about all three. Of late, she relates to Frank Ocean’s music. Her writing experience consists of writing for various sites such as Try Cinema, The Indian Economist, Doing The Rondo, Saintbrush and various academic journals.