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It’s summertime in Greece. The tourist season is at its peak. But Sofia Exarchou, in her second feature film after the acclaimed Park, is not interested in lazy days under the sun or bathing on beautiful beaches. At the heart of Animal is what happens during the night, when Kalia, an animator at an all-inclusive island resort, and his colleagues, put on glossy costumes to perform for the guests’ fun.
Animal has again a landscape that for me is very interesting to explore. The starting point was related to the working conditions and systems in western Europe and in general in capitalist societies. Very soon I realized that I could tell the story of this system through the prism of tourism. I see how incomes and the number of people visiting Greece are increasing every year. I wanted to talk about labor through this industry. At a second level came the idea of an animator as the main character. Mainly because the power of entertainment, in our capitalist society, is an important element. Also because I’m very close to the concept performance, as a filmmaker.
The show must go on, and the system behind cannot stop. The working conditions were the most important element for me, portraying Kalia and the other animators. It’s an environment that consists in having fun, it’s summertime, with a glossy and beautiful image on the surface. I wanted to tell what’s behind all of this. Who are these people, that have to provide entertainment everyday, 24/7, to all these tourists? I didn’t choose to focus on a factory, or a place where you know the conditions are harsh. I chose a glossy image and I wanted to deconstruct it and talk about the people who have to perform 24 hours a day, in very difficult conditions, without any welfare. ‘Animal’ comes from the latin anima, soul, like animators they give soul, energy, they have to animate things and give happiness to the others. After many years, Kalia almost can’t distinguish her personal life from her working life.
In a way Animal has a lot of Greek elements, with the island and the tourist industry. But for me, actually, this feeling of entrapment doesn’t apply only to Greece. We are all trapped in a working system or society. Both in Park and Animal a central element is the body. In Park, young people wanted to express all the energy typical of their age, in Animal their work has a lot to do with the body. My idea was to create a modern circus, and they are the animals in the cage, they have to do gags and comedy acts to entertain.
It was one of the main narrative elements in order to develop the script, talking about two opposite journeys. On the one hand there is a character inside the system who, for most of his life, has a role to play every night. On the other hand there is someone completely new in that world, who has just arrived, who has an opposite energy. She needs to be accepted by the system. For this youngster it is a coming of age path, while for Kalia it’s a new awareness of what her life is about. For me, it was almost like these two characters, together with a third one that is a little 6-year-old child, represent in a way a unique character in different moments of her life. I didn’t needed to create a backstory for Kalia, because the other girls presented a possible backstory of her life. This was an important element for me, but quite difficult to achieve.