• Flash Competition


Janis Rafa

Janis Rafa
Lacerate blends elements of realism with a dreamlike, symbolic dimension, portraying the extreme decision of a woman who turns from victim into executioner. Inspired by the iconography of mythological and biblical paintings such as Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes, Rafa nonetheless chooses to show the moment after the act of revenge—or self-defense—when the dramatic climax is already over. In a series of mises-en-scène shot only in natural light, we see a domestic setting overrun by a pack of dogs that roam around restlessly, attacking objects and furniture. The interior of this home is a mental space, violated and lacerated like a body that has undergone violence. Fruit, game, and remnants of food are arranged like still lifes, with allegorical elements evoking the precariousness of life and the loss of innocence. It is a suspended, hostile ecosystem, where the brutality suffered by other species is transferred by osmosis to human beings. In the vision imagined by the artist, the hunting hounds and other dogs—which were perhaps owned by the couple and witnessed the abusive relationship over the years—have come back like ghosts from the past. Historically symbols of loyalty to their master, the dogs here rebel and become the woman’s guardians, supporting and protecting her in the process of liberation from her persecutor. It is thus the irrational, animalistic part of the unconscious that has been unleashed, allowing the woman to regain control over her life and save herself.
(Leonardo Bigazzi)

interview with Janis Rafa

You were invited to make this film by the In Between Art Film Foundation as part of the MASCARILLA 19 – CODES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE project about domestic violence, especially against women. How did you receive this invitation? How did the production framework influence the making of the film?
During the first lockdown, I was contacted by curator Leonardo Bigazzi to propose a work for the project ‘Mascarilla 19’. Bigazzi knew my past film and art practice. We had eight months ahead to research, discuss and produce the work, while I was living and working in my hometown Athens. Interestingly, the work was an outcome of exiting the first lockdown phase and entering into its second one in October 2020. I believe that these relations of enforced captivity, personal space, cohabitation and freedom, that we have all experienced recently in one way or another, have informed my ideas and are visible in the film.

You construct a stroll through a dilapidated domestic space, a bourgeois universe where the remains of a fallen splendor, of a past opulence, are exposed. Why this stage direction? Why this sociological environment?
It was clear for me from the beginning that I wished to explore the notion of domestic violence, inherited violence and the reversal of power structures through fiction, cinematography and the absence of dialogue or text in the narrative. I aimed at creating a visual world in which the history of male, dominant, perpetuated violence and the history of art or painting could merge within this abandoned environment of homeliness and glory.

You have written a silent film, without any dialogue, relying above all on the principles of symbol and metaphor. Can you tell us about these choices and the writing of the film?
It was a challenge to describe violence and hierarchies amongst genders, beings (human or animal) and space (outdoor vs indoor) without falling into the usual symbolisms of the oppressor vs the oppressed, tortured or resisting body. Moreover, I believe that domestic violence is applied not only to the human but also to the way we perceive and acknowledge animal life and the life of other, in our everyday life. Using the theme of the hunter, the hunter’s dogs and the prey was a solution for me in order to open up the urgent matter of gender violence into a timeless universal scale.

Through your visual treatment of bodies, the composition of still lifes and vanities, your film refers to Dutch and Italian painting, particularly that of Caravaggio. Can you shed some light on this pictorial universe? How did you work on the image?
The film is a composition of imagery with indirect references to Caravagesque painting, 19th century paintings of hunting scenes and Flemish still life. However, the most prominent inspiration for the film was the Italian female painter Artemisia Gentileschi and her paintings of Judith beheading Holofernes.
I would add that the particular house we chose to use in the film, was one of the main factors that led us to form such compositions and cinematography. It liberated us from a formal narration and time coherence, so we treated every sequence as a tableau vivant.

You stage a hunting scene: the game, carrion, a pack of dogs that haunt the space. How do you associate the idea of hunting with the issue of domestic violence?
I consider violence as an inherited construct between man and everything else that doesn’t include him/her. By this, I mean, male superiority and even more so human superiority, upon what is considered weak, inferior, mute, without logic, without emotions. Animals are a big part of this ‘misunderstanding’ in the way we perceive the world and our superiority amongst humans and amongst humans and nature. Hence, the hunting element in the film was a way for me to comment not only on western tradition but also on human history.

Your film deals with domestic violence, not without a certain frontality, from an unusual, even taboo angle: the turning of violence against the aggressor, the possible revenge, the question of self-defense. What led to this treatment decision?
Placing the female character against the aggressor and allowing a possible scenario of self-defense or even revenge was a difficult decision that was part of our conversations with Bigazzi early on. But fiction and film are a great format to explore this direction, overcome taboos and visual predicaments and propose an alternative viewpoint on the matter.
Liberating the animal, empowering the woman and reversing the roles between perpetrator and obsessor was a key in scripting a film about domestic violence in current times.

You composed a soundtrack centered on the movement of the dogs, their animality (panting, growling, moaning…). How did you proceed for this sound finish?
The cinematography (by DoP Thodoros Mihopoulos GSC) is choreographed in relation to the architecture of the space, the instinctive movements of the dogs and the immobilized bodies of the woman and the man.
On the contrary, the sound design (by Aris Athanasopoulos) follows another kind of movement and rhythm in the space that is not always visible. We often hear what we cannot see. The sound emphasises on this subverted version of inhabiting a space by the presence of the dogs that move freely and in anxiety. The physicality, textures and animality the soundtrack creates, was vital for us in order to refer to the notion of self-defense, empowerment but also abandonment and enclosure. The animal is finally free but nevertheless it is stuck inside.

Interview by Claire Lasolle

  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

Italy / 2020 / 16’

Original Version : No dialogue.
Script : Janis Rafa.
Photography : Janis Rafa, Thodoros Mihopoulos.
Editing : Janis Rafa.
Sound : Aris Athanasopoulos.
Production : Beatrice Bulgari (Beatrice Bordone).
Distribution : Beatrice Bulgari (Fondazione In Between Art Film).
Filmography : Kala azar, 2020. Take 11: What Remains Is a Wound Disembodied, 2018. The Thin Crust of Earth, 2016. There She Blows, 2016. Untitled, 2016. Requiem to a Fatal Incident, 2015. Winter Came Early, 2015. A Sign of Prosperity to the Dreamer, 2014. Requiem to a Shipwreck, 2014. The Last Burial, 2013. Father Gravedigger, 2013. Our Dead Dogs, 2013. Exit K1, 2012. I Thought I Found You But I Was Looking on Footage of a Different Country, 2010. Dad Where Are You?, 2010.