Dimitris Kanellopoulos makes his directorial debut with “Pack of Sheep,” a portrait of the corrosive effects of violence on the male inhabitants of a small Greek town, which has its world premiere in the main competition of the Thessaloniki Film Festival.
The story unfolds as Thanasis (Dimitris Lalos), a family man struggling to pay his debt to a local loan shark, joins forces with several townsmen to negotiate more favorable terms to settle their accounts. But when two petty criminals arrive in the town, looking to strongarm the men into paying up, they’re soon caught up in a cycle of violence that threatens to spin out of control.
For his first feature, Kanellopoulos said he was urged by a friend to write a noir story that captured the unique, wintery atmosphere of the island where he was raised. He began writing in the darkest period of Greece’s economic crisis, something that he didn’t intend to address directly, but which nevertheless found its way into a story about desperate men pushed by their circumstances to the brink. “I did not have it in my mind at all when I was writing, but many things work subconsciously in writing,” the director tells Variety.
As Thanasis and the other characters in “Pack of Sheep” began to take shape, Kanellopoulos says he was inspired by “what I saw happening before the crisis, when money was in abundance and created arrogance, ostentation and vulgarity, things that in the crisis were transformed into fascism, racism and violence.”
The director drew on his life-long love of genre films to create what he describes as a “modern Western.” “I grew up in the countryside and spent a lot of time in nature, outdoors, so I guess the reason I preferred Westerns to other genres is that I could – with imagination obviously – show what the films of the genre were telling in the real space that I found myself,” he says. “Maybe if I grew up on an island, things would be different. So the open space is the main inspiration I have from Westerns. This is what I was thinking for the heroes of ‘Pack of Sheep.’”
A veteran sound technician, Kanellopoulos cites a wide range of influences for his directorial debut: Greek auteurs like Theo Angelopoulos and Alexis Damianos, in whose films he sees “a kind of brutality”; Andrei Tarkovsky and Clint Eastwood, with “the anthropocentric approach to some [of his] Westerns”; the Coen brothers and “Cool Hand Luke.”
“I like movies that start on a human scale to reach either the opposite sidewalk or a world of monsters on the other side of the universe,” he says. “Each of these is a reference and inspiration, even when I want to make something completely different.”
While writing “Pack of Sheep,” Kanellopoulos didn’t foresee that his modern Western would be rendered especially timely in a post-#MeToo era, with its depiction of powerless men who feel they have no choice but to resort to violence. But it is happenstance that he doesn’t shy away from.
“The film focuses on the concepts of manipulation, coercion, solidarity, the idea of being ‘united,’ as a look at the human condition,” he says. “From this point of view, the film also examines toxic masculinity, keeping pace with today’s social demands. Which is not a bad thing at all. If nothing else, a film should create a field of dialogue.”