Michalis Konstantatos Saddles Up ‘Pretty Little Horses’ in Competition in Sarajevo

After tragedy strikes Aliki and her husband Petros, they flee Athens with their young son Panagiotis, seeking refuge in a provincial seaside town. But when Petros finds temporary work as the caretaker of a luxurious villa, the family gradually begins moving in, blurring the line between reality and the fantasy world they increasingly habit. Before long Aliki begins to realize that whatever plan they had for putting their lives back together isn’t working—or worse, might not even exist.

“All the Pretty Horses” is the second feature from Greek filmmaker Michalis Konstantatos. It world premieres in competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival. Developed and presented in the Torino Film Lab, the Berlinale Co-Production Market, and the Venice Gap Financing Market, the film is produced by Horsefly Productions (Greece) in co-production with A Private View (Belgium) and Massah Film (Germany). Pluto Film is handling world sales.

Konstantatos’s first feature, “Luton,” world premiered in San Sebastian in 2013. Ahead of the debut of his sophomore effort, the director spoke to Variety about the tragic impact of the Greek economic crisis, how we react when difficult truths are finally revealed, and what it means to live in an interconnected world.

This film tells the story of a couple confronted with a sudden, violent displacement, after their lives are completely upended by an unexpected disaster. What attracted you to this idea as a starting point for your story?
Greece was, and has continued to be for many years, in a deep economic crisis. When it was on the verge of bankruptcy and immediately after, most people’s lives changed dramatically. Families broke up, people lost faith in others, but also in themselves. Violent displacement (geographical or not) was unavoidable for many people. Leaving your place means that you are leaving your whole social environment, your habits, your role in the community, the dynamics that are created within it and which ultimately nourish your mental state. So by changing place, people’s behavior is affected and reshaped anew. This in turn changes one’s psychological state and of course the relationships with the people around him. The story of Aliki and Petros in my film was set in this light.

However, the destruction of the Greek economy, and consequently the great change in social structures, was not sudden, but was coming slowly. Greek society has been going blind for some years, being inside a bubble of prosperity. So the fall was more violent and in many cases uncontrollable. Something similar happened to the heroes of my film. The “ostrich” period is over and at some point they had to look each other in the eyes. This is where my film begins.

You describe this movie as an “existential thriller.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
The heroes of my film are forced, each for their own reason, to move their lives to a place very different from the one they were used to and knew how to navigate. They are in an unknown state, stripped of the roles and image they had created for themselves. This is exactly what disrupts their psychological state and consequently their relationship.

In the film, Aliki and Petros are confronted first with themselves, their desires, their choices, their mistakes. There is an inner anxiety about whether they will finally be able to find themselves, an anxious feeling about whether they will be able to get out of the limbo situation they are in. And whether they will eventually be able to exist together as conscious personalities. So for me the film is a thriller in which the heroes, in order to save themselves or save others, are not looking for the killer, but their real selves.

The drastic change in the couple’s fortunes is expressed visually through the contrast between the cramped apartment where they live, and the luxurious villa where Petros works. The seaside town where “All the Pretty Little Horses” is set likewise feels like an important character in the film. What did you want those physical spaces to say about your characters, and the world they inhabit?
Yes, the seaside location of the film is an important character, as well as the small apartment where Aliki and Petros live, and the villa where he works. The villa is for them a memory, a symbol of desire, passion, but also a trap. A beautiful place, ready to swallow them. Their small apartment, on the other hand, looks like a cage, a prison for their dreams, but at the same time it is an unprecedented, neutral, naked place that looks like it could give them a chance to look each other in the eye honestly. As long as they realize this opportunity.

The seaside place where these houses are located is a special place where the large holiday villas owned by the wealthy, and the small houses inhabited by the locals, coexist at a relatively short distance. This coexistence gives an illusion of “cohabitation” of the place, in which reality often comes to dissolve it.

Spaces demonstrate and confirm financial status. The choice of space that we choose to live in is usually done in two ways. Consciously, provoking and enjoying the benefits of the “name” of the area, or unconsciously, with the feeling simply that we “belong” to this place. When living in a place is done out of necessity and not out of choice, it is like having to build a prison that looks like a house. As nice as it gets, at some point you will want to get out of it to get some air. And then the truth is revealed.

The film opens with Aliki and Petros’s relationship appearing to come apart at the seams; the rest of the movie follows their attempt to make that relationship whole again. What do you think we reveal about ourselves, and our relationships, in times of crisis?
It is the moments of crisis that always reveal the truth. What these periods actually do is leave man naked in front of himself. They reveal who we really are. How generous, how brave, how able to love and be loved. In recent decades, from an era of “euphoria” that in many cases caused apathy (social and political), we have passed into a time of great economic crisis that has forced us to move from our position. But this very “shock” is, in my opinion, useful as long as we pay attention to a crucial and dangerous point: with what tools we will manage it. To handle a crisis with dignity and companionship we must have the right tools to do so. The mental strength and generosity to pass from “I” to “we.” It is very easy for everyone to hide and hide their weaknesses in an environment of prosperity. But what happens when we lack material goods and stability?

Aliki and Petros seem to see their situation as temporary—a brief period of transition before they return to a more “normal,” perhaps better, life in Athens. That feels like a story that’s not only relevant in Greece, but all around the world today. Did you write this script with that universal aspect in mind?
Yes, I always think and write with the world in mind. I am informed as best I can every day about the economic, political and social situation around the world. We can’t think that we live and act only in our microcosm. Especially in our time, we are very much interdependent. The choices and attitudes of our lives can and do affect a much larger portion of individuals and societies than we think. What Aliki and Petros see as a temporary situation before the “normal” returns can lead them to a quagmire that will cost them their whole life. On the contrary, acting with a collective conscience is an act that can certainly provide us with a mobility, a course. And finally, that matters. To be able, consciously, to continue together.