- Advertisement -

“Abused prosperity is oftentimes made the means of our greatest adversity” (Abused prosperity is oftentimes made the means of our greatest adversity) writes the English writer Daniel Defoe at some point in the novel “Robinson Crusoe” (1719).

From Robinson Crusoe, the archetypal shipwrecked man in the middle of nowhere who faces a thousand hardships in search of the meaning of life, the Greek director Vassilis Katsoupis was also inspired by the character of the hero in his first fiction film entitled “Inside”, which is shown at the Panorama of this year’s 73rd Berlinale. And she may not claim the Golden Bear in the competition part – although according to many she could and indeed with claims – but everyone is talking about her. Tickets are sold out as soon as they go online.

Cage and survival with artwork background

- Advertisement -

The plot is simple and linear. It is a psychological thriller and at the same time a modern survival film. Someone is trapped somewhere and is trying to escape. “I think there are thousands of other similar films,” says Vassilis Katsoupis.

In this case the “someone” is an experienced burglar-art thief, played by Hollywood star Willem Dafoe. The “somewhere” is a state-of-the-art apartment, full of original artwork and high-tech appliances in the heart of New York (filming took place in a studio in Cologne).

An architecture hermetically closed, which ends up becoming a trap for the protagonist. With no way out, the protagonist remains trapped in a luxury prison overflowing with “prosperity”, searching in vain for escape while trying to maintain his inner balance.

For Vassilis Katsoupis, what differentiates his film from others of its kind “is the dialogue with art and architectural design. That is, how the environment, in which the hero is trapped, interacts with him”. The space, invested with valuable works of art, thus takes on its own self-sufficient existence and menacingly interacts with the hero. Another key difference with the fictional Robinson is the hero’s setting. “Instead of placing him on an isolated island, instead of battling the elements, I placed him in the middle of a metropolis. Every day he sees life pass before him, outside the apartment. He sees life but cannot touch it,” explains Katsoupis.

An accidental prophetic dystopia

Beyond the first level of analysis – the impressive architecture, the choice of expensive works of art, the soundtrack – the mind inevitably turns to the allegory, what the director wants to say through the plot, the setting and the performance (which is riveting). Art as an object of purchase, exhibition, theft but also the concepts of entrapment, confinement and isolation are central motifs in the world of “Inside”.

The associations with the period of the pandemic and lockdowns are inevitable. The film seems more relevant than ever because of the coronavirus, but the director didn’t have that in mind: “The difference with the pandemic is that the hero of Inside is the only one trapped. Life goes on normally outside the apartment as if nothing is happening,” he says in contrast to the “collective element” of the pandemic. “We all experienced it together,” says Katsoupis.

As for whether art can itself become a “trap” for the one who seeks it (or wants to steal it like the protagonist of the film), Vassilis Katsoupis answers categorically no. “Art is not the trap after all, it is the means of escape. We also saw it in the pandemic. We were all at home and the only thing that kept us from going crazy was art: movies, music, books.”

From the Greece of the crisis to Los Angeles and the Berlinale…

Vassilis Katsoupis could not have been inspired by the pandemic for one more reason. The idea for “Inside” was born in Greece during the economic crisis, twelve years ago, in 2011. It began to take on an international dimension when it was submitted to a film idea competition in Los Angeles in search of funding and support around 2015.

“We received very positive comments there,” recalls Katsoupis. And so they slowly began to have wilder dreams together with the producer, Giorgos Karnavas. They needed an experienced screenwriter, which they found (Ben Hopkins) and a big star for the protagonist. They later emailed their idea to Willem Dafoe because they obviously had nothing to lose. But when Defoe also said “yes” immediately, everything went its way. “And the rest is already history” as Vassilis Katsoupis says.