Working to care for dead animals, a young couple collect deceased pets from people’s homes, while also scavenging for neglected roadkill, in Greek video artist Janis Rafa’s uncanny first feature film.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2020
A defiantly singular addition to the Greek New Wave canon, even by star alumnus Yorgos Lanthimos’ standards, Kala azar fuses the seemingly incongruous worlds of humans and animals to striking effect. Centred on Penelope and Dimitris, nomadic lovers who work for a crematorium service, the film follows their daily routine of house calls to bereaved pet owners, and more surreptitiously, their eye for the corpses of stray animals, an allusion to the titular disease that has killed many canines across the Mediterranean.
The grim pragmatism of their job masks a sincere commitment to respectfully sending off dead animals. Although director Janis Rafa never shies away from the miasma of the life and death cycle, there’s equal attention given to the wellbeing of animals, and to well-meaning characters – like Penelope’s parents, seen living in filthy domestic bliss with a pack of dogs – who seek genuine cohabitation between species. This raw and improbably beautiful film, a top prizewinner at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, is also uniquely tactile in its visual language, tracing the bodies of humans and animals within a stark environment as if they were endlessly connected landscapes.
About the Filmmaker
Janis Rafa is a Greek artist whose moving image work walks a fine line between subjective interpretation and the authentic representation of landscapes and events. In 2013, she created the Three Farewells trilogy. Kala azar is her debut feature.