Last Thursday and again last night I went to the Astor cinema in St Kilda to attend double sessions (first Kinetta / Dogtooth, then Alps / The Lobster) of director Yorgos Lanthimos‘ films at the Greek film festival. Lanthimos is a demented genius. He draws on influences including Greenaway and Haneke but his style and obsessions are distinctive. His oeuvre may be summarised as satirising the arbitrary and often inhuman rules we create to govern societies. But enough of theory and criticism.

Mobile phones are amazing things. Having travelled before and after them existing I know that having endless maps and GPS in your pocket means you never get lost and look less like a confused tourist on unfamiliar streets than you did in the past.

We pay a heavy price for this convenience. Possessing infinite distractions and communications in your pocket or handbag has turned a significant percentage of the population into raging narcissistic psychopathic attention whores, or at least revealed their previously unknown potential. They can’t survive for 5 minutes without checking to see if there is another message or another like for their last selfie. They have no sense of self, no self worth. They rely on external validation to confirm their existence.

Earlier in the year, at a session in the Kino during the French film festival, an older women held her phone above her head so Shazam (other music identification apps are available) could hear the music in the film and identify it for her. She literally held her small brightly lit device in the air and waved it around the darkened cinema in the middle of the film, distracting most of the audience. I was too far away from her to say anything. She was at least in her 50s, perhaps 60s. She seemed determinedly entitled to ruin everyone’s concentration for her trivial satisfaction.

Last night at the end of the first film, Alps, as people stood up and left the cinema for the intermission, one man near me politely asked another to not use his phone again during the film. The Offender agreed, then headed for the bar. The polite man was slightly built and told me he felt he could not be more assertive because Offender was bigger than him. I assured the polite man that if Offender did it again I would deal with him. I felt no intimidation or hesitation. Not because of my size (I was bigger than Offender), but because I was annoyed by his selfishness and indifference to those around him. Righteous indignation is a powerful weapon.

A lot of people missed Alps and arrived for the second film, The Lobster, Lanthimos’ English language breakthrough (it won the bronze medal equivalent, the Jury prize, at Cannes in 2015). I had seen Dogtooth at MIFF in 2009 and The Lobster last year, but not the paired earlier films Kinetta and Alps. Made after Dogtooth, Alps features one of its leads, Angeliki Papoulia (she is also in The Lobster) and may be Lanthimos’ muse.

Offender sat in the row behind me a few seats to my right. As the lights went down and The Lobster started, he was still fiddling with his phone, then put it away. A minute later he had pulled it out again. I hissed at him ‘turn off your fucking phone’. He whined ‘I was’. No, you weren’t. You were annoying everyone around you and only a public shaming made you stop.

Let me introduce the rest of the cast who also interfered with my enjoyment of the film: Blondie1 and Boofhead (a 20something heterosexual couple) sat ahead of me to my left and Blondie2, Yia1 and Yia2 (a 20something woman with two elderly women) sat ahead of me to my right.

Blondie1, Blondie2 and Yia1 lit up their phones repeatedly throughout the film. Blondie1 was nearer, and I hissed ‘turn off your fucking phone’ at her. The Lobster satirises heteronormative gender roles, but Boofhead was too stupid to understand that, and immediately went into ‘macho thug protecting princess in distress’ mode and replied ‘no one talks to my girlfriend like that’ and ‘your language is disgusting’ and something about rudeness. I told them she was being rude by using her phone when she shouldn’t be.

Yia1 and Yia2 may have heard this, or were just bored with the film, as they got up and walked up the stairs. They had been between Blondie2 and me, and had partially blocked the light of her phone, so when she next lit it up it was even more visible and annoying. I said ‘turn off your fucking phone you stupid cow’ at her. After a minute she got up and left and, as she passed me, she said she was going to call the police. I laughed.

She returned a little later without reinforcements. I imagine she went and complained to the cinema staff who told her, much to her surprise, that she was wrong and she should not have been surprised to have been reprimanded and held to account by other paying customers. The rest of us enjoyed the second half of the film with no phone interruptions.

I thought Yia1 and Yia2 had left, but as I walked up the stairs towards the exit after the film ended they were ahead of me, so they must have seated themselves further back, safely behind the rude man, so they would not be told off while they looked at their phones. I heard Yia1 say to Yia2 ‘I really hated that film. It was revolting.’ I laughed again. It was so amusing to see these suburban losers baffled and confronted by existential weirdness. Didn’t they read the synopsis?

When I got to the footpath, Boofhead and Blondie1 were waiting for me. Boof puffed up his chest and said ‘did you enjoy the film?’ I ignored him so he repeated himself. I contemplated the irony of his pathetic machismo and how it contrasted with the savage deconstruction of gender normativity in the film. There was no point asking him to reflect on that.

Without saying a word or acknowledging their presence I turned and stood at the traffic lights, waiting to cross the road. I correctly surmised that he wasn’t quite stupid enough to physically attack me with so many witnesses around.

Cinema etiquette: it’s quite simple. We all have to moderate our behaviour in shared public space to minimise how much we annoy each other. I manage to restrain myself from punching you in the face, though I really want to, so you should restrain yourself from distracting me with your bright phone screen when the film is on.

turn off your fucking phone

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