Stratos masterfully blends previous Economides with chilling, dark noir
by Joseph Proimakis
- Yannis Economides’ first foray into genre cinema is a mesmerising gangster film with rich social undercurrents and an award-worthy lead.
Cypriot director Yannis Economides certainly has an unflinching view of a very specific slice of the world around him. Fixated on the struggling, the underprivileged, the dehumanised masses living just beyond the fringes of society, his filmography is an ever-expanding portrait of a walk of life whose mere existence is hardly acknowledged, let alone depicted with such disconcerting rigour. A master of his own universe, Economides cooks up harrowing characters that test the limits of both the moral and the immoral capacity of man.
Many may mistakenly try to fit his newest film, Berlinale competitor Stratos [+see also:
interview: Yannis Economides
film profile], into the recent mould of films shaped by the financial crisis tormenting Greece, but Economides’ characters have always been in crisis, long before his country’s economic bubble burst. Rather, they were the ones suffering specifically because they didn’t find a way to cozy up inside that bubble. His antiheroes tend to be products of their environments, passive receptors of a rage brought upon them by the frustration of those around them. Trapped in a pressure cooker of social injustices, smothered by a complete lack of hope or tenderness, they are stray dogs dropped into a savage jungle that’s turning them into wild beasts, struggling to find a way to bust the lid open before their inevitable implosion.
Such is the case of Stratos (Vangelis Mourikis), a baker by night but hitman by day, whose swift and silent executions, and their hefty accompanying paychecks, seem to be the main way of financing a ploy to break his old friend and saviour out of jail. The enterprise is being led by a man Stratos blindly trusts, but there’s no room for trust in an Economides film, a point more sorely highlighted by Stratos’ relationship with the neighbours across the street. They are an unlikely pair consisting of a tough, sensual woman (Vicky Papadopoulou) and a short, twisted man (Petros Zervos), so deep in debt that their only way out seems to be by pimping their young daughter out to the loan shark that looms over their lives – the same loan shark that’s trying to strong-arm Stratos into joining his army of thugs.
It’s a dark world in which Economides’ characters are trying to survive, like versions of a jaded Beckett play, blindly seeking their way out of Dante’s Inferno via a multilayered Jean-Pierre Melville mystery plot, and Economides tracks their hopelessness with long, mesmerising shots, his frames oozing the minimalistic intricacy of Japanese paintings, thus highlighting the complexity of the maze his rats are trapped in. Mourikis (who shares a co-writer credit along with Economides, Harry Lagousis, Xyros Thanos and producer Christos Konstantakopoulos) delivers a haunting performance as the titular silent antihero, spearheading a masterful addition to the director’s collection of good men trying to right things in all the wrong ways.