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ROTTERDAM 2015 Competition

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Impressions of a Drowned Man: suicide, that eternal new beginning


- Kyros Papavassiliou revisits Greek poet Kostas Karyotakis in an unusual film nominated for the Hivos Tiger Awards

Impressions of a Drowned Man: suicide, that eternal new beginning

Cypriot director Kyros Papavassiliou is at the 44th International Film Festival Rotterdam in order to screen his debut feature film, Impressions of a Drowned Man [+see also:
film profile
. In competition for the Hivos Tiger Awards, the movie is a foreign object about a search for identity and an imposed fate. But what would happen if the identity, against all expectations, was that of a dead poet? And what would happen if the fate imposed was a suicide recreation?

These are the premises upon which Papavassiliou created his unusual screenplay. A man (Thodoris Pentidis) wakes up on a beach and realizes that he has no memory. By following another man, who admits to being an actor, he ends up reaching a local city. There, everyone he meets – from an ex girlfriend to his parents – confirm that indeed, he is Kostas Karyotakis, a Greek poet who died by suicide in 1928. But if that’s true, what’s he doing there? Upon every new anniversary of his death, Karyotakis returns to the present in order to relive his final moments before killing himself again! Or at least, that’s what they want us to think.

Without hinting as to whether the strangeness of the plot is due to the character’s schizophrenia or to a world of parallel realities, the movie progresses between a fantasy world and various explicit poetic interjections that continuously evoke – including with legends onscreen – parts of the poet’s work and suicide letter.

In real life, Karyotakis tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide by drowning. Later, he ended up shooting himself. There is a post scriptum in his suicide letter that’s quoted in the movie. It advises all those who can swim not to try to kill themselves by drowning, since, in his case, his body had gone against his will. Later he adds: “Perhaps some time, given the opportunity, I shall write down the impressions of a drowning man.” In the movie, that opportunity arises, or rather it imposes itself, but the reputed poet resists doing it, and he even resists killing himself again. It seems that after almost 90 reincarnations on the anniversary of his death, Karyotakis finally wants to reject fate and to escape to the museum of poets who committed suicide: that grim museum in which Papavassiliou places under the same roof recreations by Sylvia Plath, Vladimir Mayakovsky or Paul Celan, among others who saw voluntary death as the only escape for their anxieties.

Although it’s inventive and well-documented, Impressions of a Drowned Man takes a contemplative and overly Kafkaesque approach that doesn’t succeed in fully wooing the viewer. While it’s true that we manage to enter into his labyrinthine game, at the same time, the feeling we are left with at the end is an uncomfortable emptiness, just like the empty rooms that constitute the final shots in the movie.

(Translated from Spanish)

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