Park: A harrowing departure from “Weird Wave” mechanisms
by Joseph Proimakis
- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2016: Sofia Exarchou’s feature debut employs unrelenting realism to offer a haunting portrait of post-Olympics, crisis-ridden Athens
Widely considered as the beginning of the country’s downward spiral, the Athens Olympics of 2004 are regarded by many as a symbol of what heights the Athenian psyche once fathomed itself capable of, its current desolate status serving as a bitter reminder of how easily good intentions can turn sour.
It is therefore no accident that the Olympic Village and its surrounding facilities form an overarching frame around Greek director Sofia Exarchou’s debut feature, Park [+see also:
film profile], which has screened in New Directors at the San Sebastián Film Festival. Marking a harrowing departure from Weird Wave mechanisms, her film, which also screened recently at Toronto, employs unrelenting realism to offer a haunting portrait of a post-Olympics, crisis-riddled Athens.
Expertly lensed by DoP Monika Lenczewska, this San Sebastián entry follows a group of youngsters roaming the empty spaces of a dystopian Athens, where the Olympics have come and gone, leaving behind them a wasteland of desolation and violence.
Experiencing nothing more than fleeting moments of tranquillity, our protagonists breed dogs to make a living and compete against the rest of their gang of misfits in violent variations of Olympic sports, so as to pass the seemingly endless free time their unemployed lives provide them with. Pretty soon, though, romance enters the picture, bringing with it hopes of escape to the city’s tourist-friendly southern suburbs, where glimpses of joy and carelessness are soon to be replaced with even deeper alienation.
Though the plot carries little steam, Exarchou’s characters do keep the viewer hooked, reminiscent of the manic vigour and explosiveness exhibited in the early works of Constantinos Giannaris: their omnipresent rage and violence are constantly fuelled by their inability to find their place in their surroundings, and scenes of them shuffling along the tourist-infested seasides and resorts, feeling more like strangers than locals, carry quite a potent, prophetic punch.
Raising the ominous stakes, it soon becomes clear that dystopia doesn’t limit itself to the landscape, but rather oozes through to its inhabitants, drenching their minds and souls. Hard times make for hardened people, and so the downward spiral spirals ever further down, in a film that will most probably secure one of the slots reserved for Greek films in the international competition of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in November – and a well-deserved one if it does.