Review: Black Stone
- Spiros Jacovides’s anti-xenophobia social satire comments with bitter humour on an absurd administrative phenomenon in modern day Greece
In the Balkans, they say that being "missing" means that your mother does not know where you are. Spiros Jacovides’ debut feature Black Stone [+see also:
film profile], which just won the International competition at the recently wrapped 20th Golden Apricot International Film Festival, revolves around the search of a “missing” civil servant, namely through the lenses of his protective mother’s tragicomic anxiety. In the process, it also reveals a shameful corrupted practice within Greece’s public administration: the film commences with a note about the number of so-called “ghosts” in the country’s Civil Service who are hired but do not show up for work. This appears to happen even more often in the social service sector, where workers are meant to deal with the refugee crisis around the Greek borders but fail to do so — the wanted son in the film is one of them. While zooming in on the adventures of a single family and the little community that surrounds it, Black Stone also casts a light on this peculiar occurrence and the overall xenophobic non-official discourse in the country, thus attempting to paint a bigger picture of current Greek society.
Although Black Stone is clearly a fiction feature, director Jacovides and his co-writer Ziad Semaan play with a documentary structure, staging situations in which the characters are followed and interviewed by a film crew. The director takes this opportunity to introduce monologues as they would appear in a talking head interview, therefore portraying the characters more eloquently, especially the 68-year-old mother Haroula (Eleni Kokkidou) whose uncensored and pure-hearted frankness unveils a diverse palette of prejudices embedded in the local collective unconsciousness. While constantly occupied with her wheelchair-bound older son Lefteris (Julio George Katsis), she is also worried about the younger Panos (Achilleas Chariskos), who hasn’t come home in two days. When a camera crew pops up at her door, she takes them for TV reporters and is eager to tell them about her unrest. However, they are actually documenting the search for Panos, who has been charged with fraud. Unprepared to learn about, let alone accept, her son's true nature, Haroula is even inclined to replace him with the good-hearted and black-skinned Greek citizen taxi driver Michalis (Kevin Zans Ansong), who becomes a regular guest at her table and distracts her from her loneliness, despite her initial reservations about him. He also accompanies her and Lefteris throughout the journey to find Panos and dispel their own illusions.
Taking place largely in a domestic setting, it looks as if the film tries to capture an insider’s perception of external fluctuations within Greek society. On one hand, the script laughs without malice at ordinary people’s preconceptions; on the other it exposes the institutionalised calculations on account of the migrants – for the Athens Black Panther organisation, Michalis is the perfect promotional face for the local Black Lives Matters movement they want to create, but only for the sake of keeping up with a political trend, not to truly help the migrants. In this sense, the film mirrors both private and public incapabilities to deal with otherness, regardless of the pathos of the official political discourse in Europe.
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