Suntan – Jerusalem 33
Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ third feature film is a bleak and bittersweet cul-de-sac set under the glaring Aegean sun.
There was also a glimpse of Greece at this year’s Jerusalem International Film Festival. An island in the South Aegean, for accuracy’s sake.
That is where Kostis (an effective Efthymis Papadimitrou) lands under a grey sky, at the beginning of Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ Suntan. A thirty-something laconic and overweight newly appointed doctor, he seems to be a man with no drive or ambition: a wreck. Surrounded by chilling silence and solitude, it takes him some time to settle down among the natives. High wind, empty restaurants, local drunkards fantasizing about crowded beaches and constantly aroused female tourists: winter can be incredibly dreary on Antiparos.
When summer finally arrives, the landscape changes. One day, in his surgery, Kostis meets a sexy tourist called Anna (Elli Tringou) and immediately falls in love with her – and with her young body. Regardless the age difference he starts hanging around with the flirtatious girl and her friends. Nudist beaches, parties, alcohol: it’s the awakening of the senses. Under the blinding sun, love seems finally at hand. At least until the predictably disastrous sexual encounter between the poor doctor and Anna, which triggers the inevitable tragedy.
Watching Suntan, one could slightly be reminded of Crazy Desire (La voglia matta), an old Italian movie directed by Luciano Salce. In that black-and-white 1962 comedy, Ugo Tognazzi plays a haughty and pedantic engineer who, after having casually met some silly youngsters, falls for the group’s Lolita (Catherine Spaak) and unwisely decides to risk his pride and spend with them a weekend by the sea. Subjected to cruel sarcasm and several humiliations, he makes a fool of himself and then painfully realizes of being too old to chase and handle young girls.
But Suntan, which is based on a relentless screenplay co-written by Syllas Tzoumerkas, though showing the same generational clash through a story of sexual frustrations, deceptions and self-deceptions, is not a scathing commedia all’italiana. It’s an increasingly bleak and unsettling tale of obsession, love and despair, the portrait of a man who, having already been defeated by life and by his own mediocrity, can’t help loosing himself after a mirage of happiness.
Impeccably shot by Christos Karamanis, Papadimitropoulos’ third feature film, like Tzoumerkas’ A Blast (2014), traps the viewer into a cul-de-sac. You can foresee a tragic or simply hopeless ending, you know that everything will fall apart sooner or later, but still you can’t escape descending in the mud with the ridiculous – and ridiculed – character panting on screen, driven against the wall by a lifetime of mistakes and weaknesses.
Suntan grabs you by the throat, refusing to leave you until nadir is reached. And in the end no catharsis is allowed. It’s the new Greek way.