Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Apr 05, 2017 8:02 pm 
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Aimless youth 2.0

This debut feature of young Greek director Sofia Exarchou arrives much anticipated, having gathered a brace of citations and workshop assists in the making stages. So yes, it has promise, ambition and perhaps originality, but the payoff may be still in the future. In it she has chosen to depart from the Greek "Weird Wave" represented by the now much admired Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari toward something less plot driven and more observational. She insists it was highly written and directed, but the energy of the film owes much to its pack of young local unknowns chosen for their ensemble improvisational potential and to its choice of derelict sites of the 2004 Athens summer Olympics for much of the action, set also in summer. If she was writing, how come there's so little happening? She says it could be anywhere, and has global application, but this empty, wasted site that cost so much to build and now is unused is a pointed reference to the current economic and political disaster of her country. No echo of Michael Phelps's six gold medals, no roar of the crowds. Only pale grass, dry cement, idle youths.

To claim this is nowhere special is to forget an action must be particular and local before it can be universal. Stylistically, Park may owe more to Harmony Korine and his collaborator Larry Clark (one of whose most famous and least seen movies is called Ken Park, no connection though) and to Lucredia Martel. All this promises much. In the event, despite many vivid little incidents, the whole is less than the sum of the parts. We come away without much to remember besides some energetic young bodies in fast motion, still water, rust and pale greens, energetic handheld camerawork, some handsome urban landscapes in a desaturated palette.

There's a crowd of similar boys. This could almost be sombody's fifth grade class. Among the older boys one emerges, Dimitris (Dimitris Kitsos), who winds up being in almost every scene. If I got it right the handsome smaller one, Markos (Enuki Gvenatadze) is the manager of the pit bull put out to stud for visitors for cash, but when other boys bet on two dogs and theirs dies, it's Dimitris who rescues the fallen body. He pairs off for a while with a rather severe looking young woman called Anna (Dimitra Vlagopoulou) who was forced to abandon a career as a gymnast due to several severe injuries. So Anna might be haunting the site of what could have been her triumph, had life not gone wrong. Dimitri is fired by his mother's boyfriend, the boss at a rock quarry, so he has nothing to do and wants to escape.

After we've seen the kids running around and making a lot of noise (arm wrestling, fighting; surprisingly, getting the locker room showers to work again and cooling off), Anna and Dimitri haunt a beach where cut rate tourists gather. There are hazing rituals and fights and contests, and there is dancing. Sex seems combative, not very successful. At the end, Dimitri follows Jens, a Scandinavian man (Thomas Bo Larsen of The Celebration and The Hunt) back to his hotel room. This sequence could be seen as troubling or merely indecisive. Nobody seems to know where it's going to go. Love, sex, robbery, assault, a plea for protection all seem possibilities. And that could be good if the incident had been magnified enough to make its uncertainty huge and troubling, but it winds up just seeming one more vague incident. Before that, Dimitri stripped for Jens and his friends, male and female, who threw him cash like a burlesque queen, and his body, we already knew, was nice to look at.

If all this is to imply that kids doing nothing in the summer in a nowhere place is a sign of the decline of western civilization, one must beg to disagree. On the contrary, such circumstances are a universal blank slate upon which anything might be written. Give the kids magazines to sell and a van to ride in and you've got Andrea Arnold's American Honey, a sexy, tumultuous, disturbing movie set in the present. Give us nostalgia and Stephen King and younger boys and you've got Rob Reiner's Stand by Me. Give us Italians in 1953 or 1961 and you might get I Vitelloni or Accatone. Send us to China in 1983 and we get Hou Hsiau-hsien's The Boys from Fengkuei. To a keen observer, there ought not to be so little happening as we see in Park. Sofia Exarchou gets up very close to the action, but it's all sound and fury. This still winds up feeling like the observation of a tourist, a rather mournful one at that.

Christopher Vourlias in Variety and Lee Marshall in Screen Daily reviewed the film when it debuted at Toronto and San Sebastian respectively, Sept. 2016. Cinematography by Monika Lecczewska, editing by Exarchou and Yorgos Mavropsaridis, music by Alexander Voulgaris.

Park, 100 mins., launched at Toronto, then San Sebasti√°n, showing at some 18 international festivals including London and Rotterdam, also San Francisco, as part of which it was screened for this review.
SFIFF showtimes: Apr. 14 at 8:30 pm, Roxie Theater; Apr. 19 at 3 pm, Alamo Drafthouse New Mission.

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