‘A Blast’: Istanbul Review
The Greek financial crisis drives a young woman to dynamite her life and start over
When Thelma and Louise ran away, they were fleeing their boring lives, but at least they had cash in the bank. When the heroine of A Blast, Maria, runs away, she’s fleeing the suffering imposed on her by a global economic crisis that that has hit the world hard, and Maria’s country, Greece, perhaps hardest.
It’s a crisis which has forced people everywhere to reevaluate downwards their expectations of the world, but Maria’s having none of that. She wants out: and A Blast, Syllas Tzoumerkas's second film, is the frantic, unsettling and intriguing record of her journey, a journey more emotional than literal. The watching viewer is strapped in beside her, along for the ride, hair blown back.
Maria (Angeliki Papoulia, the elder daughter from Dogtooth, one of Greek cinema's defining projects in recent years) is struggling to raise three kids while her husband Yannis (Vassilis Doganis) is away working on an oil tanker. Pre-marriage, for Maria and the muscled, brooding Yannis, it was all about the sex and the passion, as graphically depicted in sweaty, glistening flashbacks to a time when the future promised more. But now, it’s all about the kids, a sister, Gogo (Maria Filini), married to an extreme right-winger, Costas (Efthymis Papadimitrou); an ineffective, ghost-like father (Yorgos Biniaris), and wheelchair-bound mother (Themis Bazaka); and crucially, a family store with huge debts which Maria’s scheming parents have been concealing from her. In other words, economic breakdown has translated into a family which seems to be united only by its members’ mutual hatred for one another.
An emotional radical from the word go, Maria can no longer believe in the idea of the family. The uncontrollable, rebellious joy which drove her to escape from the tedium into Yannis’ rippling embrace must find a new outlet in this new, crisis-driven world. So she decides to leave. She says goodbye to Gogo and the kids, hurls a parting printer at Costas’ head, and drives off.
Her journey is not a filmic blast, though, like that of Thelma and Louise. It’s actually rather forlorn, involving not a half-naked Brad Pitt wearing a white cowboy hat, but a search for pornography in a local library and a therapy session in which Maria tells the other participants that she has lived a “ridiculous life”: an insight of a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown, forced by crisis into a full-scale reappraisal of things. This is the pain at the heart of Aggeliki Papoulia’s dangerously committed, exposed performance, and it’s the brave exposure of this pain which, against the odds, permits the viewer to sympathize with a woman who has chosen to abandon her children. Though her character is not having a blast, it looks exactly as though Papoulia is.
It is all shot by D.P. Pantelis Mantzanas with captivating energy and brio, cutting furiously back between past and present via Kathrin Dietzel’s via sharp, seamless editing, as it renders Maria’s furious, unfocused energy and mood swings, and becoming blindingly high-speed over the final fifteen minutes.
Some scenes seem drawn from social realism. For example, there’s an effective, uncomfortably comic face off between Maria and her father and a bank teller who drily and hilariously informs them that “you seem a bit edgy as a family”, or a pathos-laden, fruitless attempt by Maria to maintain her relationship with Yannis via Skype. The less successful sequences seem drawn from the movies, as with those involving a money-raising attempt at arson. This is the “blast” of heat which the title is presumably referring to, and which the film itself represents. But as a whole, A Blast is just that: Syllas Tzoumerkas’ charged personal diatribe against an economic system seemingly designed first to make people, and then to break them.
Production companies: Homemade Films, Unafilm, PRPL, Bastide Films
Cast: Aggeliki Papoulia, Vassillis Doganis, Maria Filini, Themis Bazaka, Yorgos Biniaris, Makis Papadimitrou
Director: Syllas Tzoumerkas
Screenwriters: Syllas Tzoumerkas, Youla Boudali
Producers: Maria Drandaki, Titus Kreyenberg, Ellen Havenith, Jeroen Beker
Executive producer: Cosima Maria Degler
Director of photography: Pantelis Mantzanas
Production designer: Elli Papageorgakopoulou
Costume designer: Marli Aliferi
Editor: Kathrin Dietzel
Sales: Homemade Films
No rating, 80 minutes