‘Norway’: Karlovy Vary Review
Full of disco-dancing decadence and retro-cool references, this offbeat Greek vampire saga is an enjoyably stylish rocky horror show that ultimately lacks bite.
KARLOVY VARY -- Paying skewed homage to the pulpy genre movies, garish New Wave fashions and post-punk synthpop sounds of the early 1980s, Norway is a feverish exercise in heavily stylized weirdness from the Greek first-timer Yannis Veslemes. Making the leap from shorts and TV commercials, this young director is also responsible for the film’s script, lurid set decoration and pulsing electronic score, the latter credited to his musical alias Felizol.
Premiered at the Karlovy Vary film festival last week, this carnival of comic-book excess suffers from design flaws which cannot be entirely excused by its willfully amateurish, retro-kitsch aesthetic. But any film that features disco-dancing vampires, fugitive Nazi war criminals and femme fatales who burst into flames during sex is clearly not gunning for highbrow critical respect. Norway should find keen interest at festivals, especially those with cultish midnight-movie sidebars, though it will struggle to win over more conservative theatrical audiences who prefer films to make sense.
The year is 1984. Hedonistic vampire Zano (Vangelis Mourikis), a hollow-cheeked Al Pacino lookalike in a blond Rod Stewart wig, arrives in Athens by night train in search of an elusive old friend. He goes hunting for fresh blood and warm bodies in the Zardoz club, a neon-lit disco dive populated by freaks, junkies, drug dealers and prostitutes. Here he encounters the odd couple of vampish diva Alice (Alexia Kaltsiki) and her mute Nordic companion Peter (Daniel Bolda).
After some initial tensions, including a messy neck-biting incident, this ill-matched trio sets off on a mysterious mission across a nocturnal urban wasteland crawling with fellow outcasts and bloodsuckers. Alice seduces Zano, but she has an ulterior motive, luring him into a subterranean labyrinth where a mythological beast from history awaits them - not some fabled monster from ancient Greek folklore, but a more recent and notorious figure. Under pain of torture, Zano fights against pressure to bite the dying man’s neck, thus allowing him to live forever as a vampire.
Making extensive use of very obvious models and back-projection, Veslemes smartly turns budgetary limitations into charmingly childlike DIY production design. Some of his allusions to Greek music and movie stars of the period will only make sense to domestic viewers, but he also includes more universal visual homages to the early 1980s, from the angular New Wave graphics of his opening credits to blood fountains that spurt in the artificial rainbow colors of vintage Duran Duran videos.
At its best, Norway recalls the delicious decadence and punky black comedy of Tony Scott’s The Hunger, Slava Tsukerman’s Liquid Sky and Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show, all spiced with a light sprinkling of Dario Argento and David Lynch. But it suffers from a rambling plot and too many digressions into surreal whimsy that undermine the main narrative. The saturnine, somber Mourikis is also poorly cast as a live-wire disco playboy who cannot stop dancing “or else my heart will stop beating”. This genre mash-up is unlikely to find more than a cult following, but Veslemes has staked his claim as an ambitious auteur with bold ideas and stylistic verve.
Production company: Horsefly Productions
Starring: Vangelis Mourikis, Alexia Kaltsiki, Daniel Bolda
Director: Yannis Veslemes
Producers: Yorgos Tsourgiannis, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos
Writer: Yiannis Veslemes
Cinematographer: Christos Karamanis
Editor: Yannis Chalkiadakis
Production designer: Yiannis Veslemes
Sales company: Horsefly Productions
No rating, 73 minutes