Plato's Academy -- Film Review

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The title of "Plato's Academy" is a little misleading because no Greek sages are in sight. Rather the film's Greeks are four scruffy lay-abouts, three of whom own convenience stores at the same quiet Athens intersection. This allows them to sit and guzzle coffee or beer all day while studying the hard-working foreign laborers who have invaded "their" neighborhood.

Nevertheless, this "Academy" does offer wry wisdom and steady laughs in its acute observation about a formerly heterogeneous society's confrontation with otherness.

The film by Filippos Tsitos won the Orpheus Award for best feature film at the recently concluded Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. Other festival directors should take note: This film would brighten any program.

"Plato's Academy" makes a perfect companion piece for Tsitos' last feature, "My Sweet Home," which played at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2001. A Greek who lives and works in Germany, Tsitos lightened that festival with this boisterous comedy about expatriates who congregate in a Berlin cafe to drink and bemoan their refugee status. In his new film, the tables are turned.

Its local heroes are convinced of their own superiority, especially over the migrant Albanians they observe working to erect a monument to ethnic diversity, to which they are mightily opposed. As for the Chinese, who are setting up an Italian fashion shop across the street, the quartet are content to count their numbers, which seem to multiply daily.

Then the unthinkable happens.

Understand that the film's protagonist, Stavros -- whose store is the one these four men congregate in front of each morning -- is a man bitterly disappointed with life. His wife has left him and his aging mother (Titika Saringouli) needs constant care due to a stroke.

Antonis Kafetzopoulos, who plays this depressed character, can win laugh merely with his hang-dog expression. His face reflects a constant bewilderment with the curves life throws at him. His one consolation is that he's Greek, not Albanian.

Then an Albanian laborer (Anastas Kozdine), who passes by, seems to recognize Stavros' mother. He speaks to her in Albanian and she speaks back. In Albanian! She even declares this is the son she left behind in Albania as a young woman.

Stavros tries to explain to his comrades that his mother's stroke has caused her to speak Albanian. No one buys this explanation. So if his half-brother is Albanian and his mother is Albanian, what does that make him? Greek to the core, he insists. But his friends now look at him quizzically.

So Tsitos asks: What does being Greek even mean other than knowing which side you root for when Greece plays Albania in soccer?

Tsitos, who wrote the script with Alexis Kardaras, keeps his film focused on his characters rather than any brave themes or ideas about influx of immigrants into the streets of Athens. As in his previous film, he loves misfits and a microscopic set that somehow implies volumes about a whole world in flux. Indeed he seems to have a genius for digging comedy out of claustrophobic settings.

Venue: Los Angeles Greek Film Festival
Production companies: Pan Entertainment/Twenty Twenty Vision
Cast: Antonis Kafetzopoulos, Anatas Kozdine, Titika Saringouli, Giorgos Souxes, Konstantinos Koronaios, Panayiotis Stamatakis, Maria Zorba
Director: Filippos Tsitos
Screenwriters: Alexis Kardaras, Filippos Tsitos
Producers: Constantinos Moriatis, Thanassis Karathanos
Director of photography: Polidefkis Kirlidis
Production designer: Spyros Laskaris
Music: Enstro
Costume designer: Christina Chantzaridou
Editor: Dimitris Peponis
No rating, 107 minutes
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