September: Karlovy Vary Review
Penny Panayotopoulou's second feature centers on a solitary Greek woman whose inner life is exposed after her dog dies.
The death of a pet prompts the unraveling of a Greek woman in September, the introspective second feature of director Penny Panayotopoulou. Eleven years after her well-received debut, Hard Goodbyes: My Father, it's clear that the Hellenic filmmaker still has a special interest in mourning and how it can be an extremely tough, irrational and misunderstood process yet hopefully also offer a sense of catharsis in the long run. Modigliani-esque lead actress Kora Karvouni (J.A.C.E.) is terrific in a tricky role that requires her to convey many unspoken emotions. Her beautifully subtle performance is the biggest selling point for the film, which, despite the occasional longueur, should have a solid festival run.
Ana (Karvouni) works in a strip-mall restaurant and is so attached to her dog, Manu, that she makes it wait in the car during her shifts so she can spend every break with her beloved pet. When, during a stroll, Manu goes into a neighbor's garden to play with some kids there, Ana is clearly jealous and scolds the dog when they get back: "So you're sociable now, traitor?"
Manu's primary-school-aged playmates, Stefanos (Anastasios Tzertzemelis) and his sister Nelly (Irene Kolliakou), love the dog. And their blonde mother, Sophia (Maria Skoula), is sympathetic to the neighbor with the canine companion. However, it's clear from an early scene at a supermarket in which Ana observes the happy little family of Sophia, her hubby Stathis (Nikos Diamantis) and their offspring, that she's witnessing a kind of dependency, affection and interaction that a life with a dog could never give her.
The fragility of the happiness that Ana does derive from her shared life with her dog is brutally exposed when, some 20 minutes in, Manu suddenly falls ill and dies. In an attempt to share her grief, Ana manages to get Sophia to agree to bury Manu in her garden. But this only offers Ana an excuse to move ever closer to Sophia and her family. And though the mother of two is initially sympathetic to her grief, Ana's actions and demands become increasingly blunt as she tries to replace her lost pet with something much bigger: a whole family.
Though too realistic and "normal" in execution to be part of the recent Greek Weird Wave of films such as Dogtooth and Attenberg, September does have things in common with other recent local titles such as Wasted Youth and Boy Eating the Bird's Food, which also chronicled how alienated, recognizable Greeks are driven to irrational acts in times of crisis.
It's an interesting paradox that loneliness can only really be revealed in the presence of other people, and this thought is the basis of the screenplay by the director and Kallia Papadaki, who reveal the extent of Ana's solitude mainly through her increasingly erratic interactions with Sophia's family. The work of Karvouni relies on glances and appearances as much as dialogue and is crucial in making audiences understand what Ana desires and feels. She's ably supported by Skoula and Diamantis and the kids, while Dogtooth star Christos Sterioglou has a cameo as a bus passenger.
Giorgos Michelis' camerawork is practically without movement, allowing Ana's increasingly desperate acts to stand out against static tableaux and a deceptively stable worldview. Music is sparingly but effectively used, while the final sequence is simple yet anything but simplistic and sends audiences out on a positive note.
Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (competition)
Production companies: Penny Panayotopoulou Productions, Twenty Twenty Visions
Cast: Kora Karvouni, Maria Skoula, Nikos Diamantis, Christos Sterioglou
Director: Penny Panayotopoulou
Screenwriters: Penny Panayotopoulou, Kallia Papadaki
Producers: Penny Panayotopoulou, Thanassis Karathanos
Director of photography: Giorgos Michelis
Production designer: Lili Kendeka
Music: Giorgos Zachariou
Costume designers: Lili Kendaka, Eva Goulakou
Editor: Petar Markovic
Sales: Penny Panayotopoulou Productions
No rating, 105 minutes