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SAN SEBASTIAN — It may be a Greek-German co-production, but the far northeast corner of the European continent is the real inspiration for the drably dark comedy Unfair World, an over-extended compendium of borrowings from the patented Aki Kaurismäki playbook. But whereas the Finnish maestro makes this kind of mordantly sardonic, deadpan-romantic stuff look breezily effortless, such a tonal mix is deceptively tricky to pull off. And longtime Berlin-based director/co-writer Filippos Tsitos, in his third feature, just isn’t up to the task on this evidence.
This demanding but unrewarding snoozer will nevertheless find no shortage of festival bookings, thanks partly to Greek cinema’s current prominence (Dogtooth, Attenberg, Alps, etc)and the generosity of the jury at Spain’s San Sebastian Film Festival where it world premiered and scooped not only Best Director for Tsitos, but also Best Actor for Antonis Kafetzopoulous.
Turkish-born Kafetzopoulos thus has a Silver Shell to add to the Silver Leopard he picked up at Locarno in 2009 for Plato’s Academy, also directed and co-written by Tsitos. His performance represents the picture’s one real trump card, as he’s convincingly world-weary, rumpled and fed-up as 60-year-old Athens cop Sotiris. With a cash-strapped retirement looming, the guy can barely summon enough energy to conduct questionings in his airless office, consigning folder after folder to the top of his filing cabinet with a jaded wrist-flick. His disillusionment reaches a breaking point one day when he declares, “I don’t want to be unfair anymore. End of story” and lets suspect after suspect off scot-free.
Seeking to shore up his meager pension with some ill-gotten gains, Sotiris and his equally hang-dog colleague Minas (Christos Stergioglou) embark on an ambitious scheme which goes awry, resulting in the semi-accidental death of a corrupt security guard and the misplacement of the loot. The scene of Sotiris’ crime is an office building where his neighbor Dora (Theodora Tzimou) happens to work as a cleaner. Sotiris suspects Dora of making off with the cash, but as he pursues her in search of the truth, their awkward relationship starts to shade very gradually towards romance.
But Unfair World takes such an awful long time to do anything that only the most patient and indulgent of viewers will be able to summon up much empathy when Sotiris and Dora, both of whom, implausibly enough, are “old rockers” at heart, do finally drift into a liaison, and Tzimou’s mannered performance as the infuriatingly glum, permanently mop-haired Dora isn’t much of a help.
Given Greece’s well-publicized economic woes with which Germany has, of course, become intimately involved, there’s considerable potential in the idea of two lonely souls, each near the bottom of the pay ladders, finding each other in the tough surroundings of a sprawling, anonymous city. But Unfair World ‘s isn’t much to look at: Polidefkis Kyrlidis’s widescreen digital cinematography labors under the influence of Edward Hopper’s night-town paintings, a seemingly inescapable touchstone for pictures from this subgenre. Jose Van der Schoot’s piano-dominated score does add touches of poignant piquancy at times, but overall Unfair World exudes a hand-me-down, art-film-by-numbers feel that only deepens the longer it goes on.
Tsitos and Masklavanou rely too heavily on minimalism and repetition to eke out laughs from their dialogue, and they simply don’t make the characters sufficiently engaging, or the plot-strands sufficiently engrossing, to remotely justify their two-hour running-time. Such a pity that Tsitos, in his keenness to follow in Kaurismäki’s lugubriously hilarious footsteps, didn’t noktice that the Finn’s movies invariably tend to be briskly economic, sub-100 minute affairs that never, ever outstay their welcome.
Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival
Production company: Wrong Men in co-production with Neue Road Movies
Cast: Antonis Kafetzopoulos, Theodora Tizmou, Christos Stergioglou
Director: Filippos Tsitos
Screenwriters: Filippos Tsitos, Dora Masklavanou
Producer: Alexandra Boussiou
Director of photography: Polidefkis Kyrlidis
Production designer: Spyros Laskaris
Costume designer: Christina Chatzaridou
Music: Jose Van der Schoot
Editor: Dimitris Peponis
Sales: Films Boutique, Berlin
No rating, 118 minutes
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