Americans abroad Chloe (Irish actor Denise Gough, better known for her stage work, especially in the National Theatre revival of Angels in America) and Mickey (Sebastian Stan, a.k.a. the Winter Solider in the Marvel franchise) are the central couple in Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ latest feature Monday (his previous was Suntan). In the opening minutes of the movie, they meet at a party and within seconds they’re furiously sucking face. Hours later, they wake up in each other’s arms, buck naked on the beach. Months pass. They screw underwater, on the back of a truck in broad daylight on a quiet urban side street, in an alley way and in nearly every room of their rented apartment, a roomy chintz-swathed space that used to belong to a friend’s rich dead grandmother. By the end of the film, they’re riding a motorcycle around Athens naked in December, windmill high and pursued by cops.
There will be viewers out there who will recoil from these two crazy kids’ wild, exhibitionistic carnality, their druggy hedonism and their cavalier attitude toward interior decoration. But anyone else who’s ever been in a relationship like this — especially the kind that starts to feel like a codependent bipolar disorder trapped on a rollercoaster by the end — will painfully relate to Monday‘s sensual, funny and above all honest look at amour fou.
Sure, film history is thickly sprinkled with stories much like this in nearly every language, from all the versions of The Postman Rings Twice to Japan’s In the Realm of the Senses and beyond, via literally dozens of movies from France. What makes this one a bit different is its rigorous grounding in realism, nourished by the spontaneous, semi-improvised performances that reportedly used the screenplay credited to Papadimitropoulos and Rob Hayes only as a road map.
Moreover, Monday‘s story is told through the eyes of both lovers pretty much equally, which means it feels quite different from films like, say, Betty Blue or Crazy/Beautiful, where it’s always the woman who is nuts, but sexy because she’s nuts. (There are ones where they guy is sexy but mentally unstable, such as 1993’s Mr. Jones, but they’re much rarer.)
In truth, although it’s eventually revealed that one of them is aware they have a tendency toward alcoholism that they struggle to keep in check, neither lover is particularly mentally ill or unstable — or at least no more than most typical hard-partying millennial in his or her mid-30s. For people like them, life’s goal is to have as much fun as possible all weekend long without getting arrested or dying. On Monday, it’s back to the grind so you’ll have enough scratch to do it all starting Friday. This is why the film unfolds over a series of weekends several months apart that mark milestones in Chloe and Mickey’s relationship over a year or two.
They are hardly irresponsible. Chloe, who happens to be slightly older than Mickey, is a practicing immigration lawyer. On the night she meets Mickey and ends up with him on the beach, she’s booked on a flight to go back to Chicago and start working at a prominent firm after having lived in Athens for about 18 months. Over the course of what’s their first and potentially last weekend together, New Orleans-born Mickey, a professional DJ, recovering musician and part-time jingle writer, has to show her a good enough time to persuade her not to go while still managing to keep up a don’t-give-a-shit front.
But he sees more in Chloe than just a beautiful leggy blonde who’s a wildcat in bed; and it’s not just that she’s smart and funny. He may not even consciously know it himself, but he also needs her to help him get better access to his young son, whom his ex-girlfriend — a Greek woman named Aspa (Elli Tringou) who’s angry with Mickey’s inability to grow up — is blocking him from seeing.
The child is just one of the reasons he has been in Athens for nearly ten years, even though he barely speaks any Greek. That, and the fact that he has a tendency to sabotage any success that threatens to come his way, and if he went back to the States he might have to face up to that.
Papadimitropoulos and his ensemble nonchalantly but with infinite stealth work in details that reveal the characters’ deeper psychology, the weird shapes and holes in their psyches that make Mickey and Chloe so good for each other, but also deeply wrong. Calling the film a “rom-com gone wrong,” Papadimitropoulos draws out what happens when hot passion starts cooling, especially when lovers have to start finding a place for themselves in a wider world, with work commitments, children from earlier relationships and, most challenging of all, completely different sets of friends. One of the film’s great set pieces is a disastrous drinks party where Mickey’s swaggering bro buddies rub up against Chloe’s more gentrified circle of acquaintances. Nearly everyone else is Greek, but nationality is no guarantee of fraternity, a point deliciously illustrated when two British gay men are introduced to each other and immediately start rowing over politics.
It’s such scenes that should act as a warning to viewers and reviewers who might want to compare this work to those by other recent Greek filmmakers such as Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite, The Lobster) or Athina Rachel Tsangari (Attenberg). Papadimitropoulos has none of their surrealist instincts. And while he shares with Lanthimos a knack for comic timing, he’s more interested in humanist comedy that cuts close to the bone. As the film works its way to its strange, abrupt but brilliantly ambiguous ending, it grows darker, more daring and deeply sad.
Props are due not just to the director and the two principle actors, both of whom perform with fierce commitment and intensity, but also the sterling efforts of DP Christos Karamanis, who worked on Papadimitropoulos’s previous features and who does a great job making Athens look both aptly scruffy, sun-blasted and deeply modern. Given the centrality of music to Mickey’s life, recognition should go to both composer Alexis Grapsas and music supervisor Lauren Marie Mikus, who must have been key to choosing the kind of contemporary EDM tracks and classic bangers that Mickey would be likely to play.
Venue: Toronto Film Festival (TIFF Industry Selects)
Cast: Sebastian Stan, Denise Gough, Yorgos Pirpassopoulos, Dominique Tipper, Elli Tringou, Chloe Sirene, Sofia Kokkali, Andreas Konstantinou, Panagos Ioakeim
Production: A Protagonist Pictures presentation of a Faliro House Productions, Automatik Entertainment, Blonde production
Director: Argyris Papadimitropoulos
Screenwriters: Rob Hayes, Argyris Papadimitropoulos
Producers: Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Deanna Barillari, Brian Kavanaugh Jones, Damian Jones
Executive producers: Fred Berger, Fenia Cossovitsa
Director of photography: Christos Karamanis
Editor: Napoleon Stratogiannakis
Production designer: Aliki Kouvaka
Costume designer: Marli Aliferi
Music: Alexis Grapsas
Music supervisor: Lauren Marie Mikus
Casting: Melissa Kostenbauer, Kate Caldwell
No rating; 116 minutes