The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas: Toronto Review

The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas TIFF - H 2013

The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas TIFF - H 2013

Greeks on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Promising debut from young Greek writer-director Elina Psykou satirizes shallow celebrity and media cynicism in an age of austerity.

A famous Greek TV anchorman fakes his own kidnapping in a desperate bid to salvage his ailing career in this engagingly offbeat Eurodrama, a topical satire on financial and mental collapse which makes its North American debut in Toronto today. Not quite as forbiddingly arty as its Nietzsche-derived title might suggest, The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas has one foot in the Greek Weird Wave movement epitomized by darkly surreal comedies like Dogtooth and Attenberg, although its visual grammar is more conventional than both. Despite a disappointingly muddled final act, 35-year-old writer-director Elina Psykou’s feature debut has enough deadpan humor and zeitgeisty bite for further festival bookings and niche theatrical appeal.

Psykou expertly piques our interest with a wordless opening sequence in which Antonis (Christos Stergioglou) arrives at a remote resort hotel on the Greek coast by unusual means, stowed in the trunk of his boss’s car. It soon transpires that he has faked his own abduction in a bid to boost his falling ratings and depleted finances. Closed for the winter, this shuttered modernist bunker becomes his fortress of solitude while his boss and colleagues inflate his sensational disappearance into a national news story.

As the weeks roll by, Antonis fills his empty hours watching TV cookery shows, singing solo karaoke numbers in the deserted hotel bar, bumping around the half-drained pool in a pedal-powered plastic boat, and eating endless plates of spaghetti. There are inevitable echoes of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in these scenes, particularly a dream sequence in which an increasingly unhinged Antonis attends a glitzy celebrity party in the hotel lobby, which Psykou frames in a single bravura Steadicam tracking shot.

Antonis spends much of his self-imposed incarceration anxiously checking his coverage in tacky celebrity magazines and replaying old highlights from his TV career, their ebullient confidence an ironic counterpoint to his current forlorn state. These clips, interspersed with daily broadcasts by his anxious colleagues appealing for his safe return, build up a portrait of a well-liked but essentially hollow, narcissistic figure who can barely function outside the media bubble. With his perpetual hangdog frown, Antonis is more morose clown than sympathetic hero. If this were a US production, he would most likely be played by Paul Giamatti.

Though it is never explicitly referenced, the ongoing Greek financial crisis is woven into the film’s DNA. Antonis is heavily in debt, and appears in one key flashback scene cheerfully celebrating the introduction of the Euro to Greece back in 2001, which domestic viewers will recognize as the first step on the downward spiral to social and economic disaster. Psykou, whose parents are accountants, partly financed this low-budget project using crowdsourced funds and loans from friends, with cast and crew often working for free on the promise of deferred payment. Austerity is both medium and message here.

Beginning as a droll satire on media and celebrity, The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas slowly darkens into a psychological thriller about self-destructive depression. At this point it also becomes a weaker film. When plans for Antonis to stage a triumphant return from his fake abduction start to unravel, so too does his mental state. A fictional crime becomes a real emergency when he leaves the hotel and wanders the Greek countryside, dodging detection and foraging for food. The climax feels contrived and incongruous, as if Psykou lost faith in the power of her original dramatic idea. The destination disappoints, but the journey is still worth taking.

Production company: Guanaco

Producers: Elina Psykou, Giorgos Karnavas

Starring: Christos Stergioglou, Maria Kallimani, Giorgos Souxes, Theodora Tzimou

Director: Elina Psykou

Writer: Elina Psykou

Cinematographer: Dionysis Efthimiopoulos

Editor: Nikos Vavouris

Music: Felizol

Sales company: M-Appeal, Berlin

Rating PG, 88 minutes