Yorgos Kafetzopoulos and Marina Symeou
Reviewed by James Karas
Yorgos Servetas’s Standing Aside, Watching is an interesting film about the lives of a handful of people in small-town Greece. The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 5, 2013 as part of the City to City programme. This is intended to bring “global cities to Toronto audiences” according to TIFF and Athens is this year’s city of choice. Ten Greek films by mostly young directors are being showcased
Standing Aside, Watching struck me as a cinematic mosaic where director and screenwriter Servetas created the world of the film by joining a large number of scenes the way an artist would attach pieces of glass. At times the process seemed random with some pieces fitting into the puzzle easily, others requiring more attention until in the end a full image appeared. There are many loose ends but we do get the central idea if not the full story that we may have wished to see.
Antigone (Marina Symeou) returns to her hometown from Athens. We see the mountains, the sea, the rolling hills and the small town. The mountainsides are barren, the trees burnt down, the seaside uninviting and the landscape barren. This is not the Greek landscape of that country’s Tourist Organization. The images that will stay with us are the deserted train station and the scrap metal yard. Debris and isolation are the hallmarks of this town and its hinterland.
Antigone is a failed actress in Athens but lands a job tutoring English in her hometown. She meets her old friend Eleni (Marianthi Pantelopoulou) and starts a relationship with Nikos (Yorgos Kafetzopoulos) a youth who is 15 years younger than she is.
Marianthi is a shoplifter and a drinker, and is having an affair with Nontas (Nikos Yorgakis), a married man. She is raped and beaten by Nontas and her character is difficult to fathom. Nontas is a thug on a parole, a manipulator and probably a sadist. He manipulates, humiliates and abuses Nikos to the point of having the youth take the blame for a serious crime that Nontas committed.
Servetas develops the plot through vignettes that at times appear disjointed. That was the word that kept cropping in my mind as the plot advanced and the small pieces of the mosaic were put in place. The full picture took some time to appear and the waiting caused me to scratch my head at times about the direction of the film.
Servetas is fond of shots of the backs of people’s heads instead of concentrating on facial expressions to tell us the story. The result is that there is scant psychological depth. I have very little understanding of what motivated Marianthi to her self-destructive behavior or Nikos’s descent into criminality under the heavy-handed manipulation of the brutish Nontas.
Symeou, the newcomer to town, who wants to stand aside and merely watch, presents an expressionless or single-expression face for much of the film. She arrives with a hood over her head and is drawn into the corruption and misogyny around her. What starts at the deserted train station ends there as well.
Pantelopoulou has the more interesting role of the slut and the victim and she does a good job in the part. Kafetzopoulos exudes the innocence, naiveté, weakness and perhaps stupidity of a young man who is so viciously victimized by Nontas. Yorgakis’s Nontas oozes viciousness, corruption and creepy psychological intelligence.
The plot does build up to a terrific climax but it leaves many loose ends. Like a mosaic, the film strives for an image rather than deep psychological study. To that extent Servetas succeeds in his second feature film that is intriguing and well worth seeing.