Sunday, September 22, 2013


 Harris Markou skateboarding in empty pool
Reviewed by James Karas

Wasted Youth is a 2011 film directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos (from Greece) and Jan Vogel (from Ecuador). It had its Toronto premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in  September 2013.
The title is slightly misleading. Papadimitropoulos and Vogel don not so much present a portrait of wasted youth as a depiction of wasted society. The film has two plots. One involves Harry (Harris Markou), a 16-year old skateboarder who is involved in some irresponsible, youthful hijinks and some pretty idiotic and despicable behavior with his friends.

The other plot involves Vasilis (Ieronymos Kaletsanos), who is trapped in a life of quiet desperation. In his first appearance in the film, he attempts sexual intercourse with his wife and fails to achieve anything.  A friend tries to convince him to go into business but he refuses. Life at home is a misery. He is a police officer who is getting night shifts because of the corruption of the officer who assigns the day shifts to someone from his hometown.
Kaletsanos maintains a look of almost clinical depression as he goes through his daily routine at home and at work. The two plot lines develop separately until near the end of the film when Vasilis runs into Harry and his friends. 

 Ieronymos Kaletsanos

 Harry skateboards incessantly, refuses to find work, gets drunk, masturbates in public with his friends and posts obscene stickers on public property. He and his friends crash a wedding and get drunk. At best, this is a disturbing image of Greek youth.

The adults do not present a much better image. We see a group watching horse races in the middle of the day. Harry’s father seems unemployed and does not get along with his son. There is a middle-aged woman who is a friend of Harry’s who lives in a large house but even she seems to be suffering the same financial stress – her swimming pool has no water and there are no indicators of wealthy living. 

There is no ray of hope in the depiction of life in Greece. The most positive character is Harry’s attractive girlfriend who does not allow him to have sex with her or to grope her.

The script is by the co-directors and the inspiration was the shooting of a youth by the police in 2008 that set off a series of riots in Athens reminiscent of the aftermath of the Rodney King shooting in Los Angeles.
The two plot lines are told in a straightforward fashion but the directors have a predilection for camera angles and shots that did not make sense or enhance the story, I thought. As a depiction of the malaise of youth and the torpor of Greek society, the film is right on target.    

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

To the Wolf is a cross between a documentary and a fictional story shot in the mountains of western Greece, around Nafpaktia.
The film is the brainchild and product of Aran Hughes and Christina Koutsospyrou who spent several months over two years in the mountainous village and filmed the locals as they went about their business. The people knew that they were  being filmed but there was no script and no plot. The directors want to give their impression of the lives of these peasants in an atmosphere as gloomy as Hades.     

In the few days that we spend with the families of two shepherds, Giorgos Katsaros and Adam Paxnis, and a few villagers, it rains incessantly and the only light we see is at dusk or in the bleakly lit interiors at night.  
From the mountainside where the villagers raise goats, sheep and cattle, we can see some spectacular vistas of mountains and gorges but Hughes and Koutsospyrou do not want to concentrate on that. This is not a National Geographic tour of the splendours of Western Greece.

The directors dwell on the faces of the peasants that are not so much old as mythical with skins that look as if they were  ploughed. Were it not for some light bulbs and primitive plumbing, the interiors of the houses would resemble Homeric dwellings with primitive fireplaces burning a few logs. The men sit by the fire for warmth and smoke cigarettes that they rolled themselves.
There are no young people to be seen anywhere. The village priest, looking unkempt and ancient, tells us that all the young people have escaped from the village and only the old are  left behind.

The film touches on the financial crisis as the villagers speak of harsh economic conditions and hunger. The film was  made before the economic crisis became critical and we can only assume that these people had a problem surviving even before that.
The film does develop a sort of plot with the fate of Giorgos who cannot cope with the situation and Adam who is the eternal survivor. A dramatic scene is  suggested and heard at the end of the movie but we are spared the gory details.

The movie is like a poem that depicts the dark sky, gloomy atmosphere and difficult life of people up in the mountains. Like a poem, the film gives us the impression of its makers and is not necessarily true in fact. The sun does rise, the sky does clear and the people of those villages laugh and enjoy life at least some of the time. Hughes’s and Koutsospyrou’s depiction of them is not intended to be a documentary representation but in the end, it is an incomplete image. If it were a painting depicting a bleak landscape with animals and ancient people leading miserable lives, it would be a convincing portrait.  As a 74-minute film, it is only an interesting and not necessarily convincing snapshot of a moment in time in the life of these peole.                             

Monday, September 16, 2013


Themis Panou

Reviewed by James Karas

Miss Violence is an extraordinary movie that examines a highly disturbing topic. It is directed by Alexandros Avranas on a script by him and Kostas Peroulis and received its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The taboo subject that Avranas tackles head on and at times graphically is incest. The strength of the movie is the superb sensitivity and finesse with which he directs an astounding cast. The climax of the film is dramatic, cathartic and jaw-dropping.

The situation and the setting are completely mundane and ordinary. A family is celebrating a girl’s 11th birthday. She comes out of her room dressed in white, blows the candles on her cake and dances with a happy middle-aged man who we learn is her grandfather. The young girl is not smiling and she goes to the balcony and jumps to her death. Avranas has already astounded us and the plot proceeds from there.

The building blocks of the film are low-key, routine, indeed humdrum acts of a middle-class family in Athens. The family consists of a middle-aged couple (played by Themis Panou and Reni Pittaki), their daughter Eleni (Eleni Roussinou) and her four children, including the one who committed suicide. Avranas shows them watching television, having dinner, cleaning the apartment, disciplining the children and carrying on under the difficult situation of the recent death.

However, there is a subtle undercurrent and nothing is quite as ordinary as it may appear. The father appears like a disciplinarian at first, perhaps a bit severe for some tastes, but we start sensing in our gut that there is something terribly wrong with him. His wife is uninvolved and uninterested in family affairs. She seems to be in her own world and frequently in her room with migraines. Again, we begin to sense that there is something odd with the conduct of this mother and grandmother.

Those suspicions increase when we watch the pregnant Eleni and hear nothing about the father of the child that she is carrying or of the father of the other children. Things get progressively, methodically and meticulously worse as we face the enormity of what is happening in this superficially normal family that is coping with a terrible loss.

There are numerous memorable scenes that gain great significance in retrospect as you unravel this marvelous cinematic achievement. I do not want to reveal more of the plot for those who will be able to see the film when it is released for general viewing in November. Suffice it to say, that the humdrum activities reach levels of cruelty and depravity that are deplorable and disgusting.

Themis Panou gives a superb performance as the Father of Eleni and grandfather of her hapless children. He looks concerned, loving, a disciplinarian, yes, but a man with the welfare of his family as his foremost concern. Panou gives us that personality as well as the other side of the depraved father and grandfather with astonishing ability.

Eleni Roussinou hides a world of secrets behind her straight-faced look and her go-along-with-the flow appearance. She shows us that she is hiding something but we do not realize the monstrousness of it until much later in the movie.

Myrto (Sissy Toumasi) is the main victim of this psychotic family and we see in her young, pretty face all the vileness and horror of what lies in the closet of this family. A superb performance by Toumasi.
Miss Violence was awarded the following distinctions at the Venice Film Festival: the FEDEORA Critics’ Award, the Arca award, the Silver Lion for Best Director to Avranas and the Coppa Volpi Award for best actor for Themis Panou

Thursday, September 12, 2013


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. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Luke Humphrey as Murph and Martha Henry as Prof in Taking Shakespeare. Photo by V. Tony Hauser.

Reviewed by James Karas

**** (out of 5)

John Murrell’s Taking Shakespeare may not be a perfect play but it is the perfect play for the Stratford Festival. It is playing to packed houses at the Studio Theatre and garnering standing ovations for Martha Henry and Luke Humphrey.

It is a play about learning and loving Shakespeare’s work. It is a play about what the Stratford Festival, which used to be called the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, wants to achieve: inculcate a love of Shakespeare in all of us. It is about what every English teacher and every English department wants (or should want) to accomplish.

Martha Henry plays the Prof of literature at an unnamed college. The professor is getting on in age, she has few students and has published very little for some ten years. She is independent, idiosyncratic and quite cranky, in fact.

Murph (Luke Humphrey) is a 24-year old who is a great disappointment to his parents. His mother happens to be the Dean of Humanities at the university and she sends him to the Prof to brush up his Shakespeare or learn something so he can get a decent mark.

Murrell has set the scene for some comedy and an opportunity for learning something about Shakespeare with an expert Shakespearean like Martha Henry. This expert is not just knowledgeable about the plays and the poetry; she can demonstrate the power and musicality of the poetry.

Murph prefers video games and does not like Shakespeare because the titles of his plays are simply too long.

Reluctantly, the Prof agrees to teach Othello to Murph. As they go through the plot, Murph starts learning something about the play and an unlikely friendship begins to develop between the disparate characters. The Prof teaches him about the poetry of the play and he begins to appreciate the complexity of the characters and the personality of his instructor.

We get some humorous exchanges between the two, reading of lines from Othello by both of them, some analysis of the play and the growth of Murph from a video game enthusiast to a lover of Shakespeare. 

That journey is intended as much for the audience as it is for Murph, of course, and we are glad to be there for the ride. It is a lecture wrapped in a pleasant comedy with marvelous illustrations of the genius of Shakespeare and Othello.

Diana Leblanc directs this wonderful production with all its humour and, in the end, pathos as the lessons and the Prof’s career come to an end. Why?  Lack of interest in Shakespeare!

The set designed by Michael Gianfrancesco consists of bookcases overflowing with books and old furniture. It is the apartment of a scholar who borrowed some rugs thirty-five years ago and never returned them. 

Don’t be surprised if, when you go home after seeing the play, you reach for your copy of Othello and start re-reading it.

Taking Shakespeare by John Murrell opened on July 30 and will run in repertory until September 22, 2013 at the Studio Theatre, 34 George St. Stratford, Ontario. 1-800-567-1600


Wednesday, September 4, 2013


Reviewed by James Karas

Faith Healer is a richly-plotted play that deals with the lives of numerous people over decades and covers dozens of villages in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. It does all of that with four monologues delivered by three actors. This is not your usual theatre but it is story-telling at its best.

Brian Friel has created three fascinating characters who tell their stories directly to the audience. Frank (Jim Mezon) is the faith healer of the title and the first one to address us. He is a faith healer, he tells us, not out of any ability or religious faith but because he can. He is a charlatan, no doubt, but there are occasions when he has “cured” people.

His faith healing is only a small part of Frank’s life and work. He is accompanied by Grace (Corrine Koslo) and Teddy (Peter Krantz) and his relationship with them, his parents, her parents and the people they meet on the road provide a rich storehouse of stories and myths. For the storyteller from Homer’s bards to the Irish tale-spinners, the story is all that matters and facts are almost irrelevant.

Grace is a solicitor and the daughter of a judge, yet she follows the faith healer around dilapidated village halls, is humiliated by him, has miscarriages and still stays with him. Her recollection of events is as truthful as Frank’s even where it differs.

The third member of the troupe is Teddy, a Cockney who used to work with animals. He lives in the squalor, drunkenness and poverty of the world of Frank and Grace. He tells us his side of the story while getting progressively drunk. His job was to warm up the audience before the faith healer came to presumably heal them. He is the third side of the triangle of truth, myth, unreliable memory and personal perception of reality.

The three actors do amazing work in delivering very long monologues that tell dramatic and varied stories. Frank is a bit pompous, sometimes cruel, frequently drunk and always fascinating. He is a faith healer without any faith in anything. There is almost no mention of God and never of Christ. Mezon’s performance is simply marvelous.

Grace is difficult to understand. Her love and loyalty to Frank are incomprehensible. Koslo delivers her monologue seated but there are enough changes in intonation and manner to keep you captivated by her performance.

Krantz is quite different. He is funny and theatrical as becomes the character he represents who used to entertain crowds with animal shows. Again, Teddy’s deep love for Frank and Grace is incomprehensible but that is how this trio of fascinating people works.

Craig Hall’s directing is very detailed and nuanced. Every move from the recitation of the unpronounceable names of villages to the reaching for another drink, to Frank’s last walk off the stage are done with meticulous care.

The set by Christina Poddubiuk consists of a rundown hall that can be in a church or community centre anywhere. It has a few chairs thrown around, the walls have not seen paint for a long time and the atmosphere is drab and depressing.

The four monologues (Frank gets two) present a number of people, many villages even if only in name and the large world of the storyteller.

Worth seeing with no hesitation.

Faith Healer by Brian Friel runs in repertory until October 6, 2013 at the Royal George Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.