Sunday, August 20, 2017

A country and a family on the road to ruin in Syllas Tzoumerkas' Greek drama, A BLAST

What was it like to have been a citizen of Greece back in 2014, when the film under consideration here -- A BLAST -- was first released? In it, we watch, semi-hypnotized by the behavior -- crazy, highly sexual, and not very loving -- of the family members we encounter. Even when they appear to be trying to approximate kindness, most of their actions comes out as either passive-aggressive or full out angry. And why not, since their country is headed for, if not already completely mired in financial ruin. As the whipping boy for the IMF and World Bank, Greece's employment rate was running at around 28 per cent, with the youth unemployment rate nearly double that. The family's personal lives and financial situation, we soon discover, are even worse.

As written and directed by Syllas Tzoumerkas (shown at left, and more recently the co-writer of that self-destructive doctor movie, Suntan), A Blast begins in media res, as we see a car racing through a forest near the sea, even as we hear a news report of a fire seemingly caused by arson. Tzoumerkas then flashes back to (sort of) happier days, and we see a pair of adults siblings playing/fighting at the beach, as exposition is dropped fairly speedily and well, prior to our meeting these young ladies' parents: mom, confined to a wheelchair but still apparently ruling the roost, along with a rather weak-willed dad.

Our star and heroine, Maria, is played by the oft-seen Greek actress Angeliki Papoulia (above and below, from Dogtooth, Alps and The Lobster), a beautiful woman who possesses a good body, expressive face and a fine array of acting chops. In this particular film however, Ms Papoulia proves mostly sex-crazed.

In one bizarre scene (above), she goes into a computer room full of men at work, turns on her computer to a porn site and proceeds to watch and listen, even as the poor guys around her find it, well, hard to concentrate on their own screen.

Her need for sex would seem to stem, at least in part, from the unavailability of her extremely handsome and hunky husband, Yannis (newcomer Vassilis Doganis, above and below), a Greek marine who's off at sea for much of the time. Yannis himself seems to be getting plenty of sex, even if his wife is not: We see him with a pretty black woman at one point (perhaps a prostitute), and then, having a very hot encounter with a male shipmate. Filmmaker Tzoumerkas makes certain we get, early on, a full-frame, full-frontal of his actor in the nude, and then intercuts often pieces of a soft-core sex scene (below) into his film's flashbacks. Thus we get plenty of the physicality of this rather amazing performer, whose first film this was, and who, according to the IMDB, has not been heard of since. Not to worry, what we see of him in A Blast should make Mr. Doganis a rather permanent fixture in some of our sexual memory banks.

As the family's fortunes wane further, and mom's misdeeds (that's Themis Bazaka in the role, below) become apparent, daughter Maria grows crazier and crazier. While Ms Papoulia does a bang-up job of creating this woman's disintegration, Mr. Tzoumerkas has not given us quite enough depth in his screenplay to make the movie into the tragedy that this kind of story probably deserves.

The family seems simply too crazy too soon, and so, even as more weird incidents pile up, our sympathy fails to be engaged past a certain surface point. The situation -- Greece's and the family's -- is certainly fraught and vitally important. Yet the handling of it all, while perhaps enough for the Greek audience that has by now lived through so much pain, austerity and other major crap, may not prove quite enough for those of us internationally who have yet to feel the ever-tightening vise of globalization and wealth inequality as wielded by the world's most powerful at their most damaging.

Perhaps a little less sex and a little more specificity regarding Greek life, family and otherwise, might have made this movie -- if less marketable internationally -- more meaningful and important.

From IndiePix Films and running a just-about-right 80 minutes, A Blast makes its U.S. DVD debut this coming Tuesday, August 22 -- for purchase and/or rental.

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