DIR: Argyris Papadimitropoulos • WRI: Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Syllas Tzoumerkas PRO: Argyris Papadimitropoulos, Phaedra Vokali • DOP: Christos Karamanis • ED: Napoleon Stratogiannakis • MUS: Yannis Veslemes • CAST: Makis Papadimitriou, Elli Tringou, Dimi Hart
Suntan is the latest entry in the burgeoning Greek new wave of cinema, following acclaimed works like Alps, Dogtooth and Attenberg. It stars Makis Papadimitriou (a highlight of last year’s Chevalier) as a single and lonely 42-year-old doctor named Kostis. Although the audience never quite learn the specifics, life appears to have been unkind to him. Accepting a job as the village doctor on a small Greek island, his days consist solely of treating locals and frozen dinners. That is until the Summer, when the island becomes a hedonistic holiday resort for young partiers. He forms a bond with Anna (Elli Tringou) – a free spirited, nudist beach-attending twenty-one-year old patient on vacation. Inviting the doctor out of his comfort zone, Anna allows him to tag along with her friends (all of whom look like extras from Spring Breakers) and their heavy partying. Kostis experiences emotional highs but devastating, disturbing lows in the backdrop of this intoxicating heightened environment.
Suntan, co-written and directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos (Wasted Youth), plays very well with audience expectation. It tricks the viewer subtly into thinking they are watching a different movie than they are. For about two-thirds of its narrative, the audience is led not quite to root for Kostis, but to empathise with him. Though, in this stretch its deliberately creepy to watch this overweight, older man frolic on nude beaches with people half his age (something reinforced by an explicit reference to Lolita), one empathises with Kostis. It’s like watching a sad character study about a man trying to catch a second wind in his life by returning to his youth (a theme present recently in Trainspotting 2). The viewer gets the impression that Kostis will grow as a person, realising that a life of parties although alluring is past him – thus, accepting his inevitable aging and being happier for it.
What an invigorating and disturbing surprise it proves to be when Papadimitropoulous drops the other shoe and one realises they’ve actually been watching a secret horror film – one grounded in the same themes of aging mentioned above, as well as one of misogyny. An abrupt but well-executed shift in mood (little details like how the partying sequences in the earlier half look idyllic, while in the latter they look queasy prevent tonal whiplash) pushes the movie into darker territory. Without spoiling, Kostis begins to commit acts which are increasingly sinister, culminating in a quite upsetting sequence – partly because it centres on a disturbing act but also because the audience have been sympathising up until this point with the perpetrator.
I can see the film receiving negative criticism, partly because rapid tonal shifts are divisive but also because the young characters in Suntan, particularly its women, are often objectified. Yet, gradually the viewer realises that they are seeing the movie from Kostis’ perspective. Thus, the younger players only appear as vapid, sexually open hipsters because that’s how our lead perceives them. Plus, Elli Tringou’s performance helps counter these criticisms, imbuing her character with a personality, despite working in this limited parameter.
Suntan is further proof that people should sit-up and take notice of the Greek “weird-wave”, a movement brimming with fresh ideas, tackling dark, social issues.
Suntan is released 28th April 2017