Thursday, June 21, 2012

Wasted Youth

If it was not for the Greek Cinema Club in Luxembourg, I would probably not see Wasted Youth (2011), a direct-as-an-experiment film by Argyris Papadimitropoulos and Jan Vogel. Better late, than never, they say, even though I had the chance to watch the film when it was opening the Rotterdam Film Festival two years ago and I blew it; I was short of time, as usual. Still, I was glad to see the stickers WASTED MALAKA YOUTH featuring literally everywhere; in the bridge, along the main streets, stuck on red lights and outside the emblematic de Doelen.

Wasted Youth is half midsummer night's dream -more of a midsummer night's trance, really- and half the boiling hell of bad communication. Characters interact, never for the better, always for the worse. The directors and scriptwriters allowed a lot of improvisation during the film; that's how they grasped the essence of Greek soul. Greeks have no gratitude -it's something I may as well have perceived till now. Greeks are never satisfied with whatever they've got; they always seek for whatever it is they cannot have. A rebellious son is no good; a job is not enough; a kiss is not enough.

Numerous characters take us on a 24hour trip in Athens and its surroundings. We skate together with aimless teenager Haris first inside an empty swimming-pool, then back home to have a short fight with his dad, then down to Syntagma square to join his fellow skaters; later on we visit his mum, who is hospitalised in KAT Hospital at Kifissia, meet up with a girl who doesn't give in, until we decide that friends are the only understanding force. So off to find them, drink and smoke and watch the stars while masturbating on a rooftop until we decide to take the scooter to a wedding near Zouberi. And that's not it; then back to the centre for a party at Gazi neighbourhood. I don't know if this trip is realistic -Athens is huge and a skateboard is not the means of transport I would use to conquer it- but it's romantic in its simplicity and carefree style. Young is the new cool in the country anyways; only them can disobey with no remorse. 

It's interesting to see well-known actors co-existing with the obvious beginner Haris Markou; the scenes play out well, but there's some charm and power missing from his part. We can see his laid back attitude is the weak cover for his inexperience in front of the camera, or is it only me? The skating scenes are wonderfully shot, though, and there's a lot of confidence there. On the other hand, the little one who is drinking too much for his age is a natural born actor -it's so refreshing to see that such a thing still exists. The effortless is an occasional relief from everything structured and meticulously organised. And this film is the celebration of the effortless: it was shot with almost no preparation, no script or finance plan. 

It is a film made "with a sense of urgency" and  beautifully so. The storyline is not so important, even though it is inspired from true events, the important "misfunction" of the Greek police, that resulted in the killing of the fifteen year old Alexis Grigoropoulos which triggered the Exarcheia riots December 2008. Athens of today is captured with utmost reality; bad mood, lack of respect, confusion, miscommunication, defiance to the authorities, police included, money issues, no courage to risk by starting up a business (even if it's only a pizzeria),  an insurmountable generation gap, a liking for the here and now attitude (opportunism, yes) and all the consequences of the above.

This is my country, ladies and gentlemen, dangerously chaotic, true to its Dionysian past, full of nerve, images and ideas that make its artists, authors, cinematographers bring about the best, if only they have the chance. I would like to note the obvious: the portrait of Athens is more complete for those who understand the original language of the film. The characters and their conversations are not made up, but overheard behind closed doors or out in the streets and the subtitles were unable to provide a true match to them. The film is an interesting experience with an abrupt ending. But death can only be abrupt, now that I'm thinking of it.

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