Arriving on a rather desolate, off-season Greek island, podgy doctor Kostis (Efthymis Papadimitriou) settles into the daily mundanity of treating aching backs and excessive ouzo consumption. Until summer arrives, and with it come the tourists. Soon, the once grey and dreary island is heaving with hedonistic holidaymakers, and Kostis becomes increasingly enamoured with one young lady in particular.
Billed as a coming-of-middle-age film Suntan is not quite as squirm-inducingly creepy as it initially promises to be, and considerably more sympathetic than you might expect. At first reluctant to embrace the transient population’s partying, Kostis becomes bewitched by the 21-year old Anna (Elli Tringou), when a motorcycle accident brings her to his clinic. Joining her free-loving, free drinking, energetic group Kostis’ fascination slowly turns to unrequited love, and ultimately obsession before a series of humiliations bring an end to their very one-sided relationship.
Not quite as bleak and malevolent as many films emerging from what is occasionally dubbed New Greek Cinema, Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ film concentrates on the growing gulf between youth and the perceived old, rather than on the darker side of the central relationship. Any character beyond their twenties is portrayed as desperate, clinging to moments of joy amidst hollow lives destined for inevitable sadness. Only Kostis is granted a modicum of sympathy. Papadimitriou lays his character bare, often literally, as weaknesses and flaws so familiar to many of us are exposed with awkward, tragic scrutiny. His is a compelling performance, matched by Tringou’s exuberant, carefree sensibility that Kostis desperately wants to understand, yet predictably fails to do so.
As the narrative develops, and Kostis’ disregard for his responsibilities as a doctor begin to have consequences, the film reaches something of a crunch point. Conventional dramatic wisdom would have the story take a macabre turn, but you always have the notion that Kostis is more victim than perpetrator. Anna and her friend’s acceptance of him always feels more pitiful than genuine, emphasising the distinction in ages, and Papadimitropoulos’ decision to allow Kostis to retain some scrap of humanity and pride leaves the film firmly ensconced in reality. The troubles Kostis creates for himself, and the ill-judged decisions he makes are no less unpleasant because of this, and if anything, resonate so much more.
Beautifully shot throughout by Christos Karamanis, with an opening shot of Kostis’ arrival on the island a stand out, Suntan is an uncomfortably interesting watch. Superb central performances, and with a director who understands exactly when to look, and just as importantly when to look away, Suntan is film to be sought out.
SUNTAN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ARGYRIS PAPADIMITROPOULOS / SCREENPLAY: ARGYRIS PAPADIMITROPOULOS, SYLLAS TZOUMERKAS / STARRING: EFTHYMIS PAPADIMITRIOU, ELLI TRINGOU / RELEASE DATE: 28TH APRIL