in International Film Festival Mannheim Heidelberg

by Michael Ranze

The Greek directress Sofia Exarchou shows an oppressed and moving portrait of a woman who is fighting for her dignity. Kalia, maybe in her mid-thirties, works on a Greek island as an animator in an all-inclusive-resort. She gets the paper decorations for the stage and the glittering costumes, she shows the dance choreographies to the newly arrived colleagues, greets the old ones, makes love to Simos, the gentle boss of the troup, and cares for his little daughter. The understanding between the animators is good, they help each other, they spend their spare time together, sometimes they have a show in a large discotheque nearby. Kalia also takes Eva, a shy Polish girl, who is new to this business, under her wings.

But once the tourists arrive, the stress begins: dancing, singing, laughing. Kalia has more and more difficulties to play the role that is expected from her. Why must she create so much energy and happiness for people who don’t know what to do with themselves on their holidays? As the summer progresses, the nights get longer and the work gets harder. At one frentic disco show with foam and loud tekkno Kalia hurts her leg badly, but she doesn’t care for the deep and bloody wound – a big mistake. The cheering crowds don’t see Kalia’s personal struggle – until she loses her steadyness in one bitter night.

A loud film, brilliantly mounted, without pauses, full of energy, without compromise, daring. That is the only way the directress can show the emotional fatigue of the protagonist who is played brilliantly by Dimitra Vlagopoulou. She is a woman torn between her passion for acting and entertainment and the exploitation of her strenuous work. Her own dreams, her own private life remains unfulfilled, and that is the tragedy of this film.

Sofia Exarchou takes a rare and authentic look into the world of superficial entertainment and shiny surfaces. Even Simos’ little daughter takes part in the performances, which is kind of irritating. Sometimes we have the impression that not even the hotel guests have fun – they are bored and joyless, shy and helpless. Those afternoons with bingo or those evenings with karaoke are senseless and depressing.

But Exarchou doesn’t make fun of the guests, she is not cruel like Ulrich Seidl, the famous Austrian director, would have been, there is no irony, no prejudice, no cliché. Exarchou is on the side of her protagonists who try – in a mixture of professionalism and talent – to give their best. Some of the showpieces, especially the fish ballet and the dance of the “little people”, are expertly choreographed and surprisingly beautiful. The contrast to Kaila’s growing desperation couldn’t be greater.

Under the surface Exarchou criticizes also the economical mechanisms of this entertainment, the exploitation of the animators and the sexual abuse, when the male hotel guests have their hands everywhere. At one time Kalia says that she is a human jukebox. A precise description of what she is doing.

Michael Ranze
Edited by Peter Kremski