Park, dir. Sofia Exarchou│It’s a well-documented fact that Larry Clark’s Kids was a game changer when it was release, commenting as it did on the mood of a young generation and the risky sex culture they were growing up in. Well, Sofia Exarchou’s Park is like an homage to that mixed with a healthy dash of Greek New Wave, and the results are a rather unique cinematic overload.
Accompanying her film to the Discoveries section of 22nd Vilnius Film Festival, Exarchou did express discomfort at being labelled as part of the Greek New Wave, or “Weird Wave,” but the film definitely has something of that unconventional, confrontational and often violent style. At the same time though, her point was totally valid: the labels we might give to contemporary Greek cinema do not do justice to the nuances that exist within it. Like the nuances that might arise if you tried to mix Kids with Dogtooth, for example. And the effects of such a hybrid are definitely fascinating.
At the very beginning, Park feels almost as if we are genuinely entering a documentary – one of those cutting-edge docs that shakes up the borders between fiction and reality by using a carefully constructed artistic style. In these early moments, it is almost as though we are getting too close to the bleak reality of Athens’ deserted Olympic Park (which gives the film its enigmatic title). More than ten years since the 2004 Games, what we find there now is a disturbing mix of stray dogs, crumbling buildings and teenage delinquents.
What follows is almost a blow-by-blow account of how these youths (from the disadvantaged families that came to inhabit the Olympic village) keep themselves entertained in a time of the country’s almost complete economic meltdown. Soon this fictional cast of rascals, job-seekers and ex-athletes begin to capture an entire lost generation.
Against the Park’s decaying backdrop, they pointlessly race, wrestle and seduce each other, and the Park almost comes to act as an extra, omnipresent character. This harsh microcosm continuously antagonises or reassures the others that live there, and Polish cinematographer Monika Lenczewska does a particularly good job capturing these two sides to this environment.
On a good day, the landscape looks as though it has kept its Olympic grandeur, as sun-baked, golden grasses brighten the screen. But at night, and during much of the film, the crumbling buildings tower moodily over their inhabitants, casting brooding shadows over their athletic bodies. This is particularly true of the film’s main characters Dimitris, a toned young man looking for work, and Anna, a slender ex-gymnast who bears the very visible scars of her career.
These two search for a dream or an escape, but end up finding little more than each other’s company. In what becomes an almost Jack Kerouac series of events, they are left with little more than the constant stream of petty squabbles and misadventures of the Park’s community to give their lives meaning, and any attempts to leave simply expose them to bizarrely alien new communities. What becomes rather painfully delightful, then, is the way that this group of unbridled youths become trapped in a crumbling, hopeless place that clearly symbolises out the death of ambition.
When all this frustrated energy leads the kids to break out in fights or wild moments of dancing, the film’s jerky, close-up style really comes into its own. Its lack of any kind of Steadicam, and the unrelenting close-ups on the actors’ boisterousness produces a feeling that is quite powerfully overwhelming. But perhaps it is almost a bit too much so, and perhaps Park drags on just a bit too long.
At times, this film just feels a bit too relentless in its chain of physical activities. Perhaps a greater plot arch would have been counterintuitive thematically, but it might have made Park a little less brutal to watch. At the end of the day, this filmmaking style is something you either love or hate, but one thing that is certain: Park is an incredibly timely and insightful look at the Zeitgeist of modern Greece. That is no doubt what has made the feature such a worthy inclusion in so many film festivals’ programmes to date.■
│In cooperation with│
Park│ Director: Sofia Exarchou│ Screenplay: Sofia Exarchou │ Camera: Monika Lenczewska│ Editing: Yorgos Mavropsaridis, Sofia Exarchou│ Music: The Boy│ Cast: Dimitris Kitsos, Dimitra Vlagkopoulou, Enuki Gvenatadze│ Producer: Amanda Livanou, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, Klaudia Śmieja, Beata Rzeźniczek│ Production Company: Faliro House Productions / Madants Sp. z.o.o. / Neda Films│Country: Greece / Poland│ Year: 2016│ Running Time:100 min │ International Sales: Stray Dogs│ Festival: Vilnius FF 2017│