Until the day when Pixel Buds are so finessed that we no longer need those streaming lines of text, subtitles will be (for most of us) our one entry to foreign films. It’s rare though for subtitles to impact the film in any other way, but in Yannis Sakaridis’s Amerika Square, those flashing words do far more than translate.
For all but a gifted few, subtitles will be an inherent part of Amerika Square. The dialect in the film fluidly shifts from English to Greek to Arabic and back to Greek. You’re going to be reading a lot. And when protagonist Nakos (Makis Papadimitriou) is flying through those Grecian streets, pandering through a long xenophobic monologue, you’re going to be reading quickly.
Through Nakos’s parts, it’s difficult to follow the subtitles as they slide from the screen while his voice continues to run beyond the text. He speaks quickly and rattles off ethno-nationalist rhetoric, arriving at ideas before moving to questions that he either answers himself or forgets entirely.
He wants the immigrants from his block gone, he wants his park reclaimed and he takes to poisoning the invaders with toxin-baked bread. There’s chaos in his words and in his thoughts. It never seems as if he knows what he is talking about or what he’s doing.
It’s a contrast to Tarek (Vassilis Koukalani), the Syrian migrant planning to move himself and his daughter to Germany with aid of a dodgy people smuggler. He speaks at pace, his words drifting with his voice and only becoming erratic when things go wrong. We have time to consider Tarek’s plight; we can take it in.
He knows if he returns to Alleppo he will be met by a bullet. He also speaks of the greed of those who seek to reclaim spaces previously forgotten, the exact thoughts Nakos articulates without consciousness. The lack of an anchor language within the film creates an immediate impasse between the characters, but it’s their ideas and thoughts where they separate the most.
Amerika Square is a film with heavy political connotations and it comes from one of the most volatile parts of Europe, where the influx of refugees remains polarising and contentious. It’s no new ground for Yannis Sakaridis however, moving from his previous film Wild Duck, where he took shots at the moral status of politics. Here, he narrows his scope to their supporters.
The other narratives that are weaved throughout lack the traction of the tales of Nakos and Tarek. Billy (Yannis Stankoglou) the slick tattoo artist acts as the senex to the film, guiding those around him to their final destination. He is the lifejacket for the other characters and is buoyed by the ‘refuse to sink’ tattoo he wears on his thigh.
At times, the film’s balance falls aside. The liberal discourse begins to outweigh the narrative devices, and characters become no more than tools for working out Sakaridis and Vangelis Mourikis’s interminable monologues. Most apparent during an alternative energy debate forced so unnaturally into a scene you’re left looking for context.
While Amerika Square didn’t receive the nomination for best foreign film at the 2016 Academy Awards, it remains a powerful work, from a country that continues to grow with Yorgos Lanthimos’s entry into Western cinema.
Film Review: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Amerika Square screens as part of The Greek Film Festival, which will taking place in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and Brisbane from the 10 October 2017. Check out the website, http://greekfilmfestival.com.au/ to catch what’s playing near you.