Sydney Film Festival Review: Suntan (Greece, 2016)

Director Argyris Papadimitropoulos has a darkly comical voice with which he approaches his new film Suntan, willing to lighten the mood with a playful, enjoyable middle but never quite losing focus of the uncomfortable message at the end of it all. His style is most evident in the cautionary tale of Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou), a 42 year old who has well and truly passed – perhaps even skipped – his generative years, downtrodden and lonely as he accepts a job as a general practitioner on a small Greek island.

The beginning of the film is splashed with a dreary tone, Kostis’ character mirroring the less-than-ideal weather as he very quietly settles into secluded life as a busy island doctor to a population of 800, getting to know the townspeople but still keeping them at a distance. This island life seems dull, him: emotionally flat, and as the rain pours all Kostis can hold onto are promises of a lively summer. The overcast act doesn’t stay on frame for long and Papadimitropoulos quite spontaneously time-jumps to a loud, energetic summer that has the island teeming with effervescent, agile tourists and, most relevant to Kostis’ story, nubile young women.

One such woman is Anna (Elli Tringou) who appears in Kostis’ practice one day with a hurt leg. Unaware of the intoxicating desire she can awaken in a lonely man like Kostis, she jokingly flirts with him and implies a casual invitation to hang out with her and her friends. They are surprised and amused when he actually takes her up on it, engineering an excuse to bump into them on a nude beach, slowly but surely endearing himself to the group – a process ushered by his monetary generosity and embarrassingly naive efforts to fit in.

Papadimitriou is stiff at first, but very subtly begins to loosen up around his newfound companions, shifting his focus away from work and towards a metaphorical fountain of youth, myopic in his attempts to drink from it as much as he can before summer fades away. Quite quickly Kostis’ nerves loosen and the group begin to see the natural, likable guy he is, affable and easy-going if not a bit too desperate to show his new friends how fun he can be. He is kidding himself, and they are kidding themselves, but Papadimitropoulos is patient as he passes time with orgiastic scenes of the party life Kostis is clutching at to the detriment of his professional reputation.

Many interesting shots juxtaposing the high energy of the island’s party scene with Kostis’ desire to keep up are thread throughout the 104 minute film, particularly the many beach scenes contrasting Anna’s smooth, bronzed skin with Kostis’ tubby, pale, and hairy flesh. Anna and her friends aren’t caking on sun screen like he is, and yet Kostis seems completely unaware of the differences between them as he is spun into a foolhardy web of desire, jealousy, and obsession that only becomes more intense as the story progresses.

Both Kostis and Papadimitropoulos treat Anna as an object, and though Tringou’s performance is admirable it’s unfortunate that her character isn’t fleshed out beyond being anything but the catalyst for Kostis’ emotional attachment. Her on-screen chemistry with the doctor is undeniable, and despite their striking age difference, the friendship feels natural and genuine – obviously appearing to Kostis as potential for much more.

The film’s tagline “Some Bronze, Others Burn” captures Papadimitropoulos message perfectly. The Director wants to make a clear-cut case for people acting their age; thirty isn’t the new twenty, and forty is definitely not the new thirty. Kostis’ crime is not realising this, and his hopes are only crushed when reality kicks in and miscommunication interrupts his fantasy, pulling out something deeper and darker within the sad-eyed middle aged man.

The “creep, stalker type” story is nothing new in cinema, but very rarely is it treated with the level of sensitivity and depth as it is here. Papadimitropoulos sticks loyally to Kostis’ character throughout his darker turn, shading his transformation with the kind of distantly disapproving compassion that complicates the climax, forcing the viewer to at least somewhat understand the unnerving developments and take away our often evoked luxury of black-and-white judgement. Viewer comfort is very much at the bottom of the list for Papadimitropoulos, and Suntan benefits largely from the 39 year old Director’s brutal honesty.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Run Time: 104 minutes

Suntan screened in Australia as part of the 63rd annual Sydney Film Festival. More information can be found HERE.