Monday, March 06, 2017

Suntan: The Dark Side of Fun in the Mediterranean Sun

Kostis Makridis is the Joel Fleischman of the Greek Isles, except he is much more pathetic. He has accepted a post on a sleepy Cycladic island that only comes alive during the hedonistic summers. Apparently, he has endured some bitter professional and personal disappointments. Frankly, he is probably lucky to have this not so prestigious position, but he will make of hash of it anyway in Argyris Papadimitropoulos’s Suntan (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Makridis makes it through the winter without incident, because there just isn’t anything to do. However, when summer comes so do the half- or fully naked cavorting tourists. On her first day on the island, Anna Anagostou takes a nasty tumble from her bike, requiring Dr. Makridis’s attention—and his attention she will certainly receive. Initially, Anagostou and her young, sexually explorative friends invite the nebbish doctor along when they hit the beaches and the party circuit. Unfortunately, when he starts to take Anagostou too seriously, they drop him like a bad olive. Of course, this just makes him resentful—and increasingly unstable.

Since supposedly every Greek film is supposedly a commentary on the EU-imposed austerity, let us parse out Suntan’s allegorical meanings. Surely, Anagostou and her nubile young friends must represent the temptations of the Euro Zone, while Makridis represents socialist Greece, seduced into renouncing his ability to finance debt through currency devaluations. Or something like that.

What is beyond debating is how uncomfortable it is to witness Makridis’s inevitable implosion. Granted, the heathy bodies on display throughout Suntan would make nearly anyone over thirty feel old, but Makridis is particularly schlubby. Seriously, he is a doctor who chain smokes in this day and age. Granted, this is Greece, but still. Regardless, watching him lose his head and his dignity over Anagostou will make most viewers downright queasy.

Makis Papadimitriou is painfully believable as poor, square Makridis. He follows a predictably humiliating character arc, but he adheres to it with absolute conviction. Likewise, Elli Tringou captures the vivacious energy and cruel capriciousness of the young and beautiful Anagostou. In all honesty, the contrast between them is so great, it is hard to buy into his delusions. Even for a virile boy-toy her own age, about the best he could hope for under the circumstances would be a little action before she left at the end of the season.

Still, there is something awkwardly human about the pining for unattainable beauty. Of course, it never ends well, but Papadimitropoulos and co-screenwriter Syllas Tzoumerkas (who also appears as Makridis’s vastly more successful classmate who just so happens to vacation on the isle) take it to a surprisingly dark place. This subject matter is the stuff of tragic opera—it almost can’t not work, but Suntan never really finds anything new-and-now to say about it. Only just recommended for horndog cineastes who want to see spring break nudity with arthouse credentials, Suntan opens this Friday (3/10) in New York, at the Village East.