Death in Greece: Papadimitropoulos Examines a Doctor and His Devils with Engrossing Character Portrait
An uncomfortable but prolific subset of the psychological drama would be the portrait of the despairing loser, which Greek director Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ simmering sophomore effort Suntan most assuredly belongs to. An introverted, unambitious schlep becomes the focal point of the director’s troubling examination of Peter Pan syndrome, where repressed sexuality suddenly dictates and utterly overwhelms one man’s increasingly troubled day-to-day existence. Like a less foreboding chapter from Thomas Mann, Papadimitropoulos walks a fine line by formulating a palpable case of empathy for his main character before drastically tearing it all away in a third act depicting a manic loss of control and a total disappearance into a suffocating, dangerous sense of hedonism which was brewing underneath the film’s sun dappled idyll.
Arriving like a gloomy ogre as he step off a ferry onto a small Greek island comprised of close-knit neighbors and businesses who gleefully look forward to the tourist boom of the summer months, fortysomething Dr. Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou) doesn’t exactly embrace his affable, if somewhat corn pone environment. Resistant to the small gestures of inclusion by the locals, Kostis suddenly finds his world turned upside down when a gaggle of tan tourists descend upon his office when the injured Anna (Elli Tringou) needs minor bandaging. Glaring disrespect by her boisterous friends in their treatment of the fusty physician leads Anna to invite him along to the beach. Lounging naked in the sun with her four cohorts (Milou Van Groessen, Dimi Hart, Hara Kotsali and Marcus Collen), Kostis, who seems to be the only person on the beach wearing clothes or sunscreen, ingratiates himself upon the group, leading Anna to embark on a casual flirtation with the older doctor. However, Kostis takes her sexual attention a bit too seriously, and as Anna and her friends become predictably bored and withdraw from his company, Kostis unravels quickly.
The island’s male inhabitants revel in the tourist season, with lecherous old men bragging to Kostis of all the backdoor conquests which will soon be available to him. However, the quiet doctor seems emotionally and sexually stunted, as evidenced by his juxtaposed leers and discomfort for Anna’s handsome male friends, who bare all and quite frequently. A chance encounter with Orestis, an old medical school colleague vacationing with his family one day on the beach fills us in on the reserved character, a man who had significant struggles making his way in his profession, and who now seems trapped as a small town doc on an inconsequential berg where beautiful people come to sew their frivolous oats and disappear with the next day’s sun.
Obviously hungry for connection, his subsequent loss of control is believable, and Papadimitropoulos complicates the scenario by not allowing Anna or her sun kissed cohorts much sympathy. Their ambivalence and blatant disregard for anyone who isn’t as young or beautiful as them certainly captures the hubris folly of youth and the perturbing self-involvement often accompanying it, and Papadimitropoulos merely allows them to be golden faced specters of flesh. The juxtaposition of pasty Kostis and golden gal Anna is constant, right down to an extreme close-up of the smitten doctor licking a grain of sand out of her eyeball.
Makis Papadimitriou, who played a similar character in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Chevalier (2015), manages to be a compelling and sympathetic figure, and his characterization resembles the kind of buffoon the Americans saddle a John C. Reilly with portraying. Co-written by Syllas Tzoumerkas (who appears in a sole sequence as Orestis, and is a notable director of his own thanks to the excellent A Blast, 2014), Suntan suggests association with the superficial but instead deals with the roiling turmoil of a stunted masculine psyche unleashed and out of control.