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Yorgos Zois Arcadia Review

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Arcadia | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

Arcadia | 2024 Berlin Intl. Film Festival Review

None of Us Strangers: Zois Probes Unrest of Our Shadows

Yorgos Zois Arcadia Review“It is a defect of God’s humor that he directs our hearts everywhere but to those who have a right to them,” states a character in Tom Stoppard’s celebrated 1993 play Arcadia, a word which connotes an Edenic or utopian realm. There’s a much more ironically melancholic context in the similarly titled sophomore film from Greek director Yorgos Zois. A peripheral alumni of the Greek Weird Wave (he had a small role in Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2011 film ALPS), Zois is reunited with Angeliki Papoulia in this rather sorrowful study on the stages of grief and the circuitous evolution of love. In essence, it’s a moody ghost story pieced together from the perspective of the undead—those forced to pay contrition while they await a reconciliation with the living.

The first act of Arcadia disorients with its somewhat obscure introduction to a man and a woman we eventually learn are a neurologist and retired doctor, respectively. Katerina (Papoulia) is startled awake in the back seat of a car, while Yannis (Vangelis Mourikis) pulls over to the side of the road, retching. They appear to be a conflicted couple, their dour, silent expressions finally explained when they arrive at an off-season seaside resort to identify a body. A policeman (Vangelis Evangelinos) speaks to them about a dead woman, who died in a car accident alongside a man, appearing to have been a suicide. We assume they’re speaking about the couple’s daughter, both surprised to learn about the presence of a man. But it soon becomes clear the woman they’re talking about is Katerina herself, now a ghost with no memory of what transpired. The man she’d been traveling with was a patient of hers suffering from a chronic condition. Yannis visits the house the two of them had been renting for several months.

Yorgos Zois Arcadia Review

A nearby local bar, called the Arcadia, finds both Katerina and Yannis being introduced to characters who are in a similar situation, a living human connected to an undead loved one, trailing them like a shadow, unbeknownst to them. A young man named Nikos (Asterios Rimagmos) takes Katerina under his undead wing, having met at the empty house she doesn’t remember living in. Through a bizarre orgy he brings her to (reminiscent of something imagined by Carlos Reygadas), Katerina’s memory is jump started through sexual pleasure. On the side of the living, Yannis assists in filling in Katerina’s memory through his interactions with the dead man’s wife. And eventually, we learn the cause and effect of these relationships.

As one ghostly character informs Katerina, the dead are not haunting the living but rather, it’s the other way around. They’re tethered in a way which feels like a curse. As we come to understand what happened between Yannis and Katerina, Zois supplies intimate details of their past lives, where a tragic occurrence ruined their stability. Eventually, the script from Konstantina Kotzamani and Zois builds to a quiet, poignant crescendo about letting go.

Even as Arcadia takes some sharp turns into the bizarre, it’s a rather cathartic take on a familiar scenario about acceptance. In the end, those who have established some sort of right over us while we live demand a spiritual settling of emotional debt. To return to the sentiments of Stoppard’s exploration of a time transgressing utopia, “When we have found all the mysteries and lost all the meaning, we will be alone, on an empty shore.” Zois does something similar, only the shore in this Arcadia is an empty store.

Reviewed on February 18th at the 2024 Berlin International Film Festival – Encounters section. 99 mins.

★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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