Despite the tumultuous Greek economy, the country’s cinema has been going through something of a renaissance of late, with directors Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari fashioning their own surrealist catacomb of absurdity. Elina Psikou’s The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas (I aionia epistrofi tou Antoni Paraskeva, 2013) continues this burgeoning trend to become one of Berlinale’s most cherished discoveries. A car trundles at a leisurely pace along a deserted motorway. Eventually, the driver pulls over and gets out, opening the boot and releasing a medium-sized, bearded man – the titular Paraskevas (Christos Stergioglou).
The pair urinate against a wall before nonchalantly returning to their previous positions in the car and resuming the journey. Paraskevas, it’s revealed, is a famous Greek television personality who’s hosted the same popular morning news show for the past 20 years. He’s faked his own kidnapping in order to get more press attention, collecting every newspaper column and glossy magazine supplement for his own narcissistic scrapbook. He hides away in a deserted hotel, waking up every morning at 4am and spending these days of quiet solitude singing karaoke, learning about molecular gastronomy and compiling demo tapes in preparation for his triumphant return.
However, when interest in his disappearance begins to wane, taking up less and less column space in the weekly gossip journals, Paraskevas endeavours to concoct a more extravagant repertoire for his publicised homecoming. Slowly succumbing to cabin fever and paranoia, before eventually regressing into a feral shell of a once loved celebrity, Antonis’ carefully orchestrated rebirth takes a rather unexpected detour. Thus, The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas is essentially two movies rolled into one. The first is a deadpan comedy built around a superb central performance from Stergioglou – ostensibly a comic chamber piece, leaving us wholly in the company of the bizarre Antonis.
Paraskevas whiles away the hours through a myriad of hilarious activities, including an egocentric compulsion to muse over his former glories. This produces one of the film’s biggest laughs; namely, a video flashback of the time Antonis announced the Greek results for the Eurovision Song Contest. A combination of Stergioglou’s propensity for physical comedy and Psikou’s detached, yet hauntingly intrusive camera and witty observational script, gel perfectly to create a thoroughly droll portrait of celebrity obsession. However, Psikou’s film is more than just a slapstick comedy about society’s fixation with celebs, favouring a far darker tone in is subsequent second half.
Observing Antonis descend into unalloyed madness recalls the phenomenal performance(s) of Denis Lavant in last year’s cineliterate head-scratcher Holy Motors (2012), making The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas a comparably flamboyant feta salad of insanity with a far more accessible narrative approach. A vernacular screwball satire with a refreshingly pessimistic outlook, Psikou’s debut is a superb European arthouse comedy that brilliantly satirises the turbulent economic crisis in Greece through the sheer comic absurdity of reality.
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