Hellenic cinema has, for the past few years, been dominated by the Greek Weird Wave. It’s a movement that has sought to encapsulate a confused and disorientated country, and which arguably peaked early with Yorgos Lanthimos’ familial oddity Dogtooth (2009). Elina Psykou’s The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas (2013) manages to just about adhere to the national prerequisite of cinematic abnormality but plays with a significantly straighter bat. This is a fine meditation on modern celebrity that’s comparatively accessible but maintains an air of the bizarre, with a stimulating, if challenging, final act.
The eponymous Antonis (played with aplomb by Christos Stergioglou) is first seen emerging from the boot of a recently parked car. He and the driver both urinate against a road-side building and then resume the prior positions. When next gets out of the trunk, it is to migrate into a cavernous and deserted hotel where he is left. This all plays out in a captivating and wordless opening before it becomes apparent that Paraskevas is something of a national treasure, and the anchor of a long-running breakfast show. Tumbling ratings and a tumultuous personal life amid austerity measures has seen Paraskevas and his producer take drastic measures; faking the television celebrity’s kidnapping before a triumphant reappearance.
A dark and artful satire on fame in the modern world, The Eternal Return paints a picture of a man incapable of life away from the media spotlight; the desperation of an ageing star to avoid his inevitable wane. Throughout his solitary days the unsmiling protagonist seems to be prepping an all-new showreel, between channel hopping for the latest news of his disappearance. He is frustrated in attempts to master new culinary techniques; hardly unexpected given that his sole sustenance during his self-imposed incarceration is spaghetti and tomato ketchup. His narcissism is exemplified by a scene in which he sits, half-naked on the toilet with a glossy magazine in hand. Far from pornography, he is furiously rifling through gossip rags and cutting out his own coverage for some wonderfully self-centred scrapbook.
It’s all perfectly pitched with little of the formal abstraction of her peers but all of the scathing parody. Psykou’s distancing visuals emphasise Paraskevas’ isolation as a lack of praise to feed his ego, and the newfound success of his stand-in, see his mind begin to unravel. In its final half an hour, the protagonist’s story begins to take a far murkier direction as his psychological state declines severely. It is at this point which some audiences may begin to disconnect from his emotional journey but for those who manage to stick with it will find its conclusion striking and heartbreaking. Psykou has crafted a gem of a debut, and The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas deserves to be seen for its biting portrayal of self-obsession and the dangers of fame.
The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our LFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.