DVD Review: ‘Metéora’

Unceremoniously winching its way onto DVD this week despite contending for top honours at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, Greek director Spiros Stathoulopoulos’ (PVC-1) snail-paced Metéora (2012) makes up for its lack of narrative dynamism through some deeply evocative religious symbolism and arresting vistas captured by Stathoulopoulos himself. Set amidst the mountaintop monasteries of the arid Metéora region, faith and lust make uneasy bedfellows for a young Greek Orthodox monk and a similarly pious nun. Animated interjections are almost as ill-fitting, but don’t quite fully detract from what is a surprisingly involving study of self-imposed monastic isolation.

Theo Alexander and the Russian-born Tamila Koulieva-Karantinaki star as the lost lambs in question, divided by the abyss between the two rocky crags on which they exist. On occasion, both parties have cause to descend to the surrounding countryside below, with Monk Theodoros (Alexander) in particular taking a keen interest in the area’s local goat and fig farmers. Nun Urania (Koulieva-Karantinaki), on the other hand, whiles away her days fighting off masturbatory temptation, scolding her left hand over a candle whenever impure thoughts begin to take hold. It’s only when the two are well away from their lofty perches that innate human urges can be safely engaged – if not, early on at least, wholly satisfied.

Betwixt such scenic outings, Theodoros and Urania are beset by animated visions of eternal damnation as a result of their sinful dalliances. Though eye-catchingly stylised – think Byzantine-era iconography as realised by former Python Terry Gilliam – these asides ultimately prove more distracting than complementary, lifting us out of a rugged reality already blessed with both visual splendour and religious resonance. It’s a shame, as while Metéora’s sphere of appeal is certainly limited to those with distinct arthouse leanings – hence its long wait for UK distribution – for those who enjoyed such though-provoking European offerings as Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte (2010) and the informed works of Andrei Zvyagintsev (whose latest, Leviafan, is expected at Cannes), Stathoulopoulos’ meanderer does just about enough to warrant a seat at the same prestigious table.

Daniel Green