John Bleasdale Reviews

Film Review: Suntan


★★★☆☆

There’s something about the brightness of the Greek sunshine that leaves the blackest of shadows. You can see it in the tragi-comedies of Athina Rachel Tsangari and Yorgos Lanthimos. Now, Argyris Papadimitropoulos joins the fray with Suntan, a study in middle-aged loneliness.

 In a wintry prologue, Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou) arrives on the small Greek island of Antiparos, where he takes up his post as the GP. There’s something monkish about his life in his small apartment, his professional dedication and his quiet mournful demeanour as he gets to know the locals, the friendly buffoonish mayor and the local Lothario, the suitably tacky Takis, played with sleazy hilarity by Yannis Tsortekis. As the title announces the beginning of the film proper, summer lands with its invading army of young tourists and thrill seekers. Kostis befriends Anna (Elli Tringou), a beautiful young woman who has had an accident on a quad bike.

Kostis gradually sidles his way into the magic circle of youthful hedonism, though his presence is accepted only grudgingly by the others and as long as he’s buying the drinks. Their nakedness and exhibitionism – a half thong is on display at one point – is mildly ludicrous, occasionally irritating but undeniably photogenic when contrasted not only with the local doctor’s pallid frumpiness but any of the other middle-aged nudity sagging in the background. There’s a pitilessness to this view and indeed to Kostis’ plight.

To make the point as explicitly as possible, an old university friend, Orestis (played by co-writer Syllas Tzoumerkas), turns up to give a version of what Kostis’ life should look like: a family, a successful career and a secure awareness of where he fits in the scheme of things. Although we never get specifics, Kostis has had a rough few years and as he becomes increasingly and inevitably obsessed with Anna, who along with her buddies become swiftly tire of him, he begins to lose grip on his own identity and life. His work suffers, his alcohol intake and smoking become compulsive and he goes from friendly to needy.

There is a surgical precision to this anatomising of his misery, as the early comedy gives way to that darkness with which we began the review. Each precisely composed shot frames Papadimitriou’s vulnerable performance in a trap of his own making. And yet the tragic inevitability can also feel like well-worn predictability. Kostis’ disintegration might be shocking, but it isn’t surprising. The cards are stacked against him to wring every last squirm from the audience in a way that feels manipulative. The comedy is sniggery and the tragedy, at last, exasperated – the bland Suntan of the title hiding the carcinogens stirring under the skin.

John Bleasdale | @drjonty