Billed as a “coming of middle-age story”, the first 20 minutes of Suntan is easily mistaken for a charming melodrama about rediscovering one’s youth. But this tale of obsession, emotional immaturity and entitlement is much more interesting, and darker, than that.
Kostis (Efthymis Papadimitriou) arrives as the new doctor an small, unnamed Greek island. Arriving in the depths of winter, the island’s friendly inhabitants promise Kostis that it’s a different place in the summer when young European tourists arrive for sun, surf and uncomplicated fun. Kostis, though, may be more suited to the anti-social winter months.
In the early sequences, as he eats microwave meals alone in his small apartment, professionally but joylessly treating his patients, we see very little of Kostis’ inner life. Both his past and his reasons for coming to the island remain obscured throughout the film, but his loneliness, quietly, almost banally portrayed by Papadimitriou, is profoundly relatable and sympathetic.
Relatable, too, is Kostis’ amused irritation when his first summer patient bursts through the door with a minor moped injury, boorish friends in tow. Doing his best to treat Anna (Elli Trigou) he’s visibly irritated by her friends, yet clearly charmed by their infectious joie de vivre, perhaps glad of a little life in his office. It’s this subtlety in portraying two contradictory forces – frustration and attraction – that later pays dividends dramatically.
Later, encouraged by their zest, he takes the afternoon at the beach, serendipitously bumping into them – he dripping in suncream, they frolicking naked in the gentle waves. The group adopt Kostis, and though they are clearly flaky and a little annoying, their upbeat influence works wonders for Kostis, as he begins to take part in the island’s social life. One evening goes a little awry due a misunderstanding and a bit too much drink, but no matter, right? A heart to heart with his old uni pal, and a hint at past troubles make everything fine again.
Then, as Kostis starts leaving the surgery early a little too often every day, his new found friendship with the group takes a darker turn. He’s noticed drinking in bars on his own, and after a disastrous night out with the town creep Takis (Yanni Tsortekis), it’s clear that Kostis’ hedonism is unravelling. But it’s not until the group unexpectedly disappear for a week that the darkness really takes hold of Kostis. All his suspicions about them mixes with a concoction of entitlement, toxic sexuality and a completely out of control obsession with Anna.
Concluding in the same place that they met, Suntan reminds us that the darkness lurking within Kostis was there from the start. But in sympathising with him in those early, relatable sequences, Argyris Papadimitropoulos also asks us how much of that darkness resides in all of us.
Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell