Even as Greek cinema slowly abandons its notorious aesthetic weirdness, Greek directors remain preoccupied with the same social and political national issues, now being depicted through a renewed enthusiasm for the abstract. Four years after her unconventional debut, The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas [+], Elina Psykou follows a new visual path in her second feature film, Son of Sofia [+]. The film has just enjoyed its world premiere in the International Narrative Competition section of the Tribeca Film Festival.
Son of Sofia is set in Athens during the 2004 summer Olympic Games. 11-year-old Misha (Victor Khomut), is coming from Russia to reunite, after two years apart, with his mother, the titular Sofia (Valery Tscheplanowa). Sofia is now married to Mr Nikos (Thanassis Papageorgiou), a conservative old gentleman who was a children’s programme TV star during the dictatorship. Nikos and Misha belong in two completely different worlds and their only connection is their love for Sofia, who tries to balance her needs and her own personality between the two men.
Psykou also wrote the screenplay and she remains faithful to the essence of her storytelling, which bears similarities to her debut. Once again, she uses as a premise a personal story, set in a secluded and almost claustrophobic environment, this time a flat, to analyse a wider sociological and political landscape. While Sofia is suffocating as a result of being manipulated emotionally by her son and, indirectly, financially by her new husband, the fragile bourgeois stability that she struggled to create is endangered as the world collapses around her. Meanwhile, Misha will find a way to escape this new reality through his favourite stories, which slowly take over his own world.
The fairy tale of the Olympics and the false blessing they represent reveals something of the roots of today’s political crisis in Greece. Everyone is still enjoying a period of power, prosperity, wealth and of course athletic achievement, all directly connected to pride in a so-called national identity. Misha – a direct reference to the 1980 Moscow Olympics mascot – is forced to befriend his Athenian “counterparts” by changing his name, his language and even his emotions; he becomes the victim of an obligatory Greekness. As in any austere society, anyone who dares to differ from this unaccustomed homogeneity must either pretend to adapt or face being marginalised and expelled. For this reason, Misha’s dreamlike fairytales could easily become more trustworthy than this reality. Unfortunately, no one else realises that the dragon is alive and well, without a prince to hunt him.
Son of Sofia dismantles some of the prevailing myths about Greek society that were especially exploited during the Olympics, an event that served as a social sedative. Psykou goes back in time and raises the questions of integration and acceptance in a society that couldn’t change and was already incubating hatred, racism and extremity, years before the financial crisis. It would take quite some time for everyone to realise that that brief Olympic dream would be transformed into an everyday nightmare. — Vassilis Economou (cineuropa.org)
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