First fictional feature from Greek documaker Stelios Haralambopoulos, “Hades” reworks motifs from Ancient Greek mythology in terms of recent Balkan history, tracing the quest of an Athenian lawyer for a missing woman. In classic private-eye style, what seems at first a simple job leads steadily deeper into a dark past. However, unlike most detective movies, “Hades” takes a ruinously long time to exert any narrative grip. Leisurely pacing, and a lugubrious performance from the lead actor, will try the patience of all but the most dedicated auds.
Manos (Yiorgos Moroyiannis), a lawyer stuck in an affluent but stultifying marriage, is intrigued by the case of Evanthia (Evri Sofroniadi), a woman whose disappearance 20 years back has left a complex problem of inheritance in her native village in the northern Greek province of Epiros. Traveling there, Manos learns she married Fanis (Pericles Moustakis), an ethnic Greek refugee from communist Albania. When circumstances obliged him to return there, Evanthia selflessly went in his place. After unearthing Fanis, living like a hermit in an isolated hut, Manos crosses the border to bring Evanthia back.
Plot follows the classical legend of Alcestis, a model of wifely self-sacrifice who willingly descended to Hades to take the place of her dying husband, Admetus. The hero Hercules, Admetus’ friend, rescued her and restored her to her husband.
Although “Hades” is only a modest 90 minutes, the deliberate narrative pace makes it seem a good deal longer. It’s at least 25 minutes before we’re given much idea who Evanthia was, or why her fate might preoccupy Manos, and a further half-hour before any trace of narrative tension begins to bite. The dread shadow of Theo Angelopoulos, solemn doyen of Greek cinema, falls heavily over Haralambopoulos’ film.
As Manos, Moroyiannis — who in other pics has been known to display a deadpan sense of fun — gives a one-note perf of stolid gloom. Even an athletic , if largely otiose, fling with a lissome librarian barely lightens his saturnine countenance.
Despite a passing mention of the Greek colonels’ dictatorship, it’s never clear why Fanis might have been forced back over the border. Nor is it always certain which border we’re dealing with. Fanis is identified as a refugee from Enver Hoxha’s regime, but later references to “the fighting that’s broken out over there” makes it seem the former Yugoslavia is the metaphorical Hades into which Evanthia, and later Moros, descend.
Pic looks good once it gets clear of the city, as Manos treks through wind-scoured mountains and across frozen rivers. As Evanthia, Sofroniadi is a dead ringer for the young Irene Papas, but the role gives her little else to do but look austerely beautiful. Apart from its visual qualities, pic’s best feature is Panayotis Kalazantopoulos’ somber, brooding score, though technical credits overall can’t be faulted.