“Dharma Blues” is a superb, loose, highly cinematic update of Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” Pic’s deft direction, unpredictable plot and rich textures make it a surefire fest attraction, with arthouse coin outside Greece a good possibility with specialized handling.
London-trained helmer Andreas Thomopoulos enhances the novel’s spiritual component with the theme of predestination: The two main characters “meet” metaphysically before they actually encounter each other, not unlike the two women in Kieslowski’s “The Double Life of Veronique.” Conceipt may seem a bit highbrow, but writer-director Thomopoulos achieves a successful balancing act by placing action on the terra firma of contemporary Athens, among well-drawn prostitutes and working-class folk.
Sixty-year-old classical music aficionado Thomas (Stavros Paravas) owns a clock repair shop. Sonya (Tamilla Koulieva-Karantinaki) is a beautiful, red-haired, 27-year-old Russian woman who signs up with a criminal “agency” back home to do two years of call-girl service in Athens to support her child and, she hopes, return home and enter music school. Each character reads from the source novel at pic’s beginning, letting us know they are fated to find each other in the urban jungle.
Portrayal of the Platonic relationship they develop is marred by the white slave gang’s fear that Sonya will use Thomas to opt out of her “contract,” plus a slightly misguided consummation scene. Fine parallel story involves a junkie prostitute, Soso (Anna Fonsou), who plots a vendetta against her pimp/lover, Max (Alberto Eskenazy), after discovering his manipulative schemes.
In his sixth feature outing, Thomopoulos brilliantly interweaves themes of time, music and determinism, while never taking the action far from the well-depicted habitats of Athens’ marginals. Helmer dares to create an occasional double image of Thomas and the book’s Raskolnikov — a device that ultimately works but may put off some viewers.
Film’s acting revelation is the angel-faced, Russian-born Koulieva-Karantinaki (star of several new Greek films), who lives in Greece and speaks Russian, Greek and English in the film with equal ease. Vet stage actor Paravas is a fine, lived-in Thomas, and supporting thesps are all credible. Cinematography, in color and occasional B&W, and haunting soundtrack are both top-notch, as is production design of small shops and the brothel. Original title means “Tomorrow We’ll Know.”