The long-running antipathy of Greeks toward Albanian migrants — generally depicted as criminals or hijackers in movies — finds a much more solid dramatic base in “The Homecoming,” a notable first feature by writer-director Vasilis Douvlis. Chamber drama centered on a handsome young Albanian who’s employed by a Greek couple clearly draws some inspiration from “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” but is much more than just a yarn of sexual betrayal. This is quality, and accessible, festival and Euro tube fare.
Pic falls into three sections of roughly equal length, each focused on one of the three main characters but continuing the story in a linear fashion.
Opening half-hour follows Ilias (Armenian vet Arto Apartian), a proud father celebrating the marriage of his daughter in his home village in central Greece, whither he’s returned with his younger wife, Eleni (Maria Skoula), after a long spell in Germany. When he left, in ’69, the village had nothing; now he’s bought a small gas station-cum-taverna that he wants to bequeath to his son-in-law.
However, it’s soon clear all is not right beneath the happy-family surface. As soon as they’re hitched, both daughter and son-in-law skedaddle back to Germany, which they consider home. Eleni, too, isn’t happy about being “buried alive” in the village, preferring to live in the nearest city, Ioannina. Then one day, Ilias gives a lift to an illegal immigrant, Petro (Artur Luzi), and ends up employing him.
Pic then switches to Eleni’s viewpoint, as the lonely, still attractive woman finds a fellow soul to talk to in Petro. Their cautious, incremental relationship, under the stern eyes of the autocratic Ilias, is beautifully written and played.
Final section fills in the background on Petro and ramps up the simmering drama of whether or not Petro will betray Ilias’ help and trust.
Though the relationship between Eleni and Petro provides the dramatic fireworks, pic is more about Ilias’ own attempts to be accepted back into the village he left for economic reasons, plus his de facto adoption of Petro as the son he never had. Apartian’s terrific performance as the proud but secretly wounded paterfamilias anchors the movie, matched by an equally skillful but quieter perf by Skoula as the wife who’s slowly dying inside.
Douvlis, himself born in Ioannina, sketches the landscape and suppressed currents of local life with natural ease, aided by Kostis Gikas’ fine summery lensing. Other credits are smooth.