Freshman helmer Alexis Alexiou enters into the fevered mind of a schizophrenic man in the meticulously crafted thriller "Tale 52."

Freshman helmer Alexis Alexiou enters into the fevered mind of a schizophrenic man in the meticulously crafted thriller “Tale 52.” Constantly shifting between past and present, real and imagined, Alexiou displays an unerring control of his material and a pronounced feel for his protag’s troubled paranoia, but pic ultimately feels overextended and repetitious, more a medium-length experiment than a full-arc feature. Still, the talent is undeniable, and smaller fests may want to take a peek at this “did he or didn’t he” drama of a relationship turned violent.

Mutual friends bring Penelope (Serafita Grigoriadou) and Iasonas (Giorgos Kakanakis) together at a dinner party he’s hosting. Their relationship heats up by the end of the evening, and within a blink of an eye, she’s moving in.

Practically from the start, however, there’s something wrong: Iasonas experiences events one moment and then reimagines them later in a different way. He says he doesn’t take pills, but then he’s seen with his medication; she says she forgot her toothbrush, but there it is in the bathroom.

A current of barely suppressed violence runs through Iasonas’ thoughts, as he’s no longer able to distinguish between what’s happening now and what he’s reliving –suggesting an ultra-serious, schizophrenic “Groundhog Day.” As things go horribly awry with Penelope, he tries to rectify in the past what he knows will happen in the future, but it becomes impossible to distinguish reality from his crazed imaginings.

Style is the key here, starting with the grainy, studied blow-up from 16mm. Multiple shots from different angles increase the sense of paranoia, as if the rooms are being observed in a minutely detailed, voyeuristic fashion. Daylight is shut out from Iasonas’ dingy, colorless apartment, and when there is a glimpse of outside light, it provides no warmth. At times, Alexiou is rather profligate with his edits, and there’s really no need to set his camera on vibrate, but it all contributes to the overwhelming sense of delusion holding the film together.

Character names are a little too obviously classical, and the fine, deliberately intense thesps move as if through a dreamlike, invisible miasma. More of a sense of why these two get together in the first place would have been helpful (obviously, Penelope doesn’t include washed hair as a b.f. requirement), but by limiting context, Alexiou increases the sense of a stifling, airless environment.

The downside of this approach is an oppressive undifferentiation that ultimately causes pic to drag. Sound, too, has a hollow feel, contributing to the sense of people existing in a vacuum of delirium.

Tale 52

Greece

Production

A Tugo Tugo Prods. production. (International sales: M-Appeal, Berlin.) Produced, directed, written by Alexis Alexiou.

Crew

Camera (color, 16mm-to-35mm), Christos Karamanis; editor, Panos Voutsaras; music, Felizol, Peekay Tayloh; production designer, Penelope Valti; costume designer, Kiki Karabela; sound (Dolby Digital), Dimitris Kanelopoulos; line producers, Maria Drandaki, Panagiotis Fafoutis, Alexandra Boussiou. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (competing), Jan. 28, 2008. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Giorgos Kakanakis, Serafita Grigoriadou, Daphne Labroyianni, Argyris Thanassoulas, Yiasemi Kilaidoni, Orpheas Zafiropoulos.
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