Life never works out the way it’s supposed to in “Unfair World,” a drama that mixes hyperrealism with absurdity in a style indebted to Aki Kaurismaki, yet lacks the Finnish helmer’s warmth and humanistic feel for character. Making an abrupt about-face from his previous “Plato’s Academy,” helmer Filippos Tsitos favors bold lensing in this tale of a hangdog police interrogator and a cleaning lady whose diverse fundamental outlooks make a true connection impossible. Striking visuals can’t entirely compensate for the overlong running time, though two wins at San Sebastian, for director and actor, guarantee a festival career.
“I don’t want to be unfair” is the guiding principle for Sotiris (Antonis Kafetzopoulos), a desk-bound cop too ready to believe everyone is guided by good intentions. Convinced that a bar owner is innocent of white slavery charges, he and partner Minas (Christos Stergioglou, “Dogtooth”) offer money to a security guard with info, but when they realize they’re being blackmailed, Sotiris shoots the guard. Or rather, as he says, his trigger finger didn’t obey him.
After dumping the body, they discover that the bribe money, belonging to Minas’ wife, is missing. Sotiris thinks Dora (Theodora Tzimou), the cleaning lady, might have found it, but she denies all knowledge. Believing honesty is the best policy in this case, he tells her everything that happened, yet Dora still denies having the dough; auds know differently.
Sotiris is constantly disappointed in humanity, which is presumably the reason why he drinks himself into a stupor each night; Tsitos includes far too many scenes of his protag falling off a bench in a drunken haze. What’s not included is any background information to make auds care much about this sad-eyed, frozen-faced schlemiel unable to accept responsibility for shooting someone. Dora is far more cynical and therefore understandable, but the pic’s deadpan style hampers involvement in anything beyond a visual level. The concept here, that life is always unfair when approached from a blinkered viewpoint, could be a compelling one, yet there’s a hole where the heart should be.
Part of the fault lies in the pic’s style, which seems to be consciously tying itself to the absurdism of certain Greek films recently proving popular with international crix. Unemotional line delivery and a general lack of expression aren’t enough, however, to convey the comic part of a seriocomic drama, so audience titters when Dora is punched by her ex-husband means the helmer is unintentionally provoking a questionable reaction to an unfunny scene.
More interesting are the hyperrealistic settings, much like an Edward Hopper painting in which plain walls, generally of a dark color, set figures off in space as if they’re inhabiting a diorama (the large diorama that Sotiris gives Dora offers interesting paths for development that aren’t used). Careful, sharply directed lighting enhances the way the actors stand out, furthering a sense of entrapment in their own lives, and Tsitos and lenser Polydefkis Kyrlidis take satisfying advantage of the widescreen, which they use with an eye for irony.
Visual gimmicks without much meaning behind them, however, are overused, such as Dora’s habit of balancing a lit cigarette in unlikely places. If it’s meant to convey the precarious balance of her unfair world, it doesn’t do the trick.