Late American writer Glenway Wescott’s classic 1945 novel “Apartment in Athens” is faithfully brought to the screen — albeit by Italians, with the cast dubbed by Greeks — in Ruggero Dipaola’s directorial debut feature. The perverse tale of a Nazi officer who forces an intellectual’s family in occupied Athens to board him exerts a certain fascination, even if one might wish its interpretation were more nuanced and distinctive. This competent, creepy-enough dramatization should pick up scattered theatrical and home-format sales as its festival tour winds down.
Textbook publisher Nikolas Helianos (Gerasimos Skiadaressis) and wife Zoe (Laura Morante) are a bit rattled but dignified when German military personnel come knocking at their door, since they’re not hiding anything that could be construed as contraband. But it turns out stereotypically blond, blue-eyed, supercilious Capt. Kalter (Richard Sammel) is looking for something else — for accommodations, in fact.
He promptly commandeers the couple’s bedroom (they’ll now sleep in the kitchen), humorlessly enumerating his requirements as an uninvited guest whose visit might go on indefinitely, and whose displeasure could bring serious consequences. The officer dotes discomfitingly on the family’s pretty, dim teenage daughter (Alba de Torrebruna), for whom he’s as glamorous as a film star. Even more queasily, he takes an immediate punitive interest in the younger child (Vincenzo Crea) who doesn’t disguise his own hostility toward the interloper. (The Helianos have already lost an older son to the war.)
Tensions are thankfully relieved for a time when their Kalter abruptly goes abroad. Upon his return, he’s bowed by an initially unarticulated personal tragedy, no longer contemptuous but openly soliciting Nikolas’ company in friendship. As in the fable of the scorpion and the turtle, however, this avid acolyte of master-race ideology can be trusted only so far before he reverts to his poisonous true nature.
The story brings its own considerable weight of psychological suspense, although helmer Dipaola doesn’t add much style or personality to the task. The result is a decent, well-acted drama that ably holds attention yet misses the chance to become something truly memorable.
Production values are unobtrusively adequate; the adult male leads aside, all the thesps have been dubbed (except, presumably, on Italian-release prints) by a Greek voice cast.