A Greek Weird Wave entry of sorts that makes up for its formally less striking execution with a more accessible story, “The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas” follows an aging morning talkshow host who stages his own kidnapping in order to pay off his debts and orchestrate an elaborate comeback. Clearly a take on a country in crisis, as well as the way celebrity culture has replaced more traditional hero worship, this confident feature helming debut by filmmaker Elina Psykou is sharp enough to book niche theatrical outings on top of its fest bookings.
The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas
The opening 10 minutes contain no dialogue but show Antonis (Christos Stergioglou), who’s been a TV host since the dawn of commercial television in Greece in the 1980s, being taken to a remote luxury hotel that’s closed during the winter season, though the star presenter is transported inside a car trunk. Upon arrival, the driver and his charge unload tons of spaghetti — a recurring visual motif — in the kitchen before Antonis is left alone to settle in.
In a few droll, dryly humorous early scenes, the somewhat sad-sack protag passes the time exploring the hotel; taping his own version of a cooking program, where he tries to make molecular spaghetti; and doing karaoke by himself in the hotel disco, where he belts out “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor, who herself once stayed at the establishment.
But that song’s credo isn’t such a sure thing anymore, as the days start to drag on and Antonis has only himself for company as he bides his time. While the film never quite veers into “The Shining” territory, there’s a touch of madness at work here as he not only obsessively scans the celebrity magazines and evening news for articles about his “kidnapping” — which, it turns out, he set up with his TV station’s boss (Giorgos Souxes) so the heavily indebted Antonis can use the ransom money and work on his ratings by becoming a sensational news story himself.
Antonis also has an unhealthy fixation with the young pup (Syllas Tzoumerkas) who has temporarily replaced him on his own morning show, which is co-hosted by Antonis’s ex-g.f. (Theodora Tzimou). In fact, when Dec. 31 rolls around, he prefers to watch a best-of-Paraskevas DVD that includes a New Year’s Eve ceremony he hosted several years earlier, when, at midnight, Greece became the first nation to adopt the Euro (it’s one hour ahead of the other single-currency countries).
The irony of the moment is there for the taking, as a financially ruined and holed-up former star forces himself to relive a moment of past glory that already contained the seeds of his (and Greece’s) doom. If even a nation’s heroes fall, what is there left for a country except for desperate acts such as Antonis’?
The final reels, which kick off with a delirious and technically impressive tracking shot a la “Goodfellas” through the hotel’s now-full party hall and kitchen, suggest how far Antonis has gone off the rails. Still, the character’s continued isolation here makes it harder to exactly read his thoughts, rendering the third act a bit too repetitive and opaque; it’s nothing a minor edit couldn’t solve.
Besides that Steadicam shot, the film is less aesthetically rigid than other recent Greek art films such as “Dogtooth,” “Alps” and “Attenberg,” though the 16mm lensing looks good, and the rest of the tech package is also solid. Julio Iglesias’ 1979 hit “Me olvide de vivir,” which literally translates as “I Forgot to Live,” is strategically used in a deliciously staged, entirely absurd (except on a thematic level) lip-synch number, suggesting the show must go on no matter what.