Two teenage hookers meet, fall in love and search for the rainbow in “Hardcore,” a monster mash of raw ingredients held together by a confident sense of overall tone and compulsively watchable perfs by leads Katerina Tsavalou and newcomer Danai Skiadi. Impressive feature debut by writer-director Dennis Iliadis has enough tease to attract the curious but at heart is a touching, urban fairytale of love and betrayal that just happens to be set in seedy surroundings. Already sold to several Euro territories, plus Strand in the U.S., pic could further benefit from exposure at name fests.
On local release in March, film scored some 45,000 admissions — good for Greece, though not a major success like the recent “A Touch of Spice” and “Brides.”
Script is freely based on the razzle-dazzle novel by Aleka Laskou (a pseudonym for two female writers), published in 2000. With its flashy main title, over scratch footage from a hardcore movie, pic initially looks like it too is going to be a roller-coaster ride through Athens’ sexual underbelly.
But from the opening scenes, as Martha (Tsavalou) recalls how she first met Nadia (Skiadi) — a nod to the novel’s first-person narrative — it’s clear that this is a picture with more than just sex on its brain. Title refers not so much to the setting but to the tough inner core of its denizens, and the girls’ lesbian relationship is portrayed so off-handedly that it seems completely natural in the circumstances.
At only 17, with a glazed, drug-fueled passivity and masochistic enjoyment of paid sex, Martha is already close to burn-out at the prostitution agency run with patriarchal efficiency by Manos (Andreas Marianos). Nadia enters the circle of baby-faced hookers and working guys. Nadia, 16 and with attitude to spare, wants to be famous. For her, unlike Martha, the job is only a pit stop.
Initially jealous of Nadia’s “youth” and self-assurance — which includes making out with the studly Argyris (Ioannis Papazisis), a colleague Martha has eyes for — Martha is soon seduced by her ambitious junior. “For the first time, it felt like fluffy clouds,” recalls Martha, after their first lovemaking.
Nadia proposes they rent an apartment and live together. But she warns Martha “we need to speed things up … it’s going to get rougher.” As her relationship with Argyris spins out of control, and Martha also gets entangled with his friend, Miltos (Omiros Poulakis), things eventually turn bloody. But it’s only later, when Nadia does indeed become famous, that Martha starts to seriously question their relationship.
Pic strays too heavily into pulp-genre territory in the drugs-‘n’-guns second act but is held steady by Tsavalou’s terrific playing of Martha, as a kind of bruised, fairytale princess. Utterly convincing both physically and emotionally, the 25-year-old actress has an easy chemistry with Skiadi, who’s equally good in the showier role of the gamine Nadia. Other casting is on the nose, with Marianos bringing solid experience to the part of Manos.
Elli Papageorgakopoulou’s colorfully trashy production design and little-girl outfits are complemented by Thymios Bakandakis’ saturated, neon-flavored lensing. Film’s nudity is totally natural and the sex scenes, though raw, are visually discreet.