Review: ‘Oxygen’

Scabrous black comedy, with the morality of an early Almodovar movie but without its pop-color look, marks a return to the limelight by writing-helming duo Thanasis Papathanasiou and Mihalis Reppas, who helped the revival of mainstream Greek cinema with "Safe Sex." Film deserves exposure in fest sidebars and cable outlets.

A scabrous black comedy, with the morality of an early Almodovar movie but without its pop-color look, “Oxygen” marks a return to the limelight by writing-helming duo Thanasis Papathanasiou and Mihalis Reppas, who helped the popular revival of mainstream Greek cinema with their debut movie, “Safe Sex,” four years ago. A moderate success locally, boosted by a cast full of TV names, film deserves exposure in fest sidebars and cable outlets.

Action is set in a provincial town where an average, middle-class family is coming apart at the seams. Magda (Nena Mendi), the harried materfamilias, has an argumentative, facially scarred daughter, Yota (Jeannie Papadopoulou), who lives upstairs, and a son she dotes over, Hristos (Yannis Tsimitselis). Aside from having a g.f. his own age, 20-year-old Hristos is also sleeping with both middle-aged chemistry teacher Vicky (Maria Kavoyanni) and her husband, Yorgos (Akylas Karazisis).

The greedy Yota and her husband, Stelios (Alexis Georgoulis), want Maria to sell some land she owns; but because it has sentimental value to her and her husband (Alexandros Antonopoulos) — the latter a wheelchair vegetable since an auto accident — Maria refuses, not wanting the plot to be used for a burger franchise. The man in charge of the redevelopment happens to be Yorgos, so Stelios, who knows about his gay friendship with Hristos, tries to pressure Yorgos into changing the plans.

The relationships are thrown for a further loop when Magda and Stelios start canoodling one day, Yorgos starts getting nervous about being exposed as a fairy (“This isn’t Athens,” he tells Hristos), and other tongues start giving away secrets.

Shot on DV, with a highly mobile camera and (in its 35mm transfer) very cold colors, film plays like a heightened, grungier version of a small-screen soap, often deliberately overscored by composer Nikos Kypourgos like some grand Greek tragedy. (Both helmers began in TV.) Though it overstays its welcome — and almost runs out of coupling permutations, pic remains a largely entertaining ride, anchored by vet Mendi’s dignified playing as the mother and an increasingly chilling perf by Tsimitselis, as the manipulative, bisexual son.

Title stems from the sense of claustrophobia — the lack of oxygen — in all the smalltown relationships, though pic makes no attempt at sketching the geography of the place or even making it easy for the viewer in the early going to sort out who’s who. Dialogue is exceptionally fruity, to which local audience at packed screening caught responded with a mixture of gasps and giggles.

Oxygen

Greece

Production

An Odeon release of a Safe Co., Odeon, Mega Channel, FilmNet, Greek Film Center production. (International sales: Greek Film Center, Athens.) Produced by Elena Hadzialexandrou. Directed, written by Thanasis Papathanasiou, Mihalis Reppas.

Crew

Camera (Fujicolor, DV-to-35mm), Lefteris Pavlopoulos; editor, Ioanna Spiliopoulou; music, Nikos Kypourgos; art director, Antonis Daglidis; costumes, Evelyn Sioupi; sound (Dolby Digital), Dinos Kittou. Reviewed at Thessaloniki Film Festival (Greek Films 2003), Nov. 25, 2003. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Nena Mendi, Maria Kavoyanni, Akylas Karazisis, Joyce Evidi, Alexis Georgoulis, Jeannie Papadopoulou, Yannis Tsimitselis, Alexandros Antonopoulos, Anna Kyriakou.
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