“Based on a true story” is the inescapable concept behind “Eduart,” an earnest crime drama where redemption is dangled like a carrot on a stick. Tale of an Albanian Joe getting into funny business in Athens and then paying the price for another crime back home features fine performances and Juergen Juerges’ expert lensing, but director-writer Angeliki Antoniou pushes too hard for a moralizing message. Pic cleaned up the awards for Greek films at the Thessaloniki fest and will probably travel the circuit, thanks in part to German backing.
Young, handsome and intense Eduart (Eshref Durmishi) came to Athens to be a rock star. But prospects for an illegal Albanian immigrant aren’t high in Greece, and he winds up hustling in a gay bar. Overcome with revulsion at his first client, Eduart kills the guy and runs back to Albania and the family home he fled two years earlier.
Mom and sis Natasha (Ermela Teli) are happy to see him, but army guy dad (Ndricim Xhepa) is still ticked off that Eduart stole money from his mother’s workplace before leaving. He fingers his son to the cops, and Eduart immediately gets trundled off to prison.
Eduart’s early days in Albanian stir are the stuff of countless slammer pics: He’s befriended by a kindly cellmate (Adrian Aziri) and terrorized by the rest. After Eduart’s bad attitude results in (surprise!) being sodomized by the tough guys, he’s brought to the prison infirmary, run by mysterious loner Dr. Erdmann (Andre Hennicke).
The good doctor, who’s also a prisoner (despite being a German national), is working off a major case of guilt along with his sentence. Eduart, on the other hand, feels no guilt and hasn’t even admitted to his crime. But under the influence of Erdmann’s noble suffering, Eduart slowly sees that inner peace may be possible.
In a rare case of a fugitive turning himself in, the real-life Eduart is currently serving his prison sentence for murder in Greece. Antoniou paints him as a basically decent guy with an impossible dream: Wounded when his castle in the air came crashing down, he committed the ultimate sin.
But for a film supposedly delving into motivation, there’s not much nuanced psychology. A Bible-quoting scene, along with other religious imagery, feels way too preachy.
Still, pic nicely captures the hopelessness of life in late ’90s Albania and, as Eduart, relative newcomer Durmishi does a fine job conveying the surprise of a hardened man discovering he still has sensitive areas in his soul.
Ace d.p. Juerges gives the drama texture even when it’s not always apparent in the dialogue; outdoor shots are particularly handsomely mounted. Music is occasionally over-sentimental.