You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Son of Sofia’

A Russian boy tries to acclimate to life with his mother and her new Greek husband in Elina Psykou’s fairy tale-ish coming-of-age drama.

Viktor Khomut, Valery Tcheplanowa, Thanasis Papageorgiou, Artemis Havalits, Christos Stergioglou, Iro Maltezou. (Greek, Russian dialogue)

Caught between different cultures, fathers and adolescent urges, a Russian boy forced to relocate to Greece retreats into fantasy in “Son of Sofia.” The second feature from writer-director Elina Psykou (named by Variety in 2013 as one of “10 European directors to watch”), this coming-of-age story immerses itself in its protagonist’s unreal headspace, where fantasies about animals, murder and his mother portentously commingle. While its precise style is both the source of its unnerving power and the reason for its occasional inertia, the film — which won the best international narrative feature prize at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival — should attract attention from an adventurous art-house crowd.

Ten years after his baptism, Russian Misha (Viktor Khomut) arrives in Athens and falls directly into the arms of his mother, Sofia (Valery Tcheplanowa). Coming after two long years apart, as well as the death of his dad, this warm reunion provides Misha with only momentary relief from his misery, as he’s almost immediately informed by Sofia – who has brought as a gift a giant stuffed zebra, one of many such toys she constructs at her day job – that they’ll be staying with Mr. Nikos (Thanasis Papageorgiou), an elderly man for whom Sofia claims she works. This doesn’t sit well with the boy, but he acquiesces, his face stained with the same look of quiet, soul-deep sorrow it always exhibits.

As Misha learns, Nikos is a domineering presence, demanding that he and Sofia speak in Greek rather than in Russian and teaching Misha the national language in home-school lessons focused on family relations. He’s also the former star of a 1970s children’s television program in which he performed fairy tales, donning costumes to play every character and then delivering critical analyses of the stories at hand – which often focused on oedipal desires. That’s no coincidence, given Misha’s oh-so-very-intense feelings for Sofia. Nonetheless, such emotions are just one element of “Son of Sofia,” which soon has Misha exploring other carnal impulses via his friendship with Ukrainian teenage gigolo Victor (Artemis Havalits), with whom he briefly stays after learning the true marital nature of Sofia and Nikos’ relationship.

If that weren’t enough material for one film, “Son of Sofia” sets its action during the 2004 Summer Olympics – games whose heterogeneous nature speaks to these characters’ efforts to synthesize their disparate (individual, familial, cultural) issues into unified identities. It’s not an easy task, especially for Misha, who in various interludes disappears into reveries in which he’s a bear traversing a nocturnal world of zoo animals, beanstalks, and other assorted fairy tale components.

Psykou’s visuals are often static, and she likes to frame her characters as small, solitary figures spied at the end of hallways or in distant doorways – when, that is, she’s not generating intimacy through aesthetic proximity to Misha, whose morose countenance is front and center throughout. It’s a formal strategy that has a tendency to drag the material to a standstill, sabotaging any hints of humor. Still, along with its carefully crafted production design (full of elaborate knickknacks covering walls and crowding rooms) and an idiosyncratic score marked by lullabies, the director’s approach casts a strange, despondent spell.

As Misha meanders through a few fugue-like summer weeks, “Son of Sofia” takes one surprising left turn after another, all of them leading to a finale that leaves things literally up in the air. It may play more like a half-remembered dream of childhood anxieties than a lucid depiction of the process of growing up in a foreign land and with a hodgepodge clan. But even when it fails to completely cohere, Psykou’s film is never less than unique.

Film Review: ‘Son of Sofia’

Reviewed online, Stamford, Conn., May 2, 2017. (In Tribeca Film Festival — competing.) Running time: 111 MIN.

Production: A Heretic release of a Chouchkov Brothers and Kinoelektron production, with the support of the Greek Film Center, the Centre National du Cinéma et de l'Image Animée, the Bulgarian National Film Center, Eurimages, Creative Europe, ERT and Berlinale Residency. (International sales: Heretic Outreach, Athens.) Producer: Giorgos Karnavas. Co-producer: Janja Kralj.

Crew: Director: Elina Psykou. Screenplay: Elina Psykou. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Dionysis Efthimiopoulos. Editor: Nelly Ollivault.

With: Viktor Khomut, Valery Tcheplanowa, Thanasis Papageorgiou, Artemis Havalits, Christos Stergioglou, Iro Maltezou. (Greek, Russian dialogue)

More Film

  • Portrait of a Young Woman on

    Cannes Film Review: 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire'

    The title of Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” implies that her subversively seductive film will focus on the subject of its eponymous painting — an 18th-century woman who refuses to pose, in defiance of the arranged marriage into which she’s being forced — when it’s just as much a portrait of the [...]

  • Colin Firth

    Cannes: Colin Firth WWII Drama 'Operation Mincemeat' Sells Out Internationally (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Operation Mincemeat,” a buzzy World War II drama that stars Colin Firth, has sold out international territories at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Warner Bros. has picked up several key markets, as has Central and Eastern European distributor Prorom. The film reunites Firth with John Madden, his “Shakespeare in Love” director. FilmNation Entertainment and Cross [...]

  • Meikincine Scoops Three Titles at Cannes

    Meikincine Scoops Three More Titles at Cannes Film Market (EXCLUSIVE)

    Lucia and Julia Meik’s boutique sales company Meikincine has announced three acquisitions out of this year’s Cannes Film Market: Gaspar Scheuer’s “Delfin”- which world premiered in the Cannes Écrans Juniors Competition; Marcelo Paez Cubells’ “Which”– part of this year’s Blood Window Showcase for films in progress; Sebastián Mega Díaz’s romantic comedy “The Big Love Picture.” [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Documentarian Patricio Guzman On Chilean Soul And Mountains

    CANNES — Renowned Chilean documentary filmmaker  Patricio Guzmán (“The Battle of Chile,” “The Pearl Button”) has returned to the country to shoot “The Cordillera of Dreams,” 46 years after he was exiled under Augusto Pinochet’s regime of terror. The feature has received a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival. Sold by Paris’ Pyramide International, [...]

  • Picture Tree Intl. Inks First Deals

    Cannes: Picture Tree Intl. Inks First Deals on 'Traumfabrik' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Picture Tree Intl. has clinched first deals on romantic drama “Traumfabrik,” which is produced by Tom Zickler, the former producing partner of German star Till Schweiger. The film has been picked up by Leomus in China; Flins & Piniculas in Spain; LEV Films/Shani Film in Israel; Taiwan in Moviecloud; Media Squad in Czech Rep., Hungary [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content