Film zooms in on identity issues

In Filippos Tsitos’s «Akadimia Platonos» (Plato’s Academy), four Greek men with borderline professions spend their days drinking iced coffee, nurturing scornful feelings toward Albanians, calling their dog Patriot (not by chance) and becoming puzzled witnesses in slight cultural dismay as a large group of Chinese develop a store – and gradually an entire neighborhood. Living in a rather underprivileged area of Athens, the minimarkets operated by the Greek men serve more as a pretext for this «far niente.» The leading character’s (Antonis Kafetzopoulos) mother is suffering from advancing senility. The seemingly quiet daily life is disturbed by a most unexpected twist when the mother recognizes something very familiar in the face of an Albanian man and, to make matters even worse, starts speaking Albanian. The dilemma faced by the hero is nothing short of excruciating: «Waking up in the morning and not knowing who you are. Greek or Albanian?» The intelligent twist introduced by Tsitos is a reverse reading of Greek xenophobia. Identity is the backbone of the Greek man. When this is shaken the entire construction falls down. The film steers clear of any kind of accusatory tone or didacticism. According to the director, the foreigner may be the reason, but the real issue is the Greek. Living in an environment which is constantly broadening its multicultural character, where neighborhoods are changing in terms of appearance and content, this never-ending obsession with nationalism is a kind of escape from reality. The obligatory contact with the «other» urges the hero to listen to his own needs and desires, to express what he wants and come face to face with what he dislikes, because he simply ignores it. In his first full-length feature film, the German production «My Sweet Home,» Tsitos took a look at immigrants living in Berlin, recording reactions and moods on the eve of a wedding, in a bar. The director is prone to using the element of surprise. What breaks the routine in «Plato’s Academy» is sarcastic, cynical, but at the same time tenderly human. The hardcore Greek seems revolting in his opportunistic hedonism and the security of his own home. When the ground starts shaking beneath his feet, however, the turbulence brings awkwardness and arrogance, but also helps clean the air. Through rugged lines, quick brush strokes and a sense of humor, the film reflects the puzzle of one aspect of Greek reality, focusing on this halfway situation of «more or less.» Kafetzopoulos balances brilliantly in this nondescript place, interpreting shades and swings without turning to elements of quaint. «Plato’s Academy» was the recipient of various honorary distinctions at the recent Locarno International Film Festival, earning the Jury Prize, the 1st Youth Jury Prize and the Ecumenical Prize, while Kafetzopoulos won the Best Actor Award for his performance. The film, currently in cinema theaters, also features Anastasis Kozdine, Titika Sarigouli, Maria Zorba, Giorgos Souxes, Constantinos Koroneos and Panayiotis Stamatakis.