Director: Argyris Papadimitropoulos
Starring: Makis Papadimitriou, Elli Tringou. Greece. 1h 44m
Suntan is a movie that’s as slow burning as it’s lead characters’ heavily protected skin. An epic adventure into the darker races of the human condition that follows a middle aged man, who embarks to a remote Greek island to be the only doctor, but instead he thrust into a hedonistic paradise and once the holiday season beings, he finds himself shunted further into an unfamiliar world of casual free love and a dangerous obsession. Directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos, a Greek filmmaker whose work is totally unknown to me but after watching this shocking and incredibly sad story of sexual obsession. His outlandish style,ability to capture and develop hyper real character and throw some absurd black comedy into such a serious drama, he deserves to be recognised alongside contemporaries such as Yorgos Lanthimos.
As the movie opens with Kostis (Papadimitriou), a middle aged chubby, balding pale faced guy, chugging his way to a gray and diaml island, it’s clear that this is a new horizon for him, a fresh future of some sort. He’s been asked by the island’s mayor to come to the charming island to be the “new” doctor. Things are pretty standard to begin with Kostis has nothing much to do other than tend to a cough or check up on the elderly residents, it rains a lot and is pretty dull, but then the season changes and the summer brings droves of youngsters to the island and with them the clubs open up, the beaches fill with topless bodies and yet Kostis remains this stuffy, inert middle aged man. Wandering to the beach in socks and sandals the clue in doctor sits in the shade and is always found under a thick layer of sunscreen. With the rush of spratly young pretty people comes Anna (Tringou), a stunning golden goddess who turns up in Kostis surgery with her many gorgeous friends, she’s had a minor accident and bruised a rib but it’s the first of many encounters and Kostis is hooked and to his surprise, Anna seems to be into him too!?
Kostis is the epitome of a “nice guy” . Everything about him is vanilla and so very average. He’s the Greek version of “that character” which Toby Jones plays in Berberian Sound Studio, and you expect him to still live with his mother, but as he begins to gradually hang out more with the young crew the vitality of youth seems to rub off on him and as he grows he becomes a blinding character study. He’s not going through a midlife crisis, but there is a storm of a internal crisis going on inside him and it begins to raise it’s head when he begins to realise the friendship that he now cherises, is as fleeting as the season, but maybe there’s a chance he can hold onto the moment.. forever?
Inevitably Kostis embrassess himself constnatly by falling in love, not realising that holiday flings don’t often last until the flight home. Things are good at first, he is useful to them, a mascot that can buy alcohol and gets his crew into clubs and has the money to buy drinks, but they are always excited to see him, and he’s content with being used as it’s every so mild. He’s their cute mascot with extras. As things progress, his status among the group begins to change, and the effects of his partying begins to play on his daily duties as resident doctor. Not content with losing his new friends and being blind to the fact that it was never going to last forever anyway, his humiliating attempts to keep the group interested in him, drives him to do the unbelievable and friendship turns to passion and passion turns to something so ultimately ugly.
“You kiss everyone or no one”
The significance of the suntan is paramount to understanding the man before he came to the island. It’s not detailed in the movie, at one point Kostis admits that he is trying to get away from some event and that he was hurt in the past. It’s hard to believe she’s so down to earth and charming, but he’s a man who’s afraid to get burnt (again). Kostis does what he can to protect himself but like icarus, he has to touch the sun, Anna and possess her.
Suntan is superbly directed, the story is paced so well, you get to enjoy the highs and lows, gasp as the shocks, from some eyeball licking to a surprise BJ, the sexual nature dips and dives throughout the films. The twists and turns keep coming as the group finds friendship and a distance is built up, but what’s most fascinating is just standing back and watching Papadimitriou build up his character, there’s something so striking and expressionistic about him.
Related: Amerika Square (2016), Strella (2009), Matchbox (2003)
Lists: A-Z Greek Cinema