SXSW Film Review – Suntan
Suntan is well-structured and well-meaning in its goals but is sadly lacking in relevancy. This is a story that has been done before, and a lot more interestingly. Starting off, there is our protagonist Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou), a middle-aged doctor who is beginning a new job on a small island in Greece. He looks depressed, barely interacts with the townspeople, and seems to give the most basic diagnoses to his patients. Then the summer season comes and a bunch of young tourists ask him to help out their friend Anna (Elli Tringou) who has hurt her leg.
From the start these kids show that they are all about a good time including being as free and liberated as they want with little respect for anything. So when Anna and the gang half-jokingly invite this serious doctor to hang out with them on the beach sometimes they are surprised but more amused when he actually shows up, still looking stiff but trying to hang out with them. Kostis slowly starts to get in more with the group but even more so with Anna, who is willing to give him some physical affection though she does that freely with others too. With his combination it quickly becomes apparent where the tension will come into play.
I had a hard time caring about what was going on with Kostis. It is apparent early on that he is unhappy with his life and doesn’t want to be on this island. He is maudlin, almost never smiling, and seems to put up with the natives rather than ever joining the community. He also starts drinking more and more after hanging out with these kids, even when they are not around. It is clear that these young people, including Anna, are mainly humoring him. They like goofing off and being open with anyone willing to be part of their scene but he isn’t friends with them; it’s an amusement that this old guy is partying with them. So when Kostis gets more desperate and clingy about Anna it is a natural progression for where he is at in his life but also is really predictable and not interesting.
A big part of it is there is not a lot to identify with or make you interested in Kostis as a character. He could be a symbol for all the unfulfilled promise that we all think we have, but his actions early on make him such a sad pathetic figure that it is hard to see any real humanity in him to enable us to put ourselves in his shoes. Perhaps it is because we know nothing about him. His career as a doctor is not going as he wants and he has no friends but part of me kept wondering if he was just a lonely weirdo who didn’t know how to connect. We see an old friend at a party who he talks to about his life not being what he wanted it to be. And his friend says that these young people and this kind of party are not for them. While a bit on the nose for its message, why doesn’t Kostis ever try to develop real friendships? He knows these young people are not true friends but he just keeps going with them over and over to the point that he becomes obsessive about Anna and the villain of the film.
I have no problem with a dark antagonist as a character, in fact they can usually be some of the most interesting, especially when they change from an average or downright good person and we see what path lead them to the place where they are now, but the journey has to be interesting and here it is lacking. Before he gets to the island we know nothing about him beyond him being a sad person, maybe even clinically depressed. The only other details we are given is the way he looks pathetic and out of place around these free love young people even as he obviously singularly desires Anna, be that as a person or a concept–who knows? Add to the fact that Anna is open to levels of physical affection with him we see the ending coming miles away. In the meantime instead of delving deeper into Kostis we merely see several scenes of him partying, hanging out on the beach, not following through on his doctor duties, and drinking a lot.
I mentioned at the start that structurally the film is sound and that is true to a degree. Director Argyris Papadimitropoulos is able to make the progression of Kostis’s regression make sense. We see him partying, feeling connected and building up to what Kostis believes is something meaningful, and then the actions that lead to him feeling slighted, as he becomes more and more desperate to get Anna and how that obsession starts ruining his life. The problem is the story does not feel like it is doing or creating anything new or interesting to discuss or even think about when it comes to human beings, and for a character study movie like this it is the real kiss of death.
The desire in telling this story seems to have avoided asking what is this story trying to be? We are watching a desperate man fall apart. Okay, but why do we want to see this? What makes this person in this circumstance inherently interesting? The situation around him is very repetitive and predictable and he does almost nothing to stand out on his own so there is not much to gravitate to in this story. I cared so little by the “climax” that what should have been an emotional moment just felt like the film taking too long to end.