Three generations of Greeks struggle with intercultural romance amidst the turmoil of modern Athens in “Worlds Apart,” a romantic melodrama by Greek writer, director and actor Christoforos (Christopher) Papakaliatis.
This wistful, melancholy yet hopeful romance has a warmth that singes, a poetry to its stock situations and a biting allegory about the country where Western civilization began facing a world of troubles, not all of its own making.
Daphne (Niki Vakali) is the sort of coed who would cross the street to avoid contact with the sea of immigrant beggars and street peddlers that have flooded her country, right in the middle of its economic collapse. But when she’s grabbed and about to be gang-raped, a young Syrian (Tawfeek Barhom) comes to her rescue.
She sees him a few days later, and he sees her. She won’t make eye contact, but he is persistent. He has saved her phone. Love, “eros” is soon in the air. But an old man, a failed merchant (Minas Hatzisavvas) has been moved to join the black-shirted thugs who gather for assaults on immigrant camps, including the abandoned jetliner where Farris (Barhom) hides out.
Giorgos, played by writer-director Papakaliatis, is a stressed-out middle manager, separated from his wife, whose inefficient Greek company is to be thinned out by a Swedish efficiency expert (Andrea Osvart). Of course, neither knows the other when they meet, argue in a bar and being young and beautiful, tumble into bed together.
And Maria (Maria Kavoyianni) is an over-60 housewife who still goes to the market even though she can’t afford anything there any more. She is just bi-lingual enough to aid a semi-retired German history professor (J.K. Simmons, twinkling and slinging an accent) who supposedly knows no Greek, but is in love with the culture and soon just as in love with her.
“I don’t understand a word, but I love your expressions!”
Papakaliatis uses these three inter-connected stories to explore the doomed romance of “Eros” and “Soul” from Greek myth, and the doomed romance of Greece with the European Union. There is tragedy, comedy and melodrama in its three acts.
The first story, titled “Boomerang” and named after an item Farris sells as a street vendor, is about how treating immigrants harshly will come back to haunt Greece.
And the middle tale, named after an anti-anxiety drug, is about the cruel and inhuman effects of “efficiency” on lives and cultures, both the inefficient and those who insist on efficiency in all things.
Maria harangues Sebastian (Simmons) about Germany’s high-handedness with her country, about the money “you owe us, starting two wars, destroying nations.” She does this in Greek so he won’t understand her fury, but confesses her growing infatuation in the same language, hiding her true feelings behind her mother tongue. Kavoyianni lets us see what Sebastian sees — longing, disappointment and woman helplessly falling in love.
It’s all rather obvious, but Papakaliatis manages a few surprises. Saving the sweetest story for last works beautifully, and there’s cleverness in the way he ties the tales together.
Papakaliatis, whose earlier film “What If?” also explored Greece in crisis, offers us a rare look inside Greece and from a Greek point of view, a nation straining to rediscover its footing in the world, wrestling with its inadequacies, raging about its place in history even as its electorate is largely ignorant of that history as it follows one incompetent populist or political demagogue after another over a cliff.
It’s naive to hope that “eros” might pull them out of the ashes of their civilization, but “Worlds Away” and its filmmaker are to be praised for having that hope in a time where that is increasingly in short supply.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with violence, sex, adult themes, smoking, alcohol
Cast: Maria Kavoyianni, J.K. Simmons, Andrea Osvart, Christopher Papakaliatis, Niki Vakali, Tawfeek Barhom
Credits: Written and directed by Christopher Papakaliatis . A Cinema Libre release.
Running time: 1:51