One of the most notable films in the competition in Locarno (Switzerland), in 2023, is coming to theaters. Animal , the second feature film and fiction by Greek director Sofia Exarchou ( Park , 2016), puts the viewer behind the scenes, giving them access to the daily life of the leaders of an all-inclusive vacation club, on a Greek island. From morning to evening, from the swimming pool to the performance hall, it is a permanent show of games, songs, choreographies…
It’s Saturday Night Fever every night. And the queen of the ceremony, although a little at the end of her rope, is called Kalia, a muscular twig, queen of swaying on the runway with her blond hair toupee. This 35-year-old showgirl is both at the top of her “art” and on the verge of breaking down, physically and nervously – the dizzying and melancholic performance of Dimitra Vlagopoulou, actress and contemporary dancer, earned her an acting award in Locarno.
The director succeeds in attaching us to this woman, confronted with the dizziness of her existence, while constantly connecting her to the rest of the gang – a tall, playful and brawling blond guy, a delicate boy who plays a crooner, etc. Because it is from the group that the energy, the self-deprecation, the laughter are born, during rehearsals or after the shows… Cassavetes fan, Sofia Exarchou captures as much the body in movement as these suspended moments of crisis, of letting go… taken, without trying to tell a well-ordered story.
Three heroines, of different ages, however, punctuate the story. Besides Kalia, there is Eva (Flomaria Papadaki), 17 years old, beautiful misty eyes, who starts in the profession and seems to find refuge in this unbridled life. There is also Mary (Danai Petropoulea), a 7-year-old girl who follows her dad, an entertainer, and prowls around the stage. But perhaps these three heroines are one, and show three moments in Kalia’s life. The film does not decide, opens avenues, broadens the horizons of the characters.
Holidaymakers, most of whom come from Eastern countries, can only see their happy faces in the background. The film draws its political force from this decentering, leaving the tourists almost off-camera, to focus solely on the entertainers. Above all, Sofia Exarchou films the work as a form of voluntary servitude, with everyone knowing the “rules” of this low-paid job, which leaves no room for error. The show must be effective, the smile permanent. Everything is at a discount, the price of the stay, the costumes, but this universe of pretenses sometimes succeeds in bringing out the marvelous, as during this futuristic show, evocative of Paco Rabanne, in silver outfits, enhanced with self-adhesive mirror stickers.
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