The 23rd Annual Delphi Bank Greek Film Festival opens and what an auspicious event it was, made all the more special with Writer/Director/Star Christopher Papakaliatis’ Worlds Apart (Ένας Άλλος Κόσμος) premiering for a gloriously packed house at Melbourne’s Astor Theatre. An engaging and heartfelt triptych that balances contemporary issues with heart, humour and lashings of high drama, Worlds Apart is a supreme entertainment.
As a sophomore feature, Papakaliatis (What If…) has cemented his reputation as one of Greece’s strongest dramatic film makers. A disciplined mainstream film maker, Papakialitis mines palpable social issues of politics, refugees, austerity, racism, economic crises, cross-cultural norms, aging and second chances by interweaving three separate stories in Modern Athens. All neatly woven into the symbolic take of the God Eros and Soul, Worlds Apart (Ένας Άλλος Κόσμος) has a sincerity and affection for its characters that is as disarming as it is engaging.
Welcome to Greece present day, a country forced to be a gateway from the surge of Syrian refugees escaping war. No better is the represented than on the streets of Athens where we meet local politics student Daphne (Niki Vakali) who, whilst walking late one evening, is attacked by some unnamed assailants. Passerby and Syrian Refugee Farris (Tawfeek Barhom) comes to her rescue selflessly and takes the beating whilst allowing her to escape. Farris, who spends his days selling trinkets like Boomerangs on the streets, espies his damsel on a bus and she, in return, reluctantly befriends the man. With a backdrop of student political discussion and rising fascism on the streets, our first story begins.
In another part of this fair city, Giorgos (Papakaliatis) is a 40 year old father to a young son and husband to an estranged wife. With crippling debt hanging over him, payments overdue and an inherent feeling of no job security – he lives his days taking anti-depressants and sleeping on the couch much to the curiosity of his son. One night, whilst sitting at a bar, he strikes up a passionate affair with Swedish import Elise (Andrea Osvart), which gives him happiness yet, when their professional lives collide, creates a much more evocative reality. Our second story unfolds..
Across town, out the front of a suburban supermarket, German historian and now resident librarian Sebastian (J.K. Simmons) befriends Maria (Maria Kavoyianni). Maria is an unhappily married mother of two, devoted to her grown up children whom she barely sees and her emotionally vacant husband whom she doesn’t know if she loves anymore. The friendship grows and feelings are exchanged for this aging pair whom both yearn for true companionship, enhanced by Sebastian’s unwavering love for the romanticism of Greek mythology and Maria’s for romance novels.
Worlds Apart weaves its three tales together tightly and it’s a credit to Papakaliatis that the affection and attention to detail in the characters really shine through. Filled with solid performances across the board, it’s so refreshing to see J.K. Simmons play a romantic lead (which he does beautifully) and, alongside him Maria Kavoyianni is a scene-stealing find. Her wounded yet hilarious Maria is one of 2016’s most honest performances. Not just to single out these two, near on all the central performances are top notch, Papakaliatis’ exchanges with Osvart are a masterclass in dramatic and comic timing, there’s light and shade throughout and it’s expertly handled. Newcomer Tawfeek Barhom infuses Farris with such charm and honesty that the burgeoning romance between him and Niki Vakali’s sincere turn as Daphne comes shining through.
The screenplay is filled with notions and commentary on Modern Greece and the social, political and global climate it exists in. It proffers that love will win overall yet isn’t afraid to drill into the impacts of brutal austerity, fascism, racism and culture clash on the people. That the script peppers situations with humour along the way certainly helps proceedings that, when the film’s crescendo dives into high melodrama, you can forgive this excess for the intentions made.
World’s Apart (Ένας Άλλος Κόσμος) is a relevant and supremely entertaining drama. Populated with top notch performances, great character work and timely topics, it’s most assuredly a hot pick at this year’s festival and shouldn’t be missed.