Dead pan and wry are often traits associated with the national character of Edinburgh International Film Festival’s own natives, the Scots. So it’s intriguing to witness Argentinian and Greek directors – Ana Katz and Filippos Tsitos respectively - tackling family drama or existential inevitability in a dry-as-a-bone manner. Whether Argentinians or Greeks are noted for irony is moot, but considering the economic histories of both, it’s probably fair to assume it takes more than mere irony to weather the social meltdown both are so brutally familiar with.
So any curiosity as to whether financial allegory might play a part in the stories of Tsitos’s Unfair World or Katz’s Los Marziano gave way as tales of moral mores and sibling rivalry unfolded in their unique ways. Both possess humour at their accomplished cores, yet stand as sinewy, absorbing fables in their own right.
Los Marziano takes the trope of falling down unexplained holes to set up the absurdity of fraternal tension. Appearing in a golf course on the edge of oldest brother Luis’s country house garden, they establish the emotional topography of an estrangement with his younger brother Juan which has played out over a period of time never explicitly quantified - but it’s probably decades. Here are two men, who entering the third stage in their lives, are dealing with the legacy of well-worn family dynamics – the responsible, successful elder brother at odds with the hapless, genial younger who has remained financially in debt to him. Their sister brokers the physical and emotional gap between them and inevitably takes the brunt of both brothers’ inappropriate treatment. It’s a universal tale of the resentments and communication issues that beset any family and it’s a beautifully scripted and shot take on a theme that often prefers high drama and histrionics. This is a film that takes its time to tell the story by letting the men’s foibles and increasingly extreme ‘accidents’ develop the narrative. Katz’s film is smart, affectionate and funny, but wears its layers lightly whilst revealing the psychological cul-de-sacs of sibling rivalry.
Unfair World has no sunny quirks to leaven its moribund feel, but humour is the glue that binds it. Filmed outdoors in a Greek winter, and indoors with flabby artificial light, any Mediterranean stereotypes are consigned to travel brochures. Sotiris, a police interrogator, chucks his foolscap files onto the filing cupboard behind him, not believing in further investigation and taking his interviewees’ accounts at face value. Past his prime and boozing to oblivion, he’s fed up with the corruption he witnesses, and his last-ditch hope for judicial redemption with his retiring partner is to help out a lorry driver accused of human trafficking. But this attempt at a ‘beautiful finale’ (the subtitles are rather slack at times) leads them into troubled waters and out of their depth with a blackmailing informer. Sotiris’s ingenuousness is tested when the cleaning woman who may or may not have stolen money from him and his partner Minas brings our protagonist up against the consequences of his own unplanned criminal actions. But dramatic drama isn’t the driving force in this drab, lightless world. Andonis Kafetzopoulus (the director’s favourite actor) plays the copper out of his depth with the lugubrious face of a Greek Totò, and the comic appeal in his unflinching features keep this flatline direction piquant, along with very spare and fabulously framed camera work. That it’s the submission from Greece for next year’s Oscars brings the hope that its audience will be broad and big. It’s a slow burn story, with a Beckett-like feel to it as our anti-heroes face forces beyond their control in a world, up till now, whose rules they have played by. Dead dead pan as they might say in parts of Scotland, but as Greece presently teeters on the precipice, coiled restraint may be the only artistic response to make sense of a world that is spiralling out of control.