One Day In August



Dekapentavgoustos : Greece 2002 : Constantinos Giannaris : 105 mins

One Day In August will disappoint anyone who turns up at the cinema expecting a prequel to the Oscar-winning documentary One Day In September. Then again, just about any audience will probably feel short-changed by this clunky melodrama which tries to juggle four parallel storylines over the course of 24 eventful hours. It’s apparently the custom in Greece for everyone to embark on their summer holiday on the middle Saturday in August – here, it’s August 15th, which is the literal translation of the original title. The film follows the inhabitants of a particular Athens apartment block as they escape the city in their cars: two young couples and a working-class family comprising mother and father and a pair of kids. We also keep returning to their block, which is being explored by a tearaway teenage burglar, Giannis (Costas Kotsianidis).

The warning signs start flashing very early on – Maria Ionnidou and Christos Mitselos are very wooden as the children, and an inability to get decent performances out of child actors is a classic tell-tale of a limited director. Things get worse when Giannis enters the scene – he’s only marginally better than the younger pair, though it’s hard to think of any young actor who could make such lame dialogue sound even vaguely believable: “I mean, all of us need some kind of love, right, ’cause it’s a mighty lonely world out there.” Giannis delivers this glib homily to Morfoula (Elena Kastani, also terrible), a girl he bumps into while fleeing the cops, clad only in a wedding dress. Giannaris is on safer ground with the adults, obtaining pretty solid characterisations from the six principals plus Stathis Papadopoulos as a young soldier hitch-hiking his way around the countryside.

But Giannaris’ direction is as clumsy as his handling of the younger actors – he has a distracting habit of having the camera swoop in on his characters’ faces, and his choice of shots is perfunctory at best. His script is even worse, falling to pieces in the latter stages: the disappearance of one of the kids sends the picture spiralling into implausibility and sentimentality. We realise that the four strands have never looked like coming together, each of them climaxing in scenes that strike a variety of false notes, full of the kinds of behaviour you only ever see in bad movies.

1st April, 2002
(seen 16th February, Berlinale-Palast, Berlin – Berlin Film Festival)

by Neil Young
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