By Ray Bennett
LOCARNO, Switzerland – Intelligent, warm and very funny, Filippos Tsitos’s “Akadimia Platonos” (Plato’s Academy) is a small tale of a proudly nationalistic Greek man who discovers that he might actually be Albanian, a situation that causes trouble for his family and friends.
With an ensemble cast of pleasing skill, the film addresses a worldwide problem with considerable insight, wise humor and a very delicate touch. It will do well at festivals and may make a splash on the art house circuit.
Antonis Kafetsopoulos plays Stavros, a 50-year-old man who runs a tobacco shop in a small square and spends his days idling with three friends who also run tobacco shops. His wife has left him but he cares for his widowed mother who has had a stroke and whose memory is fading.
Ignorant and lazy, Stavros and his friends boast of the heritage of Plato and Socrates but spend their time sitting, drinking and nattering with an occasional game of soccer. They look down on the industrious Chinese immigrants and taunt workers from neighboring Albania with the chant, “Albanian … you’ll never be Greek.”
One of them has acquired an English sheepdog named Patriot that his owner claims only barks at Albanians. Stavros disputes it and makes a bet that the dog will bark at one of the four Greeks and when he approaches it, the dog barks.
But it appears that’s because another man has approached, an Albanian builder named Marenglen (Anastas Kozdine) although the animal is not the only one to respond. Stavros’s mother (Titika Saringouli) appears to recognize the man and she calls out … in Albanian.
Director and-writer Tsitos gentles the story along as he draws the stranger into Stavros’s circle with small but telling moments and sly comedy. The Greek’s dilemma is illuminated by clever touches including a televised soccer game between the national teams of Greece and Albania and the local government’s decision to erect a monument to “intercultural solidarity” in the tobacconists’ square.
There’s also a smart background theme about the western rock bands that Greeks and Albanians have managed to hear over the years, which turn out to be much like most of the world.
Venue: Locarno International Film Festival; Cast: Antonis Kafetzopoulos, Anasta Kozdine, Titika Saringouli, Giorgos Souxes, Konstantin Koronaios, Panayiotis Stamatakis, Maria Zorba; Director, writer: Filippos Tsitos; Writer: Alexis Kardaras; Director of photography: Polidefkis Kirlidis; Production designer: Spyros Laskaris; Music: Enstro; Costume designer: Christina Chantzaridou; Editor: Dimitris Peponis; Producers: Constantinos Moriatis, Thanassis Karathanos; Production companies: Pan Entertainment, Twenty-Twenty Vision; Sales: Greek Film Center; Not rated; running time, 103 mins.
This review appeared in The Hollywood Reporter.