The concept of the American dream is ultimately a nebulous one, but in its most basic formulation, it goes something like this: penniless man arrives on U.S. shores and, by dint of hard work and commitment to his beliefs, achieves terrific monetary success. It’s always been a lie of course, for every person that achieves this rags-to-riches transformation, thousands remain in perpetual poverty. But it’s remained a useful fiction, allowing us to see ourselves as residents of an idealized country filled with endless possibilities.
In A Green Story, though, writer-director Nika Agiashvili buys into the concept with the zeal of a true believer, presenting his hero as nothing less than an exemplary American. In telling the real-life tale of Earth Friendly Products founder Van Vlahakis (Ed O’Ross), the film employs an episodic flashback structure which cuts between the present-day Van, facing a terminal cancer diagnosis as well as the sabotage efforts of competitors, and glimpses of his early life, from his father being killed by Nazi soldiers in World War II to his first arrival in America to his break with the chemical company he worked for because of their unethical practices.
It’s all a bit under-sketched, with the flashback sequences failing to provide any dramatic thrust or to adequately fill out the picture of the film’s main character, largely because they lean too heavily on clichéd sequences. There’s the scene (two of them actually) where Van is too busy working to acknowledge his wife’s attentions; there’s the moment when he’s denied a home loan at the bank, only to appeal to the manager who, himself an immigrant, approves the mortgage.
The present-day material is scarcely any more compelling because Van is presented with an almost inhuman nobility. Apart from his penchant for womanizing, which disappears early on when he meets the right partner, there’s little to this character that complicates the film’s straightforward picture of its immigrant-American achiever. Van’s faith may waver for a split second in the face of business machinations, but in A Green Story, the system rights itself because no one who believes in what they do, and works hard in achieving it and adheres to ethical practices, can ever fail. In the particular case of Van, thanks to an unforgivably ridiculous plot twist, it practically makes him immortal as well, as he triumphs over death as surely as he does his immoral competitors.