Kostis (Maki Papadimitriou) comes by his sense of inadequacy honestly. Single, unhealthy, and locked into the physical decline of his early middle age, the man accepts a position as the lone doctor on the Greek island of Antiparos after a series of personal and professional “setbacks.” Suntan’s lengthy prologue creates a strong sense of the simultaneous isolation and camaraderie among those who withstand the winter months in a tourist’s mecca: Kostis uses his position of authority to ingratiate himself among the island’s frail elders and resident alcoholics, a long line of grizzled men promising the doctor that his sexual and psychic funks will be quenched by an endless string of lithe bodies come summer.
Kostis cuts a competent but lonesome figure, briskly treating his patients before retreating to a bar or his dark, wood-paneled apartment. But director Argyris Papadimitropoulos is quick to emphasize the doctor’s diminished stature, underlining his social and sexual irrelevance as he plods forward from the back of the frame. As such, the film already seems hostile toward its protagonist once summer hits and Kostis meets Anna (Elli Tringou), the mildly injured 21-year-old leader of a cadre of lean, English-speaking tourists. Her warmth and virility rejuvenates the doctor; smitten, he begins to knock off work early and ogle Anna and friends at a clothing-optional campers’ beach.
Suntan comes to be defined by its casual nudity, which is always set in contrast with Kostis’s lumpy, lotion-slathered countenance and floppy beach hat. With a rhythm that quickly becomes familiar, the film transitions between abbreviated office scenes, sunny oceanside vistas dappled with lens flare, and a rotation of club nights that establish an obvious tension between the youths’ unbridled pansexual energy and Kostis’s barely repressed desire for his Lolita. The most interesting moments come when these passions come into conflict, ruthlessly setting up Kostis as a square because he can’t relate to the liberal hedonism of a younger generation. Papadimitriou, memorable as the water-fearing competitor in the masculine decathalon of Rachel Athina Tsangari’s Chevalier, registers a palpable mix of devastation and desperation whenever Anna or her friends become “bored"and abandon him.
Papadimitropoulos struggles to lift his material out of a downbeat mode of cringe comedy, as this cycle of scenes repeats a handful of times with little variety or forward momentum. The film’s stellar diegetic soundtrack, of the sort that proves a director has evident taste while also scanning as plausible club music, fitfully elevates the proceedings, but Suntan is inexorably bent on punishing its protagonist for his age and obvious creep factor. Kostis manages to become less compelling as the film goes on, and he sees fit to avenge his perceived humiliations with sexual violence. An unpleasant third act plays like a mashup of an unwanted-guest thriller and Stranger by the Lake, confirming the sense that Papadimitropoulos lacks the ingenuity and curiosity about human nature that animates his Greek Weird Wave peers.