Review: Xenia

It leaves room for a few flights of fancy where the lack of verisimilitude feels less like screenplay filler and more like unabashed poetic license.

Photo: Strand Releasing

Danny (Kostas Nikouli) is a lollipop-sucking 16-year-old twink out of a Gregg Araki film or an old XY magazine cover. His brother, Ody (Nikos Gelia), is an unsmilingly butch 18-year-old sandwich-shop worker with a buzzkilling attitude and no particularly cinematic look. In the wake of their mother’s death, the siblings, Greeks of Albanian origin, seek to find their estranged father, hoping the man who left when they were still babies, and who they call “The Nameless,” will give them money and the citizenship they need so as not to be deported. Such is the premise of Xenia, a campy road movie in which brotherhood is inevitably an erotic affair, and Greece is an unbearable netherworld, teeming with fascist vigilantes who chastise foreigners for not speaking Greek and punch them while yelling, “Kill the Arabs!”

Filmmaker Panos H. Koutras is most interested in the twists and turns of the narrative and its various implausible events, too often accompanied by the kind of generic piano music that could flatten even the deepest images. Thankfully, he also leaves room for a few flights of fancy where the lack of verisimilitude feels less like screenplay filler and more like unabashed poetic license, uncommitted to plot. As in Danny’s pet rabbit going from being alive to becoming a stuffed animal, only to return as a larger-than-life Lynchian bunny. Or Danny and Ody dancing naked, lingering in their embrace. Or the dreamlike relationship Danny nurtures with Italian diva Patty Pravo, which echoes that of little Ludovic’s and his favorite doll in My Life in Pink, a surreal mixture of role model, divine force, and ghostly alibi. Danny’s fascination with Pravo—who even makes a cameo—is Xenia’s most permeating motif, her songs turning up to punctuate the film as the brothers break out in song and dance.

Xenia could be described as a gay film, with its diva songs, impromptu choreography, bleached bangs on hairless boys, and general tendency toward extravagance. There’s also something decisively Greek about it, with obvious references to harsh economic realities and xenophobia. But Xenia’s gayness and Greekness feel like cosmetic layers of a much more universal story about mourning. While it’s the mother who literally passes away, it’s the father’s absence that resurfaces as both unendurable pain and utopian promise—of a return. This is the kind of impossible homecoming that, perhaps, informs man’s essence more decisively than sexuality and nation.

 Cast: Kostas Nikouli, Nikos Gelia, Yannis Stankoglou, Marissa Triandafyllidou, Aggelos Papadimitriou  Director: Panos H. Koutras  Screenwriter: Panos H. Koutras, Panagiotis Evangelidis  Distributor: Strand Releasing  Running Time: 128 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2014  Buy: Video

Diego Semerene

Diego Semerene is an assistant professor of queer and transgender media at the University of Amsterdam.

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