For those lucky enough to have their own little piece of paradise during the summer vacation, the memories can seem unforgettable. But there’s another side to that rarely Instagrammed sunny vacation, which involves the many hotel workers who work in the background to keep everything looking perfect, at least on the surface.
The intriguing second feature from Greek writer-director Sofia Exarchou, Animalfocuses on a specific group of such workers: entertainers whose job it is to entertain guests both day and night, leading seniors in a game of bingo or sing-along, or acting showgirls-Style dance numbers marked by an excessive level of corniness.
The bottom line
Paul Verhoeven’s bright and bold portrayal of Las Vegas definitely comes to mind in this tale of a dancer, Kalia (the excellent Dimitra Vlagopoulou), who choreographs numbers and trains new recruits at a Greek resort packed with foreign tourists. She constantly reminds her team that she smiles at the guests, and yet when she’s not working, Kalia’s escalating existential crisis takes center stage.
At first, she and her fellow entertainers, including Simos (Ahilleas Hariskos), an exuberant ringmaster and Kalia’s one-time lover, seem to have carved out a little piece of paradise for themselves too. During the day, they work hard at the hotel, where they don’t seem to hate their job. At night, they work as dancers at a seedy local nightclub or hang around a dilapidated beachfront residence, spending their free time swimming in the sea.
We take a look at their lives through the eyes of Eva (Flomaria Papadaki), a young newcomer who joins the dance troupe after fleeing small-town life in Poland. (“Vodka, vodka, vodka,” is how she describes it.) Eva is more inhibited than the others, and Kalia manages to slowly pull her out of her shell, showing her the ropes of a profession that offers escape for dancers and others alike. . his drunken spectators.
But that escape comes at a cost, especially for Kalia, who admits to Eva that she’s been trapped on the island for nine years. As the film progresses, his encounters with random tourists he meets in bars or clubs become increasingly desperate, as do his live acts, including two karaoke renditions of the Spanish disco hit, “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie.” “, which are tinged with sadness.
“I don’t even dream. Nothing. Blank,” Kalia says, even as she continues to sell dreams to her happy clients. The essential conflict of Animal it lies there, and it’s one that Exarchou often watches more than turns on, in a film that has little drama but plenty of verisimilitude and character detail.
He used the same approach for his first feature film, Park (2016), mixes fictional and documentary techniques to explore characters around the Athens Olympic Complex. Here, director and cinematographer Monica Lenczewska (city of lies) capture all the nooks and crannies of the resort, from the dingy locker rooms where the company dresses to the pools and dining rooms where they perform for clients from all over the world, using roughly English as the universal language.
Similar to the recent independent success After the sun, the film underscores how such all-inclusive vacations often come at a cost. In Charlotte Wells’ film, it’s the vacationers themselves, robbed while on vacation in Turkey, which becomes a last resort for them. In AnimalKalia pays the price of staying too long in a place that offers no future, only an eternally false present that seems to postpone the inevitable.
Vlagopoulou is captivating in a role that sees her alternate between scenes of fizz on stage and others in which her character clings to a life that no longer offers any satisfaction, either sexually or professionally. Like the songs that her group performs over and over again, emptying them of her meaning the more they are repeated, Kalia is caught in a feedback loop that will break her or have to break it.