Eye For Film >> Movies >> Animal (2023) Film Review
Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson
The burgeoning subgenre of films that are set in vacation resorts but are anything but sunny - including everything from Aftersun and Make Up to Suntan - gets another entry with Sofia Exarchou’s second film. Her tale, like Suntan’s, begins in the slate-skied pre-season on an unnamed Greek island. It’s here where we enter the hotel Mirage, its name clueing us in to what we might expect from this character study, as the entertainment “animateurs” work exhaustively on creating stage shows that offer the illusion of a good time.
Dancer Kalia (Dimitra Vlagopoulou) has been doing this for years, painting on a smile and singing Baccara’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie in front of a sparse crowd of holidaymakers. Despite her obvious abilities, she is a hot mess, coming alive during performances but struggling in between times. She senses a kindred spirit with the arrival of the young and inexperienced Eva (Flomaria Papadaki), who could also be an incarnation of her former, less jaded, self.
Exarchou takes a documentary approach to the action, Monika Lenczewska’s camera getting close enough to see the straining muscles and effort being put into all this forced hedonism. Vlagopoulou’s performance has a raw intensity that you don’t dare question, less still look away from. In between shifts at the hotel the troupe retreat to their rundown digs before heading out to earn extra money as dancers at a nearby nightclub. There’s a hint of dark comedy about some of the scenes of twerking hotel guests but there’s no mistaking the sharpness with which Exarchou is skewering a capitalist system where not just buildings but humans are being turned into little more than entertainment.
The Greek filmmaker goes beyond simply criticising the system, however, to focus on the nature of performance. While Kalia might represent an extreme example, carrying on despite the pain she finds herself in, the holidaymakers too are leaving behind their everyday lives, taking a holiday not just from their natural environment but from social norms. When a hotel guest stands up to do a karaoke, she also acknowledges this is a performance of sorts. But when Kalia decides to take a holiday from her own assigned role, reality proves hard to take.
There’s attention to detail here from Exarchou, even as she retains the documentary feel. Hair, for example, becomes a crucial element, a hand tugged through it here, gel smoothed into it in a conciliatory gesture there. There’s even the illusion of a haircut, just one of the things that the youngest member of the troupe - still under 10 - is learning from those around her. Through Eva and this little girl, we see the echoes of Kalia while simultaneously seeing the tragedy of it. The young girl isn’t just learning performance, it’s all she has ever known.Reviewed on: 03 Aug 2023
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