Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Go into Joy (Hara) unaware of its synopsis and it might take you some time to catch the meaning of its opening shot, in which thirty-something woman Hara (Amalia Moutoussi) ascends a flight of stairs, stalks a corridor and disappears behind a pair of doors before emerging with a baby in her arms. Attentive viewers will know right away that in the 15 minutes that follow, we are watching a kidnapper tend to the child she has stolen. These otherwise quotidian moments have a discomfiting edge, however. To begin with, there’s something physically crooked in the way Hara dances with the child. As these non-scenes fade out and in again, a strange sense of alarm creeps in.

To reveal that the child is not Hara’s is not to spoil the plot of Elias Giannakakis’s impressive second fiction feature – following 2004’s Alemaya, having made feature and television documentaries in between. As is confirmed by a news update on the radio, for instance, Hara is wanted by police for what she has done. Embarking on a road trip with the child, she picks up an older pilgrim (Nikos Flessas), and drives him some way to his destination before stopping at a roadside café. Upon leaving, she is confronted by two thieves. Attacked, she overcomes one of them and beats him to death with a large rock – the other puts down the baby and scarpers.

Copy picture

What follows is an account of Hara as she is arrested and questioned, reported on in the media and as she finally stands trial on charges of kidnapping, manslaughter and conspiracy. Though the film continues its episodic progression, it becomes a gruelling and haunting examination of Greece’s state apparatus – its media, its courts, its police and prison system – with subtler hints about family as an institution and to the nation’s recent history under a military dictatorship.

Giannakakis frames claustrophobically – from the beginning his protagonist is seen in a darkened domestic interior, while her court hearing is filmed from the front of the room looking back, so that judge, prosecutor and jurors are all out of view – a faceless triumvirate. Hara has a sympathetic defence lawyer (Yorgos Simeonidis), to whom she refuses to utter a word, clearly viewing him with the same distrust as all other authority figures. He tries in vain to help her.

In contrast to the prosecution’s case and the sensationalistic media reports that refer to Hara as atrocious and to the man she killed in defence as her co-conspirator in a baby trafficking scheme, Giannakakis’s style is undramatic, with casual repetition and fade-ins and -outs, while Yorgos Argiroiliopoulos’s black-and-white cinematography recalls the deadpan observational mode of early Jarmusch. Indeed, the ironically-titled Joy might have contained an old-fashioned romantic streak had its subject matter not been so harrowing.

On the one hand, Giannakakis is to be commended for opting to portray a film whose protagonist is clearly suffering from mental illness. His view of Hara is to some degree sympathetic, while Moutoussi’s performance is effective in demonstrating a warmth toward the three-month-old child she kidnaps and a palpable fear of just about everything else – Flessas’s hitchhiker being the exception. In particular, the film shows how easily an individual can be domestically, emotionally, politically and legally marginalised, and how one individual act that is perceived and treated criminally has real, societal causes.

Elsewhere, however, Giannakakis is prone to stylisation – some of the aforementioned compositional choices have a symbolic edge, certainly, but the decision to have an inaudible final conversation between Hara and her lawyer seems a stretch too far. More challenging and thus compelling – in an artwork hoping to be as humane as its premise allows – would have been to make an emotional commitment to the drama, and to ask more of its performers and audience. Still, a film that refuses to blame the easy victim is never unwelcome.

Reviewed on: 03 Jul 2013
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A woman takes home a baby from hospital, devotedly caring for it. But she is not its mother - she is a kidnapper.

Director: Ilias Giannakakis

Writer: Ilias Giannakakis

Starring: Amalia Moutousi, Giorgos Symeonidis, Lyda Protopsalti, Stefania Goulioti

Year: 2012

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: Greece


EIFF 2013
Karlovy 2013

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