Hard Goodbyes: My FatherReviewed By Collin Souter
Posted 06/18/04 00:19:51
(Worth A Look)
“Hard Goodbyes: My Father” tells the story of just that: A boy trying hard to say goodbye to his deceased father, but unwilling to accept the death in the first place. The movie depicts that period of mourning where people sometimes invent scenarios that cause them to hallucinate images of their loved ones. While the movie does not quite reach the emotional heights it aims for, the filmmakers nevertheless do a fine job in telling the story of a boy who must overcome his high-flying imagination in order to accept the harsh realities of gravity. It’s one small step for a man and one giant leap towards maturity.This Greek film takes place in Athens, 1969, about a month and a half before the moon landing. 10-year old Elias and his father, Christos, have a strong bond with the moon landing as its center. Both explorers and adventurers at heart, Elias and Christos also have a cursed existence: Christos is a traveling salesman and only sees his family about once or twice a month. Elias’s mother and older brother do not share in this bond. Instead they look bitterly on their mostly estranged husband and father.
When Christos does spend time with Elias, they talk about Jules Verne stories, the cosmos and dream cars. One day, though, a car becomes the catalyst for what will be the major turning point in Elias’s life. With his father gone forever, Elias faces the harsh reality of life that is death. Or does he? In order to cope, or to escape, Elias imagines his father as an everlasting entity. He carries both sides of a conversation with him. He writes letters to his ailing Grandmother as Christos as though he were still alive. The longer the charade continues, the further out into space Elias goes.
“Hard Goodbyes: My Father” was written and directed by Penny Panayotopoulou, who has an amazing visual style. A first-time feature filmmaker, Panayotopoulou has an expert’s eye for how to get inside this boy’s head and display it for the audience. It is a colorful and vibrant film that sharply and effectively contrasts with the overall mood of despair and tragedy as though the life-affirming message is fighting for screen space with the ear that doesn’t want to hear it.
Playing those set of ears is newcomer Giorgos Karayannis who carries the movie just fine. While not on par with Eamonn Owens of “The Butcher Boy” or Jackie Coogan of Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid,” Karayannis manages to convey what needs conveying. Yet, one can’t help but wonder how much better the story would have played out if the kid would have a deeper look of longing in his eyes. Karayannis has a bright spirit and gives a good performance, but an actor with a darker side might have been more effective.“Hard Goodbyes: My Father” will likely strike an emotional chord with anyone who has recently lost a close, dear friend or relative. One cannot describe this film without addressing it as a story “written straight from the heart.” It has the soul of a poet and a clear desire to achieve greatness. While Panayotopoulou’s film falls just shy of such a feat (at least through my eyes), she has nevertheless showed considerable promise as a director to keep an eye on. She has a strong visual style, a deep understanding of life’s most heartbreaking moments and an ear for unusual, unpredictable dialogue. That’s not something I’d want to say goodbye to anytime soon.
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