Established director Nicolas Triandafyllidis returns to Raindance this year with The Sentimentalists, a film which he himself describes as a combining the elements of Greek tragedy with a modern day film noir. The description is more than accurate and the result is a fable of modern Athens where two shady characters move inexorably towards their fates.
Yannis ( Haris Fragoulis) and Hermes (Dimitris Lalos) work as a team. They are the henchmen of the enigmatic Master (Takis Moshos) who runs a number of shady businesses including (but, we suspect, not limited to) antiques and money lending. Yannis and Hermes are the Masters’ muscle, making sure the creditors don’t get too comfortable and pay their debts on time – and they have been running this operation smoothly for quite a while. But the heart, as we well know, listens neither to comfort nor to practicality and life gets complicated for the two men when love strikes. Yannis is obsessed with a beautiful prostitute working for a dangerous man – in itself not a pleasant situation. Hermes, however, has gone one step further and fallen for the Masters’ daughter. Will the two men let their sentiments get the better of them? Or will they be able to cool their hearts and save their lives?
Ancient Greek tragedies and film noir don’t seem, at first glance, the most easily compatible of genres, but kudos to director Triandafyllidis who makes it work really, really well. Stylistically the film is a typical modern film noir, complete with a femme fatale who ultimately leads to the ruin of Yannis, the typical “hooker with the heart of gold” (the bar maid of the bar where the girls work) dressed in what is almost period costume, guns and dark shadowy alleyways where evil constantly lurks (although to be fair, the evil is more often than not embodied by Hermes and Yannis themselves).
This is combined with themes typical of a Greek tragedy such as abuse of power, hopeless love affairs and a sense of fatality that pervades the entire film (not least because the film opens with the death of Hermes and then flashes back in time). Another classic theme that is cleverly worked into the film is the fact that a tragic hero is, typically, a good man at heart. While the duo clearly does not shy from murdering people in cold blood, we are hard-pressed to dislike them completely. Yannis especially, the “muscle” of the duo, is a character who wonderfully balances his street smarts with a childish innocence that feels more like a part of his character than the result of a lack of life experience.
Haris Fragoulis gives a very strong performance, striking a good balance between the comic scenes and the scenes slowly describing him slip closer and closer to madness. Another strong performance comes from Takis Moshos as the Master, a man whose unstable state of mind is constantly hinted at but never openly shown. The Masters’ household is a luxurious but subdued one. His daughter spends her every moment living according to his strict, old fashioned rules that, we suspect, were put in place after the death of her mother. It is her desire to break free of this dour household that will provide the catalyst for the second tragedy of the film.
The Sentimentalists may, at first glance, look like your average gangster movie – but look again. You will find, in the details, what makes this film a truly original cinematic work.