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Young Critics Workshop – Stratos

Stratos (Yannis Economides, 2014)

Opening on a line of bus after decaying yellow bus, Stratos immediately declares its intentions: the new film from Greek writer-director Yannis Economides is all about repetition.

Waiting behind one bus is Vangelis Mourikis, the actor in the title role, whose Harry Dean Stanton face conveys infinite sorrow and invites infinite scrutiny. He stares into space with such detachment that it is unclear if he even knows where he is, let alone what he is about to do (kill a man by shooting him straight through the eye, incidentally).

As it turns out, Stratos is a part-time hitman, undertaking what his client refers to as “paint jobs” in order to pay off a debt that he picked up in prison. It’s not a job he relishes, but one that he must do nonetheless. He spends his days working in a bakery, where the busy kitchen is shot so that Stratos never appears alone in the frame. He becomes a cog in a machine, a mindless fate that he appears to prefer to his murderous alternative. As so it goes – baking and killing, killing and baking – until the poetically perfect final shot of Stratos on a park bench. This existential ennui becomes a source of thematic inspiration for the film.

The film is shot in a fairly sanitized visual style, featuring clinical framing and desaturated palettes that should look familiar to fans of another contemporary Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthimos of Dogtooth notoriety. It looks as drab as Stratos feels, and each scene ends by drifting to black, as if the camera has simply stopped paying attention and nodded off to sleep. The score is a lonely guitar melody that constantly riffs on the same theme. Economides employs it almost like some cosmic punchline, fading it in at the most mundane moments or adding a delay loop during several scenes that take place in an underground tunnel. The dialogue is also redundant by design. Characters frequently repeat themselves, rephrasing and changing emphases to keep driving a point home long after it has been received.

Frustratingly, the film incorporates a long and uninteresting redemption storyline that keeps it from really achieving any level of greatness. What could have been a fascinating mood piece about an aging and disconnected ex-criminal becomes a run-of-the-mill antihero slog that manages to incorporate not one, but two prostitution subplots. Nearly an hour of the running time could easily be excised by cutting out this divergence entirely.

When one character exclaims, “It’s always the same shit!” they may well be referencing the indistinguishability of many modern crime dramas. Unfortunately, like its title character, Stratos just can’t break the cycle and falls in with those from which it craves distance. Nevertheless, the echoes of a truly intriguing premise and the ever-growing potential of Greek cinema deem it worthy of a look.