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Hard Goodbyes: My Father

(Penny Panayotopoulou, Greece, 2002)


 


Hard Goodbyes: My Father is the debut feature by Penny Panayotopoulou. It tackles a grim, depressing subject – a boy’s inability to face the death of his father – in a way that avoids easy, sentimental resolutions.

The film records its fleeting impressions of a troubled family mainly through the eyes of little Elias (Yorgos Karayannis), without ever entirely restricting itself to his limited perspective. For Elias, the fights of his mother (Ioanna Tsirigouli) and father (Stelios Mainas) are unsettling, and the sense of abandonment created by the father’s frequent absences is unbearable.

The father’s eventual death is something entirely beyond Elias’s ability to comprehend or cope. He enters a fantasy world, penning letters that he signs with his father’s name and sends to bewildered family members. In a brilliant touch, the boy’s problematic relation to reality is mirrored, at the opposite end of the age scale, by his hard-as-nails grandmother (Despo Diamantidou).

Panayotopoulou is a director to watch. Her scenes are crisp and terse, and her use of music is sparing. Much of the expressive power of the film comes from its silences and distanced views. Best of all, Panayotopoulou refuses to make the slow, difficult process of grieving seem easy or instantaneous, as Hollywood films so often do. Although she risks losing narrative momentum, she bravely stays with the mood of lingering aftershock. When the ending at last comes, the film has earned it.

© Adrian Martin August 2003


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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