JDIFF Review: Standing Aside, Watching (2013)

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Cast: Marina Symeou, Marianthi Pantelopoulou, Nikos Georgakis
Director: Giorgos Servetas
Country: Greece
Genre:
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: the following review is part of our coverage of the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. For more information please visit jdiff.com or follow DublinFilmFest on Twitter

A coy approach is common in films considering their country by way of their characters; be it a veiled body politic or an oblique allegory, state-of-the-nation cinema tends toward subtlety more often than not. Not Standing Aside, Watching, which foregoes any distance at all in declaring itself a bold challenge to the Greece of today. The ironically-espoused nationalist rhetoric of its opening and closing narration is juxtaposed bitterly with the sight of crumbling infrastructure, the progressive opinion it offers setting the scene for a narrative that sees that through to full fruition as a means to expose its fallacies, and with them its demonstrable dangers. “It’s not the worst place to live,” someone shrugs at one stage. Standing Aside, Watching, both the movie and the (in)action to which it refers, shows how easily it might become that.

…director Giorgos Servetas’ script delves far deeper than surface level, rooting its troubling narrative developments in the disturbing reality of the Greek political landscape.

standing_aside_watching_2013_3Dwarfed by an unmoving wind farm, like a host of ominous giants waiting to be woken up, the seaside town in which the movie takes place bears an uncanny resemblance to that of Attenberg, another film addressing the idea of a stilted Greece through the story of a young woman’s experience. The heroine here is Antigone, a would-be teacher back from a life in Athens who reluctantly resumes the relationships of her youth in a place whose only real change appears to be rust. The ugliness of abandoned buildings and half-completed roads, the awry aesthetic of modernism nipped in the bud, lends a ghostly greyness to this world; we needn’t look skyward to see the truth in the film’s first line of dialogue: “A storm is coming”.

But The Dark Knight Rises this movie is not: director Giorgos Servetas’ script delves far deeper than surface level, rooting its troubling narrative developments in the disturbing reality of the Greek political landscape. If the title has a tendency to too-often pop up in dialogue, it’s only in earnest; Standing Aside, Watching is an intelligent articulation of what that passivity facilitates. “The fascists of the future will come from the condos built on burnt land,” offers the opening narration, twisting a quote oft-attributed to Churchill to a prelude of sorts to the plot developments—and their political connotations—that await us. It’s hard not to laugh, if nervously, when a character casually states that “the visibility is much better since the forest burned down”.

Standing Aside, Watching might suffer for its see-through ciphers, who work less as characters than as conduits to commentary, but it’s only because the movie and its maker are terribly concerned about the world they perceive.

standing_aside_watching_2013_4Servetas, here making his second feature, earns our attention with a sombre atmosphere of foreboding; his camera crafts a calm-ish crescendo, the tension it wrings of a subtlety to feel almost invented by our minds. He has an uncanny talent for subverting our guard, slipping past the suspicions he raises himself and in doing so demonstrating the fragile safety of both his characters and the country for which they’re emblematic. It’s a film that feels reluctantly cynical, fearful of the future and frustrated to be so: much as the burgeoning bleakness of his narrative may belie any real hope for what’s to come, the constant fluttering in the wind of the many Greek flags that decorate the town bespeak at the least a muted longing.

That’s reflected too in the undiminished beauty with which Servetas and cinematographer Claudio Bolivar shoot their landscapes, scorched slopes aside. There’s a prevailing sense, cynicism or no, that the real Greece is rooted in the verdant vistas of the hillsides or sumptuous sands of the beach. That the unattractive infrastructure of man might think to threaten that natural grace is an affront to idealism. Standing Aside, Watching might suffer for its see-through ciphers, who work less as characters than as conduits to commentary, but it’s only because the movie and its maker are terribly concerned about the world they perceive. Servetas’ film is flawed and he knows it; his hopeless, hilarious parting sentiment begs us to heed him regardless.

[notification type=”star”]70/100 ~ GOOD. Standing Aside, Watching is an intelligent articulation of what political passivity facilitates. [/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.