Experimental Reviews

a simple life (2021) – 2.5 stars

Director: Daniela Zorba

Writer: Daniela Zorba & Cast

Cast: Anastasia Diavasti, Stelios Papagrigoriou, Alkyoni Papakonstantopoulou, Eva Koliopantou, Giorgos Efthimiou, Chariclia Christu, Tristan Bera

Running time: 20mins

One of the finest recurring sketches on Bremner, Bird and Fortune featured a middle-class dinner party, which mercilessly lampooned the asinine sensibilities of Blairite Britain. The skits seemed to stretch on endlessly, all the while making it increasingly apparent that its participants had nothing worth saying; discussing whether there was such a thing as having too much money (and inevitably agreeing “no”), and offering ‘thoughts’ on poverty, all from within a disconnected, beige bubble.

a simple life feels a lot like being trapped in that banal, blinkered setting, only without being clear on whether its authors mean it as parody, or profundity. Daniela Zorba’s experimental film is bound to divide audiences on that front. Throughout this Athenian gathering, it is difficult to discern whether the procession of dead-eyed guests is supposed to be imparting some kind of aloof joie de vivre the rest of us could learn from; or whether they represent a caste of pretentious yuppies who have been able to go about their aimless partying, untouched by a decade of brutal austerity and political crisis in Greece.

My own inkling is toward the former; if only because the film’s title belies a sense of entitlement and privilege that suggests the members of this commune are somehow insulated from a very complicated life just outside the walls of their compound. Unlike the sketches of Bremner, Bird and Fortune, however, this is a dinner party I spent most of its 20-minute run-time longing to escape. If its intent is to show these people as vapid imbeciles, for the enjoyment of those of us sitting in the cheap seats, a simple life does not go on the offensive enough to make it work.

Early on, one guest (it is unclear which) states she cannot believe she managed to pay last month’s rent – but a surrealist swerve of conversation simply states “they put water in the powder to feed the worms”, suggesting that paying the rent might not have been a struggle in a material sense, but rather that nobody here can concentrate on a topic for more than a half-sentence. This is arguably a very successful skewering of life outside of the proletariat – constantly seeking a new non-topic to distract yourself from a meandering existence without real worries – but it also denies us any extended opportunity to find amusement in one or two moments of real stupidity.

Instead, much of the humour that may or may not be delivered in a simple life seems to have more of a connection to the nonsensical rambling of weed comedy. Absurdist suggestions crop up, leave us thinking “wow, you must really be stoned out of your head for thinking that,” and are dismissed.

“By the way”, says one woman, suddenly breaking into English. “Does anyone know if we can make soap-bubbles out of drainpipes?” When it is suggested that might not be possible, she simply groans “Oh shit,” and we move on to the next random exchange.  

This kind of performatively bizarre exchange recurs seemingly infinitely throughout the film, but again, none of the randomness is allowed any space to breathe. Cheech and Chong would have given us some space to see how ridiculous this all is, or provided a straight figure to bounce their inebriated behaviour off. But we have no marker of outside sensibilities – be they a representative of the working classes, or simply someone sober – to judge anything by here.

Among the other guests, one of the women spends the majority of her time applying coat after coat of foundation, while another chews watermelon obnoxiously with her mouth agape. One of the more prominent male guests reads insistently from one of the most clichéd poetry collections ever assembled, alongside another man wearing Morpheus glasses who stares vacantly at some kind of root vegetable. The assault on the senses – from the strange things these people say, to the way they dress and behave – is relentless.

And that is where this falls down as an experimental film, too. Perhaps all of this decontextualised inanity might have worked if there were more space. Time to think. Room for our minds to fill in the blanks with our own experiences and interpret what we are seeing. The best experimental films understand this need for breathing space; they allow things to linger with us and potentially send our minds down a whole series of rabbit holes. Here, however, the sluice gate has been wedged open, and a flood of competing randomness drowns out any chance of that.

All this may also be a simple misunderstanding. I make no pretence that I know everything there is to know about Greek cinema, comedy or culture. Perhaps this is all drawing on some profound historic tradition I have no grounding in, and it works very well when understood within it. But this film is circulating to international festivals, and potentially a global audience. As such, it would really be boosted by some representation of life ‘outside’ its strange composition, to help guide us through it. At the same time, it needs to allow more space for us to catch our breath, and think about what we are seeing.

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