Review: Standing Aside, Watching (Servetas, 2013) – SFIFF 2014

Still from the movie Standing Aside, Watching

I wanted to like Standing Aside, Watching. I’d been quite impressed with the other few international films we’d seen at SFIFF and had even begun to think that SFIFF directors knew how to pick world cinema better than the Sundance directors did. I kept watching the movie thinking it would pull itself together. It did get better, but not by much. Maybe the fault is in this viewer. After all, the film did also get selected by the Toronto International Film Festival last year.

In Standing Aside, Antigone (played by Marina Symeou), a bold, unapologetic, often aggressive woman returns to her childhood home in a small, dead-end seaside town where she finds jobs teaching and tutoring. (Note: This is not how we foreigners picture Greece–no whitewashed, blue-domed Santorini here. Rather, picture junk yards and big box stores and all the grayed detritus of a decaying surburbia.) While there, Antigone takes up with her childhood friend Eleni (Marianthi Pantelopoulou) and begins a relationship with the much younger Nikos (played by Jared Leto look-alike Giorgos Kafetzopoulos). Inevitably, these relationships draw her into an entanglement with the local mafia, and Antigone must decide whether or not she, like everyone else, will just “stand aside and watch.”

 

Left: Jared Leto. Right: Giorgos Kafetzopoulos.

Left: Jared Leto. Right: Giorgos Kafetzopoulos.

Symeou and Pantelopoulou are excellent (who knew legs could be so expressive?), and the men aren’t half bad either, though their roles are perhaps less interesting. The relationships between the characters, too, are genuine and engrossing. It’s the stitching of the film that felt disjointed. Seemingly unrelated scenes juxtaposed against each other, cutting back and forth in a senseless way. Random stills or a prolonged shot of a scene where nothing is happening. Quiet, slow–so much so that my husband kept throwing me looks throughout the movie, something he usually does when he’s bored. No music except a disturbing electronic beat every now and then. Not that any of the elements I listed can’t be executed well, only it felt quite inexpertly done here. Also, there were three voice-overs (taking place at the beginning, middle, and end) that seemed both cheesily serious and a little nonsensical (though it could have just been a clumsy translation). Because there were no flashbacks, references to the past were frustratingly enigmatic. I like a bit of withholding–it can make a scene feel more authentic–but too much mystery and one risks obfuscating the emotionally relevant.

Ah well. Not the best movie, but neither am I sorry that I went.

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