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New Release Review (DVD) - XENIA

A pair of estranged brothers embark on a Greek odyssey to find their father.





Review by Benjamin Poole (@filmclubchs)

Directed by: Panos H Koutras

Starring: Kostas Nikouli, Nikos Gelia, Yannis Stankoglou 



It’s an emotional ride, and one where you may require a couple of tissues: one to dab away a few stray tears, but the other in order to vainly attempt wiping off the huge grin you’ll be sporting by the end of this heartfelt, spirited film.


When we first meet Danny (Kostas Nikouli), the picaresque teenage hero of Xenia, he is giving a blow job to a greasy sugar daddy, whom he then proceeds to cheerfully hustle out of a few more illicit euros. Every drachma counts as Danny, the product of a broken home, and with his alcoholic mother recently dead, sets out to find his estranged older brother Ody (Nikos Gelia), who has escaped to the mainland. Accompanied only by his wits, his inherent fabulousness and his pet rabbit Dido, Danny begins his ‘road trip’.


The Greek setting of Xenia is apposite: Ody and Danny are part Albanian, and, as such, are subject to the insidious prejudices that are worryingly on the rise across the Aegean. The fascist Golden Dawn are essentially Greece’s third party now (decided in an election that occurred after this prescient film was made), but Xenia shows the racism and hatred (which, of course, is only ever the manifestation of misguided frustration) from a street level; the casual mistrust and scapegoating that accumulates in a demoralised community. It also doesn’t help his case that, with his outrĂ© style and incredible hair, Danny is camp spectacularly personified…

However, although the film has been understandably popular on the LGBT circuit, Xenia’s intent is nonetheless universal: this is a film alive with optimism, which tenderly celebrates the outsider humanity that exists within the rising tensions of Athens. And so, Danny and Ody (and little Dido) do their best to avoid prejudice as they set upon their adventure, which involves entering the talented Ody in a singing concert, and locating their absent father. A man who, it seems, has become a successful party member within the fascist party. Rotten luck, guys.


Not that this deters the eternally optimistic Danny though. He’s an intriguing, vivid character, and a protagonist in the truest sense of the word, initiating various escapades as the brothers embark upon their cross Balkans journey of mayhem and amusement. Imagine a more gay orientated Rain Man, if Dustin Hoffman’s autistic character had been a hyperactive teenage fashion victim. Nikouli is fantastic, and it’s hard to tell who’s cuter, Danny or his snow white, twitchy nose rabbit; the former is still essentially a child, but one whose circumstances have forced him into experiences beyond that which any teen should undergo (along with Dido, Danny’s bag houses a small gun, which has Chekov written all over it in dayglo letters…).

Danny’s inner pain is only hinted at within the film though, largely in highly imaginative dream sequences (one especial scene involves a shrunken Danny rooting around in his hand bag, surrounded by enlarged Honey, I Shrunk the Kids style practical props of hair brushes and lollipops). Xenia is far more concerned with representing hope than doubt, a concept delivered in various rousing sequences wherein the boys simply sing along or dance to some daft disco song or another, finding joyful validation within the infinite, electric joys of pop music.


Ody’s name is short for Odysseus, and, sure enough, Xenia charts a journey, an odyssey that follows not only the boys’ progress through karaoke bars, talent contests and police chases, but one that also plots an epic trajectory from painful solitude to peaceful acceptance. It’s an emotional ride, and one where you may require a couple of tissues: one to dab away a few stray tears, but the other in order to vainly attempt wiping off the huge grin you’ll be sporting by the end of this heartfelt, spirited film.
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