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The Summer With Carmen


The Summer With Carmen ★★★★
Review | Rich Cline

An astutely written and directed meta comedy about the nature of filmmaking, this Greek film playfully pokes fun at both itself and low-budget queer movies. Multiple layers of narrative feed together inventively to explore family relationships, friendships, romance, lust and even pet ownership for a group of 30-something guys. And as it knowingly grapples with issues of loyalty and masculinity, the film is warm, funny and very sexy.

On a naturist beach in Athens, Demosthenes (Tsiantoulas) and his fellow ex-actor friend Nikitas (Labropoulos) are people-watching when they are reminded of the dog Carmen they were taking care of two summers ago and a series of events that might be a good story for the movie Nikitas wants to make. Back then, Demos had just broken up with his boyfriend Panos (Mihas) after four years together, but they kept seeing each other for various family-related reasons. As they work on their script, Demos and Nikitas begin to see their friendship from a new perspective.

While brainstorming, Demos and Nikitas discuss balancing serious themes with fun eroticism, and they're determined to keep sex scenes from looking cheesy or porny. This echoes amusingly through the flashbacks, as Demos hooks up with Thymios (Tsigristaris) while dealing with parental issues, reaching out to Panos for help. He also bonds with Panos' new dog Carmen, who seems to be suffering an identity crisis. Nikitas works to transform this into a screenplay structure, and the film's key messages get a listing in the closing credits.

In the central role, Tsiantoulas has a terrific understated presence, deploying superb comical timing and a burly physicality in a variety of witty scenarios. His gentle demeanour makes him hugely likeable, so we root for Demos to sort out the threads of his life, even if he spends his time worrying about everyone else around him. Labropoulos offers a remarkably sympathetic performance as the queeny Nikitas. He may be a bit spiky, but we can see his warm heart.

Amusing stories emerge within stories, as Dimos and Nikitas were working on a script two summers earlier as well, trying to adapt a stage play. Scenes hilariously riff on the rules of indie cinema, including a musical variation (to Bizet's Carmen, of course). In these various narratives, deeper thoughts and feelings emerge from gay men who have been treated as outsiders in society and in their families. This is a lovely exploration of a friendship and the roles we play with each other, often without knowing it.

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