EIFF Student Critics' Best of 2013: Day 6
Today marks our penultimate day of reviews from our Student Critics Jury, who have selected and reviewed their picks for the best films of EIFF 2013.
Today, Philip Kennedy reviews A.C.A.B. All Cats Are Brilliant – a film from Greece that captures life for the Millenial Generation.
Electra is an activist in her 30s living in Athens: in A.C.A.B., both she and the city are shaped by the fog of austerity, political decay and radical protest that hangs thickly in the air. For Electra, however, this austerity seems to be partly self-imposed. The boarded-up shops she passes in tours of her crumbling neighbourhood are victims of circumstance; Electra’s own removal from the political reality of Athens is more conscious, more considered. She is boarded-up and locked from the inside – a response to a political situation beyond her control. She navigates a path through the city’s crisis which winds between the apathy of her parents (bourgeois intellectuals, fossils of an obsolete Old Left) and the outrage of her partner, Manousos (a political prisoner). Wilfully stunted, Electra is a 30-something living like a 20-something in a context where such deliberate regression unsettles those around her, and where her path of least resistance through the troubled city threatens to grate with its harsh realities at every meandering turn.
Educated at international universities and a trained filmmaker, Electra instead chooses to work as a nanny – the film’s use of “babysitter” too easily disguises the comfort of her second home – to Petros, an 8 year-old with whom she has some of her most interesting discussions. In her spare time she bakes too-perfect cakes, hangs out in the park walking her dog and getting drunk, flyposts drawings emblazoned with significant-looking question marks across the city (the same symbol also adorns the back of her neck) and attends rallies. Her parents can’t understand this; they have fractious discussions over a well catered lunch about why she can’t settle down with her own family and with a real job. These itinerant soccer-mom aspirations sit awkwardly with Manousos as well. He is the anarchist poster-boy, raging with controlled and well-rehearsed intensity: but he’s also the best dressed guy in prison, spoiled and frustrated by Electra’s mollycoddling.
We get to know Electra through a series of extended conversation set-pieces held with her partner, her parents and her friends. And it is in these sections where the film is strongest; each one working to pry off the boards obscuring the film’s fluctuating central character. These naturalistic vignettes drip feed us images of Electra as girlfriend, guardian, daughter and confidant, with each iteration augmenting our impression of her patchwork political and personal philosophy. This conversation-exposition structure provides a clear through-line in terms of narrative comprehension, but its success lies in its refusal of prescriptive or polemical characterisation. These sequences are presented with a gentle realism that creates a sense of space where character, dialogue and ideology move fluidly – allowing for some surprises and exposing a degree of pleasurable incommensurability within the film’s central character and its overall political identity.
One highlight sees Electra encouraging Petros to adopt a collectivist stance with his classmates in response to a problematic schoolteacher, but later sees her struggling to euphemistically justify the morality of direct action when explaining why Manousos is in prison. The openness of their exchanges is played off the all too apparent age gap, testing and revising Electra’s political stance against the simple scrutiny of a child’s critical eye. Later, in a conversation with Argyris, a friend struggling with the dilemma of how to discipline his daughter after finding drugs in her room, we see Electra propose some refreshingly even-handed parenting advice: set boundaries, be a dad not a friend. Where such a concession might sit within a broader critique of austerity and authority is unclear, but the scene is useful both in fleshing out Electra’s character with a degree of humane conventionality and in moderating the film's political drive.
A.C.A.B.’s composite politics and the prominence of Electra’s beguiling figure as our guide through its convolutions might frustrate those seeking an alternative to the stark political reality that hums from radios, television sets and protests throughout. As with Electra’s flyposting, the film perhaps litters the streets of Athens with too many question marks. But this lack of definitive political purpose, although not entirely satisfying, does afford the film a necessary degree of humanity (after all, anarchists are allowed to like cake too) whilst deftly capturing the directionless impotence currently hamstringing organised radical action in Athens and further afield.
What was your top pick from EIFF 2013?