Syllas Tzoumerkas’ A Blast tracks the fallout of the Greek economic collapse on an average middle class family. Or at least I think it does. You see, A Blast has been shoved through a wood chipper and what comes out is an enigmatic nonlinear narrative that confuses much more than it intrigues.
Our focus is the fragmented and chaotic wife/daughter/mother Maria (Angeliki Papoulia), a woman standing squarely in the eye of an economic storm. Maria is smart, beautiful and ambitious, with high hopes and genuine prospects. We first meet her the day she’s been accepted to study law in Athens, and the family hums with jubilation. Her elderly father hugs her, her mother gives her an envelope of cash as a present and she bickers pleasantly with her younger sister. Underlying all this is a passionate relationship with the hunky Yannis (Vassilis Doganis), with the two indulging in lengthy bouts of sweaty sex. This is contrasted with herky-jerky cuts that reveal some indeterminate future where she’s on the verge of complete breakdown.
She’s estranged from her husband, appears to be engaged in some kind of illicit activity, beats her mother, insults her father, her little sister has married a fat Nazi, her children are being abused by said Nazi and she’s apparently addicted to online pornography. Trying to figure out what the hell’s happened to get here comprises the meat of the film.
First thing is first: Angeliki Papoulia is pretty damn excellent as Maria. It’s deeply affecting to see this classical beauty suffering a St. Sebastian-like martyrdom; her wounds economic and financial rather than physical. There’s a neat contrast between the fresh-faced, happy optimist of the chronologically early portions of the film and the drawn, frazzled looking woman of the latter portions. With her pursed lips and furrowed brow she looks a bit like Dorothea Lange’s iconic Migrant Mother.
In a refreshing twist, rather than being beaten into submission by the many woes in her life, these events toughen her up. Maria is aggressive in every sense; prone to foul-mouthed tirades, dishing out violent beatings, pouring scorn on everyone around her and generally kicking butt. She’s a hell of a character and Papoulia constantly finding new places to take Maria, doing her best to inject unpredictability into every scene.
Papoulia’s performance quickly becomes a life raft in the middle of storm; the only thing keeping our attention in a film that, to put it bluntly, is garbled to the point of incoherency. The nonlinear narrative scrambles motivations, resulting in long scenes where characters make bizarre decisions. While you’re watching it you figure that Tzoumerkas is going to retroactively justify them, but he doesn’t.
Bizarre events enigmatically rise from the soupy narrative and disappear back into the chaos without comment or future reference. For example, what exactly are we expected to make of the extended anal sex scene between two swarthy sailors, one them Maria’s husband? Who are these strange men informing Maria that she now has 65,000E in her bank account? Has she committed a crime? Why is she sitting in the middle of a public internet cafe watching hardcore porn with a gaggle of guys perving on her?
It’s that last one that’s the most mystifying. While Maria clearly enjoys sex, she’s not a completely loony erotomaniac that needs to get off right then and there. At the screening I attended I had the benefit of the director’s presence in a post film Q&A. In a rather testy atmosphere, someone asked him what on earth this scene meant. His answer was vague and non-commital. If the director can’t adequately explain it, what chance does an audience have?
The further we get into the film the more suspicious we become that all this experimental cutting and pasting is a smokescreen to conceal a crap story that doesn’t hang together. By the time Maria has left her three children in the care of a Nazi paedophile (who she has angrily told not to abuse them), this film is on the verge of falling apart. A couple of minutes later there’s a no-kidding desert car chase action scene, which marks the point where A Blast finally collapses like an ill-made souffle.
From the early scenes its apparent that A Blast requires some serious legwork from its audience. It all but demands you pay close attention, presenting itself as a jumbled up puzzle that will form a rewarding picture. Eventually you realize it’s not going to, building a caseof mild resentment towards the director for wasting your time.
Somewhere in A Blast lies an affecting portrayal of a woman seeing her dreams flushed down the toilet of life by economic collapse. It's just a shame that it's buried underneath all this nonlinear rubbish.