In many ways, Sasha, the cocky 17-year-old street hustler at the center of Constantine Giannaris’s pungent film ”From the Edge of the City,” is every lost boy, spurred by Day-Glo fantasies of easy money, scrounging for a living in the sleazier districts of any large city in the Western world. Portrayed by Stathis Papadopoulos with such a natural mixture of innocence and hardness that he has the aura of a youth plucked off the streets, Sasha blithely sells his skinny, chiseled body to men while having lollipop dreams of one day living happily ever after with his 15-year-old sweetheart, Elenista (Panagiota Vlachosotirou).
But Sasha is also a very specific product of his time and place. After the crumbling of the Soviet Union, he and his family were among thousands who emigrated from Kazakhstan to Athens in search of a better life. In feverish flashbacks, Sasha imagines an idyllic boyhood, running with his friends across a golden wheat field. The childhood of his imagination couldn’t be more different from his sleazy late adolescence of prostitution, drugs and gaudy nightclub fantasies.
At least Sasha has a home to go to. His father is a laborer who expects his son to contribute his share to the meager family income. But when he discovers that Sasha hasn’t been going to his construction job, he flies into a rage and drives his son from the house. Most of Sasha’s friends on the street are fellow Pontoi, Russian immigrants of Greek descent who haven’t been assimilated into the mainstream despite their Greek origins. The Pontoi take pride in ranking higher on the social ladder than the Albanians.
”From the Edge of the City,” which opens today at the Screening Room, is a deliberately ragged movie that affects a documentary authenticity as it follows Sasha and his friends around Omonia Square in Athens. Every now and then, Sasha is plunked in front of the camera and asked blunt questions about his life and his expectations by an unseen narrator. His tends to respond with defensive, noncommittal shrugs.
Sasha occasionally catches a glimpse of the life he would like to live while in a client’s apartment or a nightclub crowded with well-to-do suburban youths. But as the movie goes along and Sasha sinks into the netherworld, that hope seems increasingly remote. Sasha and his friends, when not hustling, sit around aimlessly smoking pot and experimenting with other drugs. The movie shows how easy it is for shiftless youth driven by boredom and idle curiosity to drift from soft into hard drugs with barely a second thought.
The quest for the quick buck eventually lands Sasha in the clutches of Giorgos (Dimitri Papoulidis), a vicious pimp whose prize prostitute, Natasia (Theodora Tzimou), also a Russian immigrant, is expected to have 30 to 40 clients a day. Giorgos, who has grown tired of Natasia, plans to sell her to some other pimps. While waiting for a deal to be consummated, he turns her over to Sasha for short-term management. Disastrously, Sasha falls in love with her.
”From the Edge of the City” tells its story in random flashes that capture the fragmented uncertainty of Sasha’s day-to-day life. But in striving for a semi-cinema-verite ease, it loses track of its characters as it rambles from scene to scene. Even so, it captures a gritty urban reality without moralizing or sentimentalizing its hapless young protagonist.
The “Edge of the City” means Menidi, a poor suburb on the edge of pulsating Athens (the city). Menidi harbours many Cosssack Greeks. They are also called “pontios”, ethnic Greeks from the Black Sea dispersed through the ex-Southern Soviet Union in the Stalin era. The “pontios” have returned to Greece en masse after the demise of the USSR. The parents speak mostly Greek, but the teenage children speak a hybrid Russian-Greek language which reflects their lack of identity and marginalization in Greece’s highly xenophobic society (the only EU country where no minorities exist!…officially). The teenagers’ marginalization leads them to the core of the film’s theme: the lives of petty crime and prostitution which these second or third class Greeks lead. Their camaraderie, the way they mock each others’ dealing in homosexuality, their sexual and criminal exploitation by rich Greeks, their own exploitation of prostitutes, sexual and moral ambiguity all lead to the film’s defining!
Also known as:Apo tin akri tis polis ( – original title), Am Rande der Stadt (Germany), Au bout de la ville (France), Garçons d’Athènes (France), From the Edge of the City (UK), A város peremén (Hungary), Città nuda (Italy), From the Edge of the City (USA),
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