Cannes Review: Xenia

It’s tough being a homosexual half-Algerian teenager looking for his estranged father in modern Greece, even without racial tensions rising and fascists roaming the streets looking for a fight.

Disappearing into his own fantasies after losing his mother, Dany is a colourful youth who picks up money by servicing the sexual needs of a wealthy older man. After his mother dies, Dany decides to make the trip from Crete to Athens in order to find his older brother Ody. Their Algerian mother referred to their Greek father only as ‘The Unspeakable’ but now with Ody facing the possibility of deportation, the pair set forth on a journey with two goals. Dany wants Ody to enter ‘Greek Star’, a reality television singing contest with a big prize and both boys want to find the father who walked out on them at an early age and force him to acknowledge their existence.

Along the way, Dany gets in serious trouble with some homophobic youths, Ody celebrates his 18th birthday and meets a female fellow singer and they brothers find out that their father is a wealthy far right politician. With Dany living in an almost perpetual daydream, carrying a gun around and determined to face his father no matter what the consequences are, their journey is not going to be an all singing, all dancing adventure with a happy ending.

However, Xenia is filled with plenty of dancing and singing along the way to its dramatic conclusion. The vividly costumed Dany is a camp, colourful but damaged individual. Permanently sucking on a lollipop and cradling his pet rabbit, he is as sweet as the sugar he constantly craves. Though he might appear harmless, Dany can be dangerous and he keeps the plot moving forward compared to his more laidback brother. Ody on the other hand is more rational and an interesting contrast to his younger brother. Their bond is strong despite their differences and as they travel to a showdown with their father, their relationship goes through ups and downs from fights to choreographed dance routines they have practiced since being children.

With two different cultures and languages to choose from, the brothers are left without a sense of true belonging anywhere. This shows in Dany’s desperate desire for a father figure which emerges in his fantasies. From singing cruise ship stars to lying curled up like a baby on the hairy chest of a giant man, Dany’s mind is an odd place to explore but enlivens the film with wackier elements. Xenia deals with racial/sexual tensions in modern Greece but also dips out of reality for a number of these surreal sequences. The melodramatic elements are tempered by these forays into fantasy, the best, strangest and funniest of which sees Dany imagine a host of wildlife watching as he floats down a river, including a stuffed toy whose head won’t stop falling off.

It’s a weird film for sure with plenty of indulgent moments that simply celebrate the camp of the characters. Ody’s quest to get into Greek Star is rightly sidelined in favour of the more involving climax with the boys’ father. It never feels believable that Dany would be carrying a gun so its inclusion as an increasingly important part of the drama is questionable. However, it does add a welcome level of threat and danger to the film which could have turned into a Greek soap opera complete with terrible acting, shaky sets and actors passionately shouting at one another in painful close up.

Xenia is not strong enough to win awards but its unique central characters will certainly appeal to its target, but probably niche demographic. With an uneven tone that walks a tightrope between outrageous comedy and hard hitting drama, it never fully succeeds as either.


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Pete Turner is a Senior Reporter