Small Crime (Mikro eglima)
Greece/Cyprus (2008) Dir. Christos Georgiou
I’ve only seen a few Greek films and they have all been dour, challenging dramas or pitch black, borderline arcane comedies. So this second feature film from English born Cypriot TV director Christos Georgiou is a gentle and amiable comedy that couldn’t be any more accessible if it tried. Shame it’s so far under the radar for most film fans.
Set on a remote sleepy Aegean island Leonidas (Aris Servetalis) is a young police officer who would rather be chasing crime in Athens than taking lip from the locals with their un-roadworthy cars. One morning, the town drunkard and former football hero Zacharias (Antonis Katsaris) is found dead at the bottom of a rocky cliff, suspected to be a simple accident.
On the same night this occurred, famous morning TV presenter Aggeliki Pleiades (Viki Papadopoulou) and the island’s favourite daughter arrives home. Unlike the police chief, Aggeliki, who was close to Zacharias, doesn’t think his death was an accident and nor do many of the locals, each own with their own theories of what happened. But it is enough for Leonidas to finally get his big investigation.
Because this film is such an obscurity outside of its native Greece and (believe it or not) Germany information about it and its director is scarce, so it is both refreshing yet daunting to approach this almost blindfolded. Having no precedent for points of reference or many English language reviews to compare to and learn from, expectations are set to “curious”.
It’s a low budget affair but that is part of its charm, allowing the sun kissed location of the Island of Therasia to tempt us into sticking around while the story is fairly straight forward, suffused with gentle slice-of-life humour. Leonidas wants to be taken seriously as a policeman but his rusty old scooter, makeshift siren (a megaphone and toy alarm) and general lack of respect from the townsfolk puts paid to this.
With a daily routine of coffee and custard tart whilst watching Aggeliki’s TV show with the other locals at the café/B&B owned by Antigone (Eleni Kokkidou) followed by shouting at nudist holiday maker to put their clothes on, it is no wonder Leonidas is so professionally unfulfilled. But even with Zacharias’ death, motives and rational theories as to what happened threaten to derail his investigation.
Death isn’t easy to get comic mileage out of but Georgiou manages to do so by delving into Leonidas’ overactive imagination every time someone proffers their own idea of what happened. The fateful scene is re-enacted as Leonidas visually interprets each crazy but plausible idea – from being shot with a Super Soaker gun to being hunted down by an American task force!
Slipping into black comedy farce territory, the island’s remote shortcomings are played for laughs in the handling of the corpse. With no hospital to speak of, the body is carted about in a wheelbarrow then left to be preserved in an ice cream cabinet – except Leonidas turns it up too much resulting in a human sized Popsicle. Later on Leonidas is forced to make do with the most unlikely makeshift hidden wire trap for more giggles.
Aggeliki’s return to her home island on the same night is purely coincidental, arriving 24 hours after she won a TV award. She should be happy but something is troubling her and her possessive mother Victoria (Vangelio Andreadaki) wants to keep Aggeliki to herself. Leonidas, like everyone else on the island, is smitten with Aggeliki but gets to her know her on a professional level, before the inevitable romance blossoms along with a working partnership to uncover the truth behind Zacharias’s death.
The murder investigation is in fact a clever tool for Georgiou to explore the old favourite theme of small community mentality. There is some gallows humour in how the locals aren’t distraught by this tragedy, more consumed with concocting wild theories as to what happened, or gossiping about an apparent impending marriage after seeing Leonidas and Aggeliki together.
Without giving too much away, the big reveal behind the attempts to throw Leonidas off the scent is a direct result of this close-minded community thinking, exposing both its altruism and its folly in one foul swoop. The rare occurrence of a big secret being kept in a town were everyone knows everyone else’s business also plays a part in reflecting the tenet of local pride, in this case at quite a cost.
Usually this setting invites a cast of quirky characters and the locals are no different, presenting to us a group of personable, laconic busybodies, unaffected by the world at large yet suffocated by their geographical insularity. While some are familiar tropes beholden to the scenario, being Greek makes their personalities and attitudes all the more fascinating to watch, as well as creating unique comic moments.
Superbly and naturally acted by everyone the two leads are naturally given the most room to build their characters. Leonidas may look like a lost cause but it isn’t for the lack of trying to take his job seriously and be transferred to Athens. He is posited as the equivalent of the lone brainy child in a family of idiots but also know that home is home. Aris Servetalis’s slight frame makes him a comic figure physically but the heart and pathos behind the facade is deftly played.
In the case of Aggeliki, she arrives on the island every inch the glamorous TV star but one night under her mother’s roof and this image is discarded for that of a spoiled brat but for different reasons as we later find out. Viki Papadopoulou is chameleon like in how the heavy showbiz make-up literally makes Aggeliki a different person from the grounded and much more likeable girl searching for answers.
Boasting a smarter story that its gentle tone suggests and inviting vistas of the Greek islands, the only Small Crime is that this delightful little distraction isn’t more widely known.