Amerika Square (2016): Greek Yannis Sakaridis’s Tale of Illegal Immigration and Strange Friendship

Essentially a grim, downbeat illegal-immigrant story, Amerika Square (Plateia Amerikis), directed by Yannis Sakaridis, won the FIPRESCI (International Federation of  Film Critics) award in Thessaloniki.

Sakaridis made his directing debut with Wild Duck (2013), a phone-hacking thriller with political overtones. In his second feature, he goes for a wider canvas and more relevant tale about how Europe responded (or did not respond) to the painful issue of immigration.

By centering on a liberal and a racist-xenophobe, he shows friends who differ in their approach to immigration, regardless of class.

Nako (Makis Papadimitriou) is a frustrated, unemployed man who still lives at home with his parents. Their building is populated by various residents who, he believes, destroy the whole neighborhood, though they seem to be practical and friendly.

Unable to find a job, he plans to make homemade bread with strychnine and put it in garbage cans to fool hungry and homeless immigrants.

Nako has a casual friendship with the tattoo artist Billy (Yannis Stankoglou), though he’s also biased about tattoos. Billy falls for a pretty African nightclub singer (Ksenia Dania), which irritates her gangster protector. When he later tattoos “Refuse to Sink,” over the girl’s fading “Property of Mike,” he shows signs of progress.

Then there is Tarek (Vassilis Kukalani), a middle-class Syrian running from the war with his daughter, aiming for Germany. Due to circumstances, which cannot be described here, he is separated from his daughter when clashing with the authorities.

Nako and Tarek represent two opposing personalities, and it’s a testament to the complex and unresolvable nature of the increasingly grave situation that the director opts for sort of a mythic but unsatisfying resolution to his other wise realistic saga.

The narrative is punctuated by subjective voiceovers, which interweaves the stories, some of which laced with sardonic humor and irony, even if they sometimes create unnecessary detachment between the viewers and the rather intriguing drama.

Greek film with English subtitles.