Friday, September 18, 2009

Eden is West's pedestrian offering

Eden is West (Eden à l'Ouest) is a pedestrian offering from director Costa-Gavras and not just because the protagonist is heading across Europe on foot. The film is a far cry from his early greats such as Z. and Missing.

Illegal immigrant Elias is searching for his Eden after washing up at an Aegean resort. He sets off to Paris on a so-called Odyssey. For the most part his temptresses and monsters are a fairly lack lustre bunch. The villains of modern capitalism and consumersim are stereotypes and most of the lessons of this fable lack any subtly. Apart from the occasional rip-off merchant and refugee exploiter, our gallant hero mostly encounters generosity and kindness.

Perhaps the most poignant moments come from the juxtaposition of rich German tourist Christina (Juliane Köhler) and poor Greek peasant Sophia (Dina Mihailidou).

Riccardo Scamarcio as Elias is a real charmer who does innocence very effectively. He's a curly-haired Tony Curtis. He manages to carry off a lot of very ordinary slapstick and revels in non-verbal interactions. Unfortunately his character's naivete is just one of several weaknesses in the screenplay. Elias is a generic refugee from an unnamed country whose religion and other cultural background are not presented. He is implicitly Muslim since he is shocked at first by nudity, alcohol and gratuitous sex. He's a fast learner.

There is a quirky, self-indulgent series of scenes with film crews in the background that adds little to the story or experience.

Despite the seriousness of its underlying themes, we are presented a cheery, optimistic view of humanity. Sadly the plight of refugees becomes submerged in its 'life is beautiful' message.

As an allegory about modern Western society it lacks punch. The film is a confused mix of comedy, drama, social satire and farce. It just isn't going anywhere.

The ending just doesn't do it either. It will take more than magic to change the inequities of modern civilisation or resolve a directionless plot.

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