Fantasia Review: There Might Be a Good Movie Buried Somewhere in 'The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea' Directed by Syllas Tzoumerkas
Starring Angeliki Papoulia, Youla Boudali and Hristos Passalis
Published Aug 02, 2019Thanks to the efforts of Athina Rachel Tsangari, Alexandros Avranas and, of course, Yorgos Lanthimos, the New Greek Wave of cinema has offered an incredibly fruitful run of films. With The Miracle of Sargasso Sea, however, it's beginning to feel like a genre on autopilot.
Director Syllas Tzoumerkas has assembled a strong enough cast — including Angeliki Papoulia (star of Lanthimos's Dogtooth and Alps, in addition to an appearance in The Lobster) — and made the most of his lush, western Greece setting with stunning cinematography. Somewhere along the way, however, he forgot to cobble together a coherent movie.
To be sure, The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea is attempting to toe the same surrealist line between coherence and incoherence that Nicolas Winding Refn has mastered (although, depending on who you ask, he also might suck as a director). There's a loose plot that slowly comes close to making sense by the end, but it's interrupted with pretentious dream sequences, references to Greek tragedies and other digressions that keep the confusion running high.
If you focus really hard, you'll figure out that Papoulia stars as Elisabeth, a high-ranking police chief who has been demoted from Athens to Messolonghi, a small town in the middle of nowhere. To foreign audiences, it's a fascinating look at a different way of life, but make no mistake — whether it's Papoulia's fault or Tzoumerkas's from the director's chair, Elisabeth is a cartoonish caricature of a grizzled, substance-abusing cop with a chip on her shoulder.
Running parallel to her story, Rita (Youla Boudali) is moping around as she deals with horrible flashbacks and puts up with her drug-addicted playboy brother Manolis (Hristos Passalis, also of Dogtooth).
It takes forever for the two storylines to converge, and along the way there are numerous bad jokes, ridiculous quirks (a painfully long musical number from Manolis comes to mind) and confusing moments of surrealism. Then, when everything does come together, it's all built around incredibly disturbing (and graphic) sexual imagery and harsh violence. The film tries to utilize every tone imaginable throughout its two-hour runtime, managing to be both boring and incredibly disturbing.
The number of impressive films from the region has made "Greek New Wave" a sort of shorthand for quality, but The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea suggests the micro-genre's success has resulted in hubris. If you squint hard enough, you can find a half-decent thriller in the film, but it's mostly a mess.