A Portrait of Athens

Film review of Argyris Papadimitropoulos and Jan Vogel’s “Wasted Youth” (Greece, 2011)

Wasted Youth more often feels like a borderline documentary than a narrative drama. The film takes a bold voyeuristic approach in chronicling a day in the lives of two people: a young teenage boy whose only escape from nihilism is his passion for skateboarding, and a middle-aged police officer who suffers from a bleak depression. In theory, these two characters have the ability to captivate an audience. However, because the storyline that they navigate is thin and the pace of the film itself is unrelievedly slow, the dramatic elements rarely break the surface. It becomes difficult to emotionally engage with the characters because the events of their lives are quotidian in a manner that feels superfluous and the conversations often devoid of meaning. In this manner, the film is distancing. The intimacy of the documentary approach somehow works against the characters in Wasted Youth, presenting them as specimens rather than people. As a result, neither empathy for the characters nor dramatic tension is sustained well enough to propel the audience into the climax, which is jarring and ultimately feels undeserved.

The film is successful not in its dramatic elements, its narrative, or its characters, but in its embodiment of a mood. Though I have never visited Athens, after watching this film I feel that I have. The gritty texture of a city in hard times comes through beautifully. In conjunction with this mood, the film also succeeds in conveying a very strong style. Through the realism inherent in the hand-held cinematography and natural lighting, a portrait of a struggling Athens in the midst of a heat wave that breeds insanity and discontent emerges. In the end, the character that most resounded with me was not the teenager or the cop; it was Athens itself. 

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