Moonwalk with Me
Like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, a youngster takes center stage in Hard Goodbyes: My Father. This time, instead of a daughter, it's a devoted son who idolizes the father -- but with similar heart-tugging results. Giorgos Karayannis, as 10-year-old Elias, is a marvel in this touching Greek drama directed and written by Penny Panayotopoulou. With his stern facial expressions and wiry body language, this talented lad won my admiration for carrying an entire movie on his tiny shoulders. On second thought, that's not a fair statement. The other cast members also deliver excellent performances, but little Karayannis appears in practically every scene and I couldn't take my eyes off him.
Elias loves to play with his often absent father (Stelios Mainas) and looks forward to the chocolate bars his dad brings him upon returning home from various sales trips. The film takes place in 1969, so Elias gets excited while talking with his father about the upcoming moon landing and enjoys listening to him read from the works of Jules Verne. He hates it when his mom (Ioanna Tsirigouli) argues with his dad -- almost as much as when his father leaves to take care of his sales route.
In a couple of delightful sequences at the beginning of the film, director Panayotopoulou does a masterful job of establishing the close relationship between Elias and his father. I think that's one reason we accept the boy's extremely bizarre behavior after being told he will never see his father again. (Karayannis' convincing acting is the other reason.) Refusing to believe his father is gone forever, Elias enters a world of his own -- and this part of the movie emerges as the most effective depiction of denial I've ever seen on film. The boy's mother, big brother (Chistos Bougiotas), and godfather/uncle (Christos Stergiogou) do everything they can think of to bring Elias back into the world of reality, but to no avail.
However, on the night of the televised moon landing, everything changes for Elias. He and his father had promised each other they would watch this broadcast together -- and they do, in a strange way. I can't reveal how, but I will tell you it's a stunner.
In describing why she decided to make such a unique movie, filmmaker Panayotopoulou says, “I made this film because I felt real pain for all those things we lose as we grow up, pain that I wanted to soothe by telling a story. I created a real hero out of an innocent little person whose longing would lead him to free himself from every adult pact with everyday life, taking the giant step, the first in his life, to rocket to the stars, there where gravity would no longer have any importance.”
I’m not surprised this movie won the Interfaith Award at the 2004 St. Louis International Film Festival. The award recognizes a film for “its artistic merit, contribution to the understanding of the human condition and recognition of ethical, social and spiritual values.” Hard Goodbyes: My Father certainly deserves such an honor.
(Opens on February 4, 2005, at Denver’s Regency Tamarac Square Cinemas. Released by Sipapu Films; not rated by MPAA.)