Common Denominator's reliance upon simile and setting lay the foundation for a movie both obvious and trite.
“Life is like coffee,” declares Common Denominator (Koinos paronomastis) with its opening line of narration, going on to explain the ways in which everyone’s favourite brew compares with human existence. It’s a Forrest Gump-style expression of supposedly universal sentiment, setting the tone for a feature that endeavours to relate everything back to the simple statement. Indeed, after zooming down from high above the earth, the film that follows takes places solely in a small café to underscore the connection; however clumsy attempts at wisdom and a convenient locale don’t instantly impart insight. Here, the simile and the setting lay the foundation not for revelations, but for a movie both obvious and trite.
Platonas – pointedly nicknamed Mr. Plato (Antonis Antoniou, The Flight of the Swan) – is the establishment’s proprietor, a 70-year-old widowed single father who has devoted his life to his now adult daughter, Andriana (Markella Giannatou, The Bride), and his humble business. His is the type of place where the hours while away in the company of his constant canine companion, and where regulars (Immaturi - Il viaggio’s Thanassis Nakos and Frost’s Thanos Papadopoulos) bicker over a long-running chess game. Then, into his green-hued shop steps Nikos (Vladimiros Kiriakidis, Pempti & 12), Alexandros (Pigmalion Dadakaridis, Ziteitai pseftis) and Dimitris (Renos Haralambidis, The Sentimentalists), and a conversation about women, love and happiness begins. Each there to meet the object of their affection, as they wait they argue and exchange opinions, their discussion circling around their perceptions of the fairer sex.
Yes, following an oft-seen formula, Common Denominator solely focused on men discussing relationships and romance. Each of the key quartet symbolises an ideological position: Nikos spits venom and relies upon name calling, Alexandros speaks of enthusiasm and dreams, Dimitris realises the chasm between fantasy and reality, and Plato weighs in as the adjudicator, imparting his paternal experience. As they chat, Nikos asks “am I in a coffee shop or the philosophy department,” and his complaint is true of the surrounding film. Their dialogue stems not from reality, but from debut writer/director Sotiris Tsafoulias’ desire to present and probe traditional attitudes.
The title is telling, and though the feature wavers in content and execution – especially when a late revelation acts to reinforce stereotypes and force the characters to reassess their ideals – its aims are ambitious, even if they don’t completely come to fruition. Broad performances hardly help, with the entire cast asked to do little more than inhabit their one-note characters without an ounce of nuance or naturalism. Such lack of subtlety is disappointing in an effort that blatantly tries to dissect roles and reactions, as well challenge the way people are seen by others, but allows its actors little chance to embody this intention.
Set entirely within modest confines clearly the result of the movie’s low-budget origins, optimistically designed to further a homespun atmosphere, but increasingly feeling claustrophobic, Common Denominator is also an aesthetically stilted offering. With the air of a play, it is content to look at its talent rather than create a story with its visuals, as accompanied by a melodramatic score. It’s a technique that works when the material is immersive and compelling in its own right; however here the drab imagery and excessive music cues enunciate the missteps in the talk-fuelled narrative. Just as the way people are perceived isn’t necessarily the way they are, as the film’s core thesis tells, having something to say in a feature isn’t the same as knowing how to say it.
Rating; 2 stars out of 5
Common Denominator (Koinos paronomastis)
Director: Sotiris Tsafoulias
Greece, 2014, 80 mins
Greek Film Festival
Sydney: 14 October – 2 November
Melbourne: 15 October – 2 November
Brisbane: 30 October – 2 November
Perth: 20 – 23 November