Words by

Marina Ashioti

Animal – first-look review

Dimitra Vlagopoulou gives a knockout performance in Sofia Exarchou's resort-set second feature about a group of seasonal performers.

Hotel Mirage is an all-inclusive resort on an unnamed Greek island that provides the backdrop to Sofia Exarchou’s second feature. Day in, day out, a group of hardworking animateurs are tasked with performing for the hotel’s guests, ensuring their constant entertainment. Performing monkeys of the seasonal variety. Though carefully depicting the labour conditions and stark class contrasts that become apparent within such arrangements, the film is more committed to delineating a detailed, affecting portrait of its central figure.

As Exarchou delves into the inner workings of this carnivalesque troupe made up of seasonal performers hailing from Greece and Eastern Europe, it becomes clear that this is a constellation that depends on the big star in the middle: Kalia (Dimitra Vlagopoulou), one of the resort’s main entertainers and a veteran of the trade. It’s only fair – she soaks up every ray of the spotlight, and at times evokes the grunge-glam, tough-guy energy of Greek pop icon Anna Vissi (albeit looking and sounding nothing like the popular singer). This will have unofficially been Kalia’s seventeenth year at the rodeo, and she’s grown more than accustomed to putting on a show the only way she has ever known how, over and over again.

A considerable chunk of the film is spent in a repetitive loop, with time being spent rehearsing and performing the same set of routines, or “sketches” as the animateurs call them. When they’re not working, they drink themselves silly.

With the arrival of some newcomers to the troupe, Kalia begins to gravitate towards seventeen-year-old Eva (Flomaria Papadaki) from Poland, whom she takes under her wing, showing her the ropes: Stuff your bra with as much padding as possible. Dance. Drink. Sing. Smile. Fuck. Party. Perform. We spend much less time with Eva. Her slightly undercooked characterisation serves more as an uneasy foreshadowing of the way the seasonal entertainment cookie will eventually crumble for a woman like Kalia.

When a drunken encounter with an Austrian tourist in a dingy motel room allows Kalia to become vulnerable, she likens herself to a jukebox: “Everything you can imagine. You want Oriental? You want a sexy thing? Traditional? You order, I dance. Jukebox”. Her final performance of Baccara’s ’70s hit ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ at a karaoke bar is enough to elicit goosebumps. Vlagopoulou’s performance here is truly something to behold. She takes us through her character’s emotional peaks and troughs with raw intensity and naturalism – coupled with expert editing and sound design, Exarchou proves that a film with a configuration as simple as this can reach a whole new dimension of emotional resonance.

Published 4 Aug 2023

Tags: Animal Greek Cinema Sofia Exarchou

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