MOVIE REVIEW: Worlds Apart

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An unseen man approaches a librarian with a book that gives him pause.  A homeless street merchant rescues a woman being assaulted at night.  An older man in debt is forced to sell his car due to hard economic times.  These stories take place in the Greece of today, a proud and embattled country that has become the poster child of the European debt crisis.  With strong roots in this social commentary, the international film “Worlds Apart” offers hope by weaving stories of love through this connected triptych.

Directed by Christoforos “Christopher” Papakaliatis, “Worlds Apart” presents three narratives and three different flavors of passion.  Each surrounds a Greek native in a burgeoning romantic relationship with an immigrant from another land.  Thematically, all that transpires in the film riffs on recurring imagery and commonality with the mythical story of Eros, the Greek god of love.  Layering a topical worldview tinged with allegory every step of the way, “Worlds Apart” is a mature and beguiling romantic drama.

The first chapter follows Daphne (newcomer Niki Vakali) and Farris (Tawfeek Barhom of “A Borrowed Identity”) in a Greek nation that has become a close, but sometimes unwelcoming, landing place for refugees of the Middle Eastern crisis looking for asylum.  Daphne was the assault victim who begins to gravitate to her benevolent and passionate rescuer, a homeless refugee from the Syrian Civil War hoping to gain passage to Canada.  The forbidden romance is plainly in the cross-hairs of police opposition to the clustered and armed refugees.=

In the middle section, a one-night stand occurs between two strangers, the loquacious local named Giorgios (Papakaliatis himself) and the tightly-wound Elise (Hungarian star Andrea Osvart of “Aftershock”), who interact as a posh bar.  She is a visiting high-powered executive from Sweden sent to clean house at white-collar company tabbed for takeover.  He is a husband and father with problems at home that call for antidepressants.  Their torrid affair is escapism with entanglements stemming from her steely inflexibility and his weaknesses of character.

Finally, a German historian named Sebastian (Oscar winner J.K. Simmons, quite the get) is an adorably smitten single man courting Maria (Maria Kavoyianni), a mildly unruly and unhappy housewife to a policeman (the late Minas Hatzisavvas).  They cross paths weekly at the local supermarket.  Sebastian is a man of knowledge and culture who longs to share history with a woman of faith who still clings to her country’s heritage that she feels is missing in this turbulent modern era.

The ensemble comprising the principal players of the three story arcs put forth noticeable dedication and sound chemistry.  The inexperience and innocence conveyed by Vakali and Barhom open the film with hope amid constant fear.  Osvart’s section jumps to the top socioeconomic class only to reveal equal stakes of fear and passion.  “Worlds Apart” saved the best for last with the incomparable J.K. Simmons commanding the final phase.  Like a soothing tonic, the “Whiplash” star exhibits a restrained, yet frank charm that stands as a departure to the hothead roles that have won him awards and mainstream acclaim lately.

“Worlds Apart” earns the investment required of its audience to observe the building of bonds that may or may not be set up to be broken.  The film’s stories may take place in the same turmoil and share fabled fingerprints.  However, they smartly differ in tone, age, and cadence, shifting from youthful spirit up to elegant sophistication and back down to quaint maturity.  There is an unmistakable intrigue to such uncertainty.  Compliments for patient storytelling are due to Christopher Papakaliatis for channeling his own screenplay into its finished and crafted form as a film.  

As the stories of “Worlds Apart” develop and reach the need for resolution, the skins of their facades are peeled back revealing intentional connective tendons underneath.  Some of those revealed links and associations present coincidental serendipity and others create greater complications with consequences.  Character ties are revealed that elevate the film from what initially appeared to be a loose anthology (akin to something like “Certain Women”) into something that reaches and cuts deeper.  

LESSON #1: LOVE KNOWS NOT OF ECONOMIC MISFORTUNE-- Cruel financial politics and dire socioeconomic circumstances beset each chapter and couple, in some way, shape, or form.  It doesn’t matter because love transcends bank account balances, material possessions, or the color of your collar.  Love is not bound by stereotypes or status.

LESSON #2: SOCIETY CAN CHALLENGE LOVE-- Each of these stories are about a native citizen falling in love with a temporary foreigner.  There are visible and invisible societal barriers, both large (culture) and small (family), that can push couples of mixed or opposing heritages apart.  The differences shouldn’t matter, but hostility and non-acceptance are still present.

LESSON #3: THE STORY OF EROS IN OUR LIVES-- The mythical origin of the Greek god of love (later adopted as Cupid by the Romans) tried to symbolize an explanation to the randomness of falling in love.  A nearly infinite alignment of lucky factors lead to the right places and the right times when people connect and chemistry begins.  We never know when or how love will strike, but, we do feel it when we miss it, embodied by memory’s hindsight of lost loves and second chances.