Couldn’t they have just sent us a postcard?
Following in the footsteps of those overrated paeans to teenage male angst, Hate and Trainspotting (with a dash of My Own Private Idaho), Constantinos Giannaris’s From the Edge of the City is an anti-travelogue to a little-known (at least to us Westerners) corner of Eastern European chaos: the sad lives of Athens’ immigrant rent boys. These boys – and a few girls – are double outsiders. They’re Pontoi (Russian immigrants of Greek descent from the Black Sea area), reviled by the locals but higher on the social scale than the Albanians, one of the many targets of their ire. They’re also drug-swilling male whores and pimps, who in the tribal manner common to teenagers everywhere have replaced their boring biological families with their friends, all of whom are in various states of physical and psychic disrepair.
At the center of this grim group is Sasha (Stathis Papadopoulos), a hunky 17-year-old part-time construction worker and prostitute (since age 13) whose Greek-god looks and sculptured flesh – seen from every possible angle and every state of undress – should land him a prime spot in the next Abercrombie & Fitch campaign. Sasha’s surrounded by all kinds of horrors common to neo-realist netherworlds: a father who slaps him around, a mother who weeps, junkie pals, and whores with black eyes. One of his best friends is Giorgos (Dimitris Papadoulidis), an older pimp (maybe 20) who struts around in tight black t-shirts and thoughtfully lets Sasha have his prize whore, Natasha (Theodora Tzimou), so that he (Giorgos) can buy another, perhaps less bruised one.
In addition to Sasha and Giorgos, there’s a group of back-up boys and girls whose lives are briefly limned. The best of this ragged lot is the only real gay character, Panagioti, who at least sets the homophobic Sasha straight, so to speak, on the subject of their evening occupation. Fearing, rightly, that Panagioti’s become so enamored of one of his patrons that he’s getting fucked, Sasha says “You’re a rent boy, not a faggot who takes it up the ass.” Panagioti, at once more romantic and cynical than his brainless pal, simply replies, “Get with it. What’s the difference?”
From the Edge of the City purports to be an insider view of a tribal urban culture, and there’s enough of the minutiae of these limited lives to credit it as such. But it’s impossible to care much for these self-absorbed brats. For some viewers it will work best as a tantalizing male flesh parade – like all those Eastern European porn flicks without the sex. Sasha’s interest in boxing, for example, seems to come out of nowhere, simply an excuse to strip him down. A shower scene with Sasha and Giorgos is equally gratuitous, though one can hardly complain (given the high quality of the flesh) except to say that what’s hinted at – a soapy rubdown ending in a hot fuck – never materializes.
On the plus side, some of the dialogue has a gutter charm well suited to the subject. During one of Sasha and Natasha’s jaunts through town, their bile-spewing cabbie neatly summarizes the film’s worldview: “You go to a whorehouse and all you fuck is imported cunt. You want Greek pussy, you gotta mortgage your fucking house.” There are also a couple of sequences that resonate nicely. One occurs when Sasha and a pal dance in a dark mini-amphitheatre deserted except for the small, huddled-together group of friends. This understated moment says everything about the boys’ aspirations without resorting to the endless visual trickery that afflicts much of the film.
This trickery saturates the film, everything from zooms and zip pans to blackouts that chop a scene to bits. Most annoying is a methed-up camera that tears through the landscape so fast the background becomes a blur, ultimately exhausting the eye. In one scene that would warm the heart of Ed Wood, Panagioti is standing with a trick in the latter’s plush living room, looking at the beautiful ocean view. Suddenly he disappears, literally popping off the screen. This kind of cartoonish touch makes it hard to take the film as seriously as it apparently wants to be.
Director Giannaris, queer and a former male hustler himself, started out to make a documentary but eventually opted for a quasi-fictional feature. Quasi because many of the actors are amateurs (obviously), the locations real (a seedy section of Athens, mostly). One “real” touch he retained are the interview sequences between himself and Sasha that interrupt the herky-jerky plot. These scenes attempt to bring the reality of the boys’ lives into sharp focus, but Papadopoulos has a facial repertoire confined to two expressions, really two variants on wide-eyed surprise. Even when he’s being pummeled by Daddy or Giorgos, or when he’s dancing or boxing or fucking, he stares blankly ahead, his face unyielding as concrete. The director’s attempts to probe him with philosophical questions like “Is it ever possible to love a whore?” and “Do you ever leave a place, or do you always carry it with you?” elicit reactions quite invisible to at least this naked eye.