For all those who have been asking, “When is there ever going to be a Greek version of Leon: The Professional?” please take note. Your wait is over. While not a remake of the 1994 movie starring Jean Reno, who takes in and protects a pint-sized Natalie Portman, To Mikro Psari (Stratos) has the same central dynamic of aging hit man and endangered young girl. Director Yannis Economides film is quiet, meditative, and one could even say, mannered, in comparison to Luc Besson’s hyperkinetic full throttle bullet blitz.
Vangelis Mourikis plays Stratos, the killer-for-hire here, and he is as laconic as the Mediterranean summer day is long. His hangdog look is all the characterization needed to convince the viewer that this man has seen the ass end of life inside and outside of a prison. Now, he works at a bakery at night and shoots people by day. No information is given to him or the audience as to the reason for each killing. What held for Joubert, the assassin in Three Days of the Condor so wonderfully portrayed by Max Von Sydow, also holds for Stratos, “I don’t interest myself in why. I think more often in terms of when, sometimes where, always how much.”
Yet, Stratos is not a mere mercenary; he is a man of principle and honor. The money he earns goes toward the escape from prison of a man who once saved his life. In his spare time, Stratos looks in on the young girl who lives across the street, her prostitute mother, and her lowlife uncle, while keeping a local mobster at arm’s length. This status quo dissolves in an instant, exposing Stratos to the world as it is and not what he imagined it to be, and the question becomes whether he can adjust to the new reality and retain his principles.
To Mikro Psari can be taken as an allegory for the dire economic situation Greece finds itself in. Certainly, Stratos represents the traditional Greek people: principled, hardworking, and appreciative of his culture. In response to a lifetime of doing his job faithfully, he finds out that all his efforts have been for naught. What he was told, what he believed, what he sacrificed for is a sham. At the same time, others are willing to prostitute themselves and their children for money. The moral fabric of the society has unwoven. Groups of three in the movie are often threats to Stratos – which is how many Greeks feel about the so-called “Troika” (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) that visits the country periodically. Hope here is as ephemeral as a politician’s promise.
The film, which screened in the Competition section at the 64th Berlinale Film Festival in February, is not always an easy watch. There is paced repetition in the dialogue and between scenes. The runtime of 137 minutes will strike some as too long. Others will accept the deliberate pacing. In To Mikro Psari, retribution comes one bullet at a time, and redemption is a mirage.
Two and a half stars.