More Than Meets The Mogwai

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Niko Nikolaidis' LOSER TAKES ALL (2002)

Greek filmmaker Nikos G. Nikolaidis shook off this mortal coil in the year 2007, a full five years and one film later than 2002’s LOSER TAKES ALL [O Harmenos ta pairnei ola], but you’d never know it by the way this second-last film feels, at times, like both a dialogue with death and a thematic summation of an off-kilter career that’s been mostly misunderstood (and largely unknown to anyone but cultists) because of its frank handling of sexual perversions and kinks (1993’s perhaps overrated SINGAPORE SLING being his most well-known effort). On the other hand, LOSER TAKES ALL is a low-key crime picture, timid in areas in which Nikolaidis usually doesn’t seem prudish, but fluent in the language and poetry of crime film forebears like Fuller and De Toth. The only comparison to a modern director I could make would be Abel Ferrara -- superficial grit and offbeat qualities that mask a deeper understanding of the ways in which the world turns for those vaguely vagabond and criminally-inclined members of its populace.

Coming to terms with his inevitable, impending death is our lower-dregs, David Goodis-esque anti-hero, simply referred to as The Man (rocker Giannis Angelakas, from the rock group Trypes, [unheard by me]); he’s a small time, hard-drinking ladies man who's perfectly content in carousing his way into oblivion before his friendship with a guitar-playing young man renews his sense of purpose and vigor. In a way, Little Boy (Simeon Nikolaidis, who I assume, but am not certain, is Nikolaidis’ own son) is the mirror-image of who The Man was that age (roughly late-twenties). The two meet at the apartment of one of The Man’s former lovers -- she’s allowing the down-on-his-luck Man to spend the night on the couch while she herself engages in a session of lovemaking with the younger version (later, The Man seduces Little Boy’s pretty young thing of a girlfriend). In the wee hours of the night before and the morning after, the two sides of this same persona bond over a simple melody, featuring a telling bit of fatally simplistic, but lyrical poetry (sung in English):

“Things are gonna change, I heard
But, by that time, I’m probably gonna be dead”

It’s eloquently sung and referred to throughout the entire picture, as the two men get progressively drunker, sleep around, and become mixed up with scams, prostitutes (the sex scenes feel perfuntory, somehow remaining rough on-the-surface yet innately tame, as if Nikolaidis is going through the motions of what’s come to be expected of him), and gangsters. The song – and those lyrics – are repeated time and time again, taking on the guises of both a cry for help and a comforting mantra, a dirge for their wasted, ravished lives.

It doesn’t end well for either man, but the final sequence and acceptance of The Man’s death is splendidly elegiac. He rests on some apartment steps after being chased away by the law, idly strumming along while singing the aforementioned, oft-repeated refrain. He’s alone, but soon sees the ghostly spirit of Little Boy across from him (with what appears to be a seedy underbelly-version of pearly gates screen-right), encouraging him to play along by plucking his own acoustic guitar just as he forgets the melody. The Man walks over to join him in the shot after several linking dissolves, as Nikolaidis makes it clear, even without directly referring to or showing the law enforcement closing in, that The Man has finally crossed over and has joined his pal in whatever peculiar version of the afterlife awaits them. The film fades out and the song abruptly ceases...

Simeon Nikolaidis - "Wonderful World"

Barroom Scene from LOSER TAKES ALL (love the party-favour bit player):


Scene from SEE YOU IN HELL, MY DARLING [Tha se do stin Kolasi, agapi mou] (1999), with gorgeous Greek-based actress Vicky Harris:

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