Lonely Island: Argyris Papadimitropoulos on Middle Age Frustration and Shooting Suntan Without a Script

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Soaked in a profound yearning for acceptance and subverting tropes associated with youth, Argyris Papadimitropoulos’ dark character study Suntan presents its middle-aged protagonist with the irresistible opportunity to escape, albeit momentarily, from isolation.

A doctor who has just moved into the Greek island of Antiparos, Kostis (Makis Papadimitriou), seemingly harmless and hardworking, is responsible for the health of both locals and tourists. But in a place brimming with summer decadence, his newly embraced routine is soon broken when a young woman, Anna (Elli Triggou), invites him to spend time with her and her pack of spoiled 20-somethings. Among the beach’s excess of drinks, drugs and naked bodies, Kostis dances with previously unknown abandon, losing any restrain, becoming inebriated by the taste of pleasure and what he sees as chance for romantic fulfillment.

Expanding the list of outstanding Greek dramas that have flooded the international scene, Suntan is a hedonistic cocktail with thriller elements, shaped by its location, a multilayered lead performance and purely visual storytelling. Papadimitropoulo spoke with MovieMaker from Athens about shooting without a screenplay, the frustrations of life after 40 and using drunk partygoers as extras.

Makis Papadimitriou as Kostis in Suntan. Image courtesy of Strand Releasing

Carlos Aguilar, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): Kostis, your lead character, is the type of man who’s not often the protagonist of a film. Why were you attracted to someone like him and his specific frustrations and anxieties?

Argyris Papadimitropoulos (AP): This character is a combination of different frustrated characters that I somehow met or read about. Mainly, the main inspirations for this film were my holidays in Antiparos, every summer since I was 16. I found out there are tons of people that get frustrated about having a good time, that they are not really having it. Because of this magical and hedonistic background, their misery looks even bigger. Then I read this book by Michel Houellebecq where he found a new meaning of differentiation and he was dividing people into the ones that do have access to pleasures and the ones that don’t. I decided to make a film about a guy that doesn’t have access to pleasure but he lives in a hedonistic place and because of his profession, he has access to the body, to the flesh. That drives him even madder.

MM: Was the idea of youth, or that of a man that is in his 40s interacting with young people, central in the creation of the film?

AP: Age is a big issue in my films. It’s something that bothers me a lot. I have this denial of growing up. Although I just turned 40 and I have a kid, I still feel like a teenager and sometimes I act like one, which is kind of a problem. You have this guy that looks like he didn’t live his youth to the fullest, and there is a big part missing there, so when he gets a second chance to live a proper youth, maybe it’s too late.

MM: Why do you think people have a problem with a man his age having fun with younger people?

AP: I don’t think it’s a problem. Nobody should have a problem. I hate the idea that people can think it’s a problem. I believe that everybody can have a great time whenever he or she wants. Youth is something that’s inside you and it doesn’t have to do with the decay of your body. Until what he does in the third act, I don’t believe he does anything wrong before that. The only thing he does wrong is that he doesn’t get the deal right? Anna never promised him anything. He is asking questions at some point that he shouldn’t ask, because that wasn’t part of the deal. But I don’t believe Anna did anything wrong in the film either. Sometimes people are very conservative and sometimes they are really envious of the people who have a chance to have a good time. Most people believe that when they reach middle age, hedonism and pleasures should be somehow erased. That’s something that creates even bigger problems, because when you hide your desires, they come out in a worst way.

MM: Supporting characters are very important in Kostis’ journey into madness. Two that stand out are the successful friend with kids and the local misogynist. Kostis doesn’t fit in either of those categories.

AP: For me it was very important to have him not fit in anywhere, and that everybody that he would meet wasn’t a person that he would hang out with. It was important for me to show these two characters you mentioned because I didn’t want to make a statement saying that Kostis’ life is miserable or that the character who doesn’t have a family or the one that doesn’t get along with women is miserable. In the way I filmed it, I criticize these other two characters more than I do my main guy, Kostis, whom I really love.  This misogynist local asshole that makes a pass to every girl around him is a disgusting character. It’s another fucked up situation of someone who didn’t properly live his youth, because you have a guy in his 40s who believes that he can act like a kid and makes a fool out of himself, while Kostis doesn’t. Kostis is funny when he is having fun. The other guy is not having fun. He is frustrated and he is all about being rough towards girls.

Elli Tringou as Anna and Makis Papadimitriou as Kostis in Suntan

Then there is the successful man. To me that character is a comment on what success really is about. You have this guy who’s got a house on the island, a beautiful wife, a kid, and an Asian housekeeper… but the fact that in the first two minutes that he meets somebody he is trying to brag about all this is ridiculous. He plays a big role because that’s where you get the little information about Kostis’ past. It’s also where you get that he really doesn’t have any of these things and doesn’t feel OK about it. Plus, the other guy, the successful man, doesn’t even hear what Kostis is saying. He is so full of himself and he doesn’t give a shit about whether Kostis is doing well or not. He only asks questions because one has to ask questions to keep the conversation going. Kostis is a species himself. To me he is a very unique character that Makis and I created brick by brick. It’s not a character that we really know of.

MM: With a narrative in which every supporting character serves a specific purpose and the protagonists interact with so many others throughout the film, how was your screenplay developed?

AP: I don’t write dialogue. There wasn’t a proper script for this film. When I have an idea about a film, I write something like 15 or 20 pages of notes with very basic descriptions of the scenes like, “Kostis goes to the grocery store to buy something and the grocer gives him a hard time,” and that’s it. Then, with exception of the main character, I choose people that are very close to what I write, both in how they look and as characters. I try to get as close as possible to this. Then we sit down and we improvise. I hate telling people what to say. I wanted the general context, but I wanted to make them say it the way they would instead of telling them the exact lines. That’s why I believe the film feels so spontaneous.

MM: Have you always worked this way?

AP: Yes, in my last two films, this is my third film. Somebody else wrote the first film, so it was an open assignment. My previous film, Wasted Youth, and this one, which are my most personal films, were written this way. For the previous one there was even less written down. It was about 10 pages of notes and descriptions. In this one there were about 20 pages and there were descriptions for every scene. My previous film wasn’t exactly like that—there were descriptions for some scenes and the rest was crazy improvisation.

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