TIFF Review: TALE 52
An elliptical reality bender that will require multiple viewings to even begin unraveling what is real and what is not Greek psycho-thriller Tale 52 prominently features a quote from cult writer Philip K. Dick in its promotional materials. "Reality", writes Dick, "Is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." Which would be a good guide line if you knew what to believe but what if you are cast adrift in your own mind, a fragmented and unstable place? Though he never comes out and says so outright Alexis Alexiou's lead character shows all the classic signs of both obsessive compulsive disorder and paranoid schizophrenia, an alarming combination that leads him to a truly dark and confusing world. Dick would be proud.
Iasonas is a shy and awkward man, an architect who prefers working from home to minimize his level of human interaction but who is, nonetheless, charming in his own way. His charms are not lost on Penelope, an attractive woman invited to a dinner party at Iasonas' house by his coworkers, and the two strike up a quick and potent relationship, one that soon sees Penelope moving in to Iasonas' home. And things seem good. Better than good even, until, one day Iasonas wakes up from a nap and Penelope is simply gone. And not just her. All of her things have disappeared as well and Iasonas simply has no clue why until the mutual friend who introduced the pair calls to ask Iasonas why he has put her in such an awkward spot. Awkward? Iasonas had just taken a nap, how could that make anyone awkward? Turns out that nap was more than a week ago and Penelope has since told people that she left him because he struck, events that Iasonas can neither remember nor imagine occurring.
And so the descent begins. What has happened with the lost time? Where is Penelope, really? Is there any truth to this story of violence marring their relationship? Iasonas is left struggling to piece together a lost week, playing fragmentary memories over and over again in his mind, tweaking them, massaging them, imaging alternates and exploring every possibility in the hopes that something will jar free and bring clarity but the exact opposite happens, Iasonas getting more and more lost in repeated images and impulses until he no longer knows what is real and what is imagined, what is truth and what is psychosis, until he finally descends so far that his head threatens to explode and the fungus in the corner begins to seem strangely sentient and ominous.
Tale 52 is by no means a simple or easy film, Alexiou entirely forgoing linear narrative to plunge the audience into a first hand experience of a psychotic breakdown. The material is handled beautifully, the limited setting - we rarely leave Iasonas' apartment - becoming gradually more claustrophobic as layers of certainty are slowly stripped away. Giorgos Kanakakis turns in a potent performance as Iasonas and Alexiou proves to have an excellent eye and sense of rhythm in his editing - a crucial component in a film like this so heavily based on repetition and events looping with slight modifications on every pass. Alexiou has aimed high with his feature debut and hits his mark square on, the end result a truly potent work on the relationship between perception, reality and our own minds.