SIFF 2015: ‘A Blast’ Movie Review

by Warren Cantrell on June 3, 2015

in Print Reviews,Reviews

[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Down]

Since he co-wrote the script, director Syllas Tzoumerkas presumably had all the particulars of his new film, A Blast (Greek: Η Έκρηξη), sorted out in his head when he shot the film. One would assume this, anyway, since the film starts in media res, and unfolds in pieces via flashbacks to explain the present-day events. In the “now,” the main character, Maria (Angeliki Papoulia), seems to be in the process of running away from her life (three young kids included), and at first it is enough not to know anything about her or the reasons she is running away. Indeed, there’s an expectation that the flashbacks will continue to assemble the various plot pieces into a completed puzzle. This is not what happens, however, for A Blast is a jumbled, misshapen, incoherent mess that represents the shell of a good idea with unfinished, half-baked ingredients.

Tzoumerkas’ film jumps back and forth between the present, on the day that Maria is running away from her life, and a series of vignettes from a not-at-all defined past that spans about ten years. From a practical standpoint, the way the film cuts back and forth between the different time periods is nothing short of dizzying, as the actors don’t look all that much different between periods, and within the flashbacks, there are jumps back and forth that put the characters in different settings: sometimes ten years ago, sometimes three, sometimes seven. Part of the supposed charm of A Blast is its structure, and the fact that it parses out information to the audience to keep the full scope of Maria’s dilemma out of sight until everything is revealed. The problem is that the way things unfold is so confusing and poorly executed that it’s hard to dissect what little information is provided. (Something as simple as a wig to denote a different time period would have helped tremendously.)

This would have been bad enough if the movie made sense, yet as a whole, A Blast doesn’t connect the dots of its story, characters, or the world in which it lives. The central dilemma of the picture is Maria’s: she’s running away from her life by abandoning her kids and husband. Why? Supposedly the slow burn of the film and its frequent flashback vignettes are the set-up for the big reveal why this seemingly ordinary woman who loves her family is running away from them. There’s no pay-off, however: no big reveal.

A Blast toys with a few factors that likely pushed Maria over the edge (trouble with the family grocery store, a long-simmering conflict with her parents, her husband’s infidelity), yet the trigger behind her emotional collapse is never made explicitly clear. One might argue that Maria’s breakdown was the cumulative result of everything going wrong in her life, yet as the flashbacks reveal, she’s juggled a lot of hardship the last few years: why the breakdown now?

The fact that the film doesn’t set up or define its characters outside of their basic function in the story doesn’t help matters, either. None of the characters experience any kind of arc throughout the story, nor do they inform the audience about the larger dynamics at play within the baffling narrative. In flashbacks, Maria comes off as a spoiled free-spirit whose passions dictate her decisions (big and small). Somewhat selfish and prone to tantrums, settling down to have kids, and later, a financial crisis in her family, seems to mature her. These flashbacks point toward stability, not the kind of manic desperation that would lead a woman to run out on her family and obligations. Bridging this gap would have certainly been a fascinating, yet A Blast never does, leaving the central conflict and question of the picture unresolved and unanswered.

The surrounding characters, no less fuzzy and ill-defined, are likewise wasted, and fail to contribute anything to this central effort. Again, there are hints that Maria finally cracked because of her family’s financial hardship or her husband’s infidelity, yet she seems to be dealing with (or oblivious to) both right up through the most recent flashback. And while it’s frustrating that compelling avenues like these are never fully explored, it is even more maddening that these side characters never get any motivation or purpose outside of their incomplete sketch in the finished product.

Maria’s husband, Yannis (Vassilis Doganis), seems to both cherish his wife and children, yet is a sailor, and thus away from them for months at a time. He also sleeps around shamelessly, which may or may not be part of the reason Maria is leaving him (there’s hints that a porno might be involved, but this plot tangent is wildly underdeveloped). Maria leaves her kids with her sister, Gogo (Maria Fili), with whom she has a contentious love-hate relationship only further complicated by Gogo’s marriage to a political radical (and possible pedophile?). Again, none of this is adequately explored or fleshed out, and raises more questions than answers.

The end result is a well-shot, decently acted mess. At 83 minutes, the rickety nature of the movie seems even more baffling, as the addition of a few scenes to tie the particulars of Maria’s emotional collapse along with the development of the central characters might have sewn the disparate pieces together. Instead, director Syllas Tzoumerkas spends this time on nearly half a dozen sex scenes (seriously…the movie is lousy with them), none of which add much substance to the material.

So again, while Mr. Tzoumerkas probably had all of the motivations and reasons behind Maria’s exodus clear in his head, very little of this came through on-screen. While the vague reasons behind Maria’s mid-life crisis are there, the push that would compel a woman to abandon her life in a fit of desperation is never adequately defined. Currently playing at the Seattle International Film Festival, A Blast is anything but, and only hints at something potentially special beneath all the misshapen debris.

 

“Obvious Child” is the debut novel of Warren Cantrell, a film and music critic based out of Seattle, Washington. Mr. Cantrell has covered the Sundance and Seattle International Film Festivals, and provides regular dispatches for Scene-Stealers and his own site, 10rant.com. Warren holds a B.A. and M.A. in History, and his hobbies include bourbon drinking, novel writing, and full-contact kickboxing. Mr. Cantrell is happily unmarried, and without any children, pets, or plants.

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