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Berlin 2013: 'The Daughter' review

★★★★☆
The impressive third feature from Greek director Thanos Anastopoulos, The Daughter (2012) provides an intelligently rendered, gripping drama reflecting the wider issues of Greece's current financial crisis. When 14-year-old Myrto (Savina Alimani) discovers that her father has mysteriously disappeared, she stalks the Athenian streets trying to discover where he's fled to and why. She discovers that he's fleeing outstanding debts and, with her mother more concerned about her new lover, she reacts. Myrto hatches an ill-conceived plot and kidnaps 8-year-old Aggelos (Angelos Papadimas), the son of her father's business partner, whom she blames for her his absence.

With The Daughter, Anastopoulos has once again crafted an intriguing and rewarding drama that uses aspects of the thriller genre to create a well-paced narrative, laced with characters who at every turn are unable to accept responsibility for their actions. The father flees his problems, the mother ignores her daughter, and the daughter acts on impulsive animal instinct - with all involved failing to think of the potential consequences of such rash acts. The result is an extended metaphor of the Greek economy, where parties acted irresponsibly - much like those here in the UK - without thinking of the future impact of their decisions.

Sympathetic kidnapper-protagonist Myrto spells this didactic out clearly to her audience as she reads from the only book in her father's workshop - a Greek dictionary - reciting the definitions of words like 'responsibility' and 'dissolution'. What's more, Alimani's central performance is absolutely riveting from start to finish, her increasingly tired eyes speaking of pain beyond her years, complementing disillusioned statements such as, "There are no monsters, only people, bad people." Yet there is darkness on show here and slowly, through neglect, fear and loneliness, she herself borders on the monstrous, threatening to cut the curly-haired child prisoner's fingers off with pliers - or, worse still, cut him in half with an industrial saw.

As the conflicted Myrto wanders around the lumber-strewn workshop, key plot details as to the extent and origins of her father's failing business are exposed. Gradually, the full truth behind the film's volatile events are revealed, building to a satisfying, if near-melodramatic conclusion. Whilst the overarching plot is riveting and the performances are exceptionally strong, Anastopoulos' direction does lack finesse at points. His voyeuristic camera remains locked on Myrto for almost the entirety of the narrative, which does reap rewards - particularly in the scenes of the 2010 Athens riots. However, there are still some odd moments where most of the screen is kept out of focus from the viewer, detracting from the action on-screen.

A few structural flaws and minor aesthetic quibbles aside, Anastopoulos' The Daughter is a thoroughly enjoyable portrait of a young girl cut adrift in an adult world she struggles to comprehend. Our tragic heroine appears powerless in the aftermath of her father's departure, and so must resort to extreme measures in order to right past familial wrongs - truly, Hell hath no fury like a Greek woman scorned.

The 2013 Berlin Film Festival runs from 7-17 February. For more of our Berlinale coverage, simply follow this link.

Joe Walsh

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