(NR) 3 1/2 starsEd Johnson-Ott
A few words about a low-key charmer that deals with coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. Set in 1969 Athens, the story follows 10-year-old Elias (Yorgos Karayannis), who makes a pact with his often-absent father Christos (Stelios Mainas) to watch the TV broadcast of man's first landing on the moon. Yorgas Karayannis as Elias
His mother (Ioanna Tsirigouli) is heartsick that Christos, a salesman, is away so much, but she carries on because she believes that is her role in this life. Young teen-age son Aris (Christos Stergioglou) seems resigned to the situation. But Elias worships his father, cherishing the time when they are together, spinning Jules Verne stories and exercising their considerable imaginations. The boy saves the chocolate bars his dad mails him while on the road - stale documents of his father's love.
And then Elias' father is killed in a car wreck. The boy absolutely refuses to acknowledge the loss. Christos is not dead, he is away; overseas, perhaps - yes, overseas - and he will return. The imaginative child comes up with a number of ways to maintain the illusion for himself. One method, which I will not reveal here, is particularly ingenuous. It both reinforces his mindset and lets his loved ones know how he is feeling. And it is pure poetry.
Elias' method of avoidance, and the determination with which he follows it, is what makes the film stand out. In addition to being an unadorned, unpretentious, non-cloying look at the grieving process, Hard Goodbyes: My Father reminds us of the inventiveness and the remarkable determination that young children carry inside.
For the most part, American movies present children as wise-crack spewing mischief-makers, or as doe-eyed heartbreakers. Thank goodness for movies like the wonderful Iranian real-time film The White Balloon, and this one, which remind us that kids are frequently as strong, if not stronger, than the rest of us.