A summer boating holiday is capsized by secrets and lies in this Greek family drama which opens the ACID sidebar

Kyuka - Before Summer's End

Source: Cannes ACID

‘Kyuka - Before Summer’s End’

Dir/scr: Kostas Charamountanis. Greece/North Macedonia. 2024. 105mins

A summer holiday unfolds in fragments as emotional storm clouds gather in Kostas Charamountanis’ feature debut, which gathers pace as it becomes increasingly experimental. The self-taught Greek director has no lack of ambition, having said he views Kyuka (which means ‘holidays’ in Japanese) as part of a trilogy that began with his 2018 short Kioku Before Summer Comes, a home video collage of teenagehood – parts of which are incorporated within this feature.

Charamountanis leans into experimentation as things come to a head

That ambition is also evident in Charamountanis’ playful and unconventional attitude towards storytelling. It often rests on his sharp cutting, in collaboration with co-editor Lambis Haralambidis, to generate either comedic juxtaposition or emotional impact. This energetic approach has won the film the opening slot in the ACID sidebar at Cannes, and is likely to help it catch the eye of festivals further afield.

Single dad Babis (Simeon Tsakiris) has taken his college-age twins Konstantinos and Elsa (Konstantinos Georgopoulos and Elsa Lekakou, both of whom also featured in Kioku) on a boating holiday. Moored off the island of Poros, dad plans to fish – an activity which becomes one of Kyuka’s ongoing themes – while Elsa and Konstantinos have the sort of relationship that alternates between sparring and being supportive of each other. A conversation we see Babis having with Anna (Elena Topalidou), an initially mysterious woman from his past, indicates there is more to his plan than simply relaxing with the kids.

Charamountanis’ choppy approach takes a bit of getting used to. The disjointed, episodic nature of his tale might be aiming for deliberate discomfort but it also proves alienating to begin with, making it hard to get a handle on how the family ticks. The writer/director is interested in shared moments of understanding or conflict, using the edit for emphasis as we gradually see the dynamic between the father and his children take shape. The squared off 1.33:1 aspect ratio also underscores the tension. He is helped by strong chemistry between Georgopoulos and Lekakou, whose sparky but caring sibling dynamic speaks to years of shared secrets and squabbles.

Elsa and Konstantinos have a chance encounter with a little girl, Ioli (Ioli Kalaitzi), who has strayed away from her family, and the pair form a friendship with Ioli’s older sister Artemis (Afroditi Kapokaki) as a result. In a hallmark of Charamountanis’ ability to subtly indicate the undercurrents of family pressures, an afternoon of nail polish application between the four of them offers both a source of joy and a bone of contention.

The narrative becomes increasingly elliptical as the various encounters pile up, much less by chance than they might first appear. Babis may vent his frustrations with fish that refuse to be caught, but those slippery customers are emblematic of a whole lot more. With his dad-knows-best attitude struggling to cut it with his children, he edges further towards breaking point after an unexpected encounter with the similarly aged Dmitris (Stathis Apostolou). 

Charamountanis leans into experimentation as things come to a head at an evening gathering. While a sequence that plays out in reverse adds little to the feel beyond deliberate oddness, it speaks to the director’s willingness to take chances – and he hits paydirt in quick cuts between two fishy anecdotes so that they become a battle of toxic masculinity. Abandoning straightforward scripting, he opts instead to focus on moments of interaction; sometimes in freeze frame, sometimes through the act of repetition and sometimes with the sound removed. This lends them the air of being recalled after the event, as though playing over in one of the characters’ minds just as holiday photos are scrutinised for detail.

Matching the turbulent nature of the film’s various moods, the score is also a patchwork affair, mixing classical music including Tchaikovsy’s ’Waltz Of The Flowers’ with snatches of summer-related Sixties hits including ’The Summer’ by Silva Grissi and a version of ’Sealed With A Kiss’ along with scoring from Charamountanis himself – which, while perhaps not his strongest suit, is redolent of the sort of ersatz easy listening you get in holiday hotels over breakfast.

The unruly nature of Charamountanis’ approach means not all of his ideas work all of the time. But this is a filmmaker with faith in his own rhythms and a muscular enough plan of attack to encourage us to fall in step with this family summer, which plays out at the meeting point of nostalgia and something new.

Production companies: Heretic

International sales: Heretic info@heretic.gr

Producers: Danae Spathara, Giorgos Karnavas, Konstantinos Kontovrakis

Cinematography: Konstantinos Koukoulios

Production design: Vassilina Kouliou

Editing: Kostis Charamountanis, Lambis Haralambidis

Music: Kostis Charamountanis

Main cast: Simeon Tsakiris, Elsa Lekakou, Konstantinos Georgopoulos, Elena Topalidou, Afroditi Kapokaki, Stathis Apostolou, Ioli Kalaitzi