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With: Giorgos Karayannis, Stelios Mainas, Ioanna Tsirigouli, Christos Bougiotas, Christos Stergioglou, Despo Diamantidou
Written by: Penny Panayotopoulou
Directed by: Penny Panayotopoulou
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Greek with English subtitles
Running Time: 113
Date: 08/06/2002

Hard Goodbyes: My Father (2002)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Had a Dad

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Even more prevalent than sequels and remakes in Hollywood is the coming-of-age film worldwide. In most of them, some adorable and precocious youngster usually learns a hard lesson about life and grows up a little because of it.

The problem with most of these films is that they're made by adults who can't properly remember the undiluted joys and fears of childhood. The majority of them are overly sympathetic and protective as well as glowingly nostalgic.

Set in the turbulent summer of 1969, Penny Panayotopoulou's Hard Goodbyes: My Father is no exception; it even contains a scene in which the boy's mother defines the term "coming of age" for him.

We know we're in for the full treatment when ten year-old Elias (Giorgos Karayannis) wakes up to find a chocolate bar lying on his bed at his feet. His salesman father (Stelios Mainas) has come home from a business trip in the middle of the night. Despite the fact that his mother (Ioanna Tsirigouli) and father fight all the time, this father is the greatest father in the world, absolutely perfect in every way. He and his son go for drives together, they read together and tell secrets and laugh. There's only one thing that can happen next, and it does, as precise as clockwork.

Since the father promises Elias that he'll be home in time for the moon landing, Elias spends the rest of the film waiting and obsessing and nearly alienating everyone around him. In addition, he writes a lot of letters, using flowery, poetic language and five-dollar words that no ten-year old, not even a young Joyce or Melville, would have used.

Nonetheless, Panayotopoulou coaxes some decent performances from her cast, especially Tsirigouli as the beautiful but haggard housewife. (A good percentage of the film's budget must have been spent on makeup for the perpetual dark circles under her eyes.) Christos Bougiotas plays Elias' older brother who has learned too much about life too fast and has grown sullen and angry. And Christos Stergioglou lends some charm to the boys' uncle.

Other times Panayotopoulou's direction falters. Her filmic technique includes many awkward transitional scenes and rapidly focusing back and forth between two characters having a conversation in a single room.

Hard Goodbyes ultimately doesn't have anything that I haven't seen before in My Life as a Dog or a hundred other movies just like it. What filmmakers need to understand is that boys' thoughts tend to move in a rapid fashion; they quickly become interested in new things. Keeping Elias obsessed over one thing for an entire film is asking a lot of the audience. Perhaps showing his fear or uncertainty for once would have saved it.

Best Buy Co, Inc.