Review: Xenia (2014)

The first thing to note about Xenia: this movie is very, very gay. One of the main characters, Dani, is proudly and overtly gay, and his relationship to his brother Odysseas takes on increasingly homoerotic overtones, sometimes veering dangerously close to incest. But it would be a mistake to pigeonhole Xenia as exclusively a queer movie. It becomes much more- an indictment of Greece under austerity. The name of the movie invokes the ancient Greek concept of hospitality and guest-friendship (a notion central to the Odyssey, which I will discuss more below). Xenia becomes, therefore, a movie about how Greece has become so inhospitable. It’s a gray, dilapidated, busted world where fascists freely roam the streets and terrorize minorities. If the landscape consists of a blighted landscape of failed capitalism, the interior spaces, protected from the violence outside, reveal the real beauty of this world. Interior shots explode with color; in one scene, a strobe light bathes all the characters in a changing rainbow of colors, making very clear the movie’s LGBT allegiances. Even as fascists and other homophobes wage war against queer people on the street, gay life can thrive in the world behind doors. The contradictions of this world converge in the abandoned hotel Xenia that Dani and Odyseas seek refuge in at one point in the film. Like the rest of economically devastated Greece, the hotel is empty, broken, and in ruins; but amongst this debris of a once great hotel the pivotal, most erotically-charged scene between the brothers takes place. The broken hotel becomes a space of song, dance, joy. The hospitality that modern Greece offers does not come from others; it comes from the self.

Xenia’s intertext with the Odyssey is interesting and complex. Unlike most media based on Homer’s (lesser) work, from James Joyce’s Ulysses to the Coen brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Xenia does not actively seek direct parallels between the Odyssey and its story. There is, for instance, no man with an eye-patch; the film makes no attempt to try to shoehorn the various monsters Odysseus faces into its story. The most overt reference to the Odyssey appears in Odysseas’s very name; the second most overt is the title, which refers to one of the central concepts of the Odyssey. But beyond these two exceptions, Xenia’s relationship with the Odyssey is revealed in thematic similarities rather than direct intertexts. Like Odysseus, Dani and Odysseas’s mother is dead, and they travel through Greece in search of their father who, in their case if not Odysseus’s, abandoned them at an early age. Their search for their father, who is known only by the nickname “The Unspeakable” has not just personal but political overtones. Both the brothers are Albanians, and they search for their Greek father partially to obtain Greek citizenship. Like Odysseus, therefore, the brothers are outsiders trying to return to their true home in Greece and become reincorporated with the Greek community. And like the Odyssey, the movie ends in a contentious domestic scene, where claims of genealogy and patriarchy are resolved in part through outbursts of violence. Furthermore, as in Homer’s epic, Dani and Odysseas’s journey through Greece is filled with music, song, and dance. The movie seems to make a point that song and dance are just as important now to Greece as it was some 2,800 years ago.

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