After the death of his mother, teenager Dany leaves Crete to visit his 17-year-old brother, Ody, in Athens. At first Ody isn’t happy to see his younger sibling, as he knows Dany has a penchant for causing trouble. He’s also dealing with the fact that as his mother was Albanian he’s not recognised as a Greek citizen and might be deported when he reaches 18.
That’s despite the fact they have a Greek father – who they refer to as ‘The Unspeakable’ – who ran out on them when they were little kids. Dany thinks this man may be the answer to their problems, as if they can find him they can prove they are half Greek (and therefore citizens) and perhaps get him to give them the money he should have been paying in child support.
Dany and the initially reluctant Ody set out to find him on an increasingly surreal journey that takes in the ‘X-Factor’-style contest Greek Star, seven-foot-tall rabbits, a run-down hotel and a gun that could cause Dany a lot of trouble.
There’s a lot of charm and ambition in Xenia, which had a very successful festival run, winning numerous awards along the way. It’s been described as hyper-real, but that’s not quite right, as it plays with whether we’re seeing things through Dany’s eyes, and if we are, whether it’s how he really sees the world or his fantasy of it. It also toys with whether Dany is just an extreme teen or whether he has genuine mental health issues.
It takes a while to get to the point of allowing us to understand the characters though, so for a time it feels as if it might be being quirky for the sake of being quirky, and going too far with Ody and Dany arguing about every little thing. That last point is also problematic as this is a film that’s about a 14/15-year-old and a 17/18-year-old, rather than the obviously older actors who are playing them. You have to keep shifting things in your mind as otherwise Ody and Dany have a tendency to seem overly immature, but a bit of recalibration helps everything come together, as for the age they’re supposed to be the characters make a lot more sense.
Despite a lengthy running time, it’s a fun and entertaining film, that moves along at a good pace and doesn’t hide its decidedly queer sensibility. That includes Dany, who may be young but seems to have his sexuality all figured out, and doesn’t spend any time in angst over whether he likes boys, girls or both.
As it goes on, the film gets better at handling its themes, with two young men trying to figure out what it means to be a grown-up, and whether that means abandoning their youthfulness. Despite being brothers, at the start of the film they are both essentially alone in the world with only a thig bond of blood connecting them, but over time they begin to realise there is more to it than that.
Admittedly there are times when the film takes its drama and surreal flourishes to extremes, and feels like it might fall into ridiculousness at any moment. Thankfully it never takes things too far, and the occasions that could have seemed farcical often have a surprising sweetness and emotion to them, such as Dany talking to the giant rabbit personification of his childhood bunny.
Some may disagree and feel Xenia does go too far, but many will find it an unusual, rather odd and yet surprisingly charming movie.
Overall Verdict: Xenia is undoubtedly a bit weird and idiosyncratic, but its road trip tale of two brother bonding in unexpected ways is also strangely charming and always keeps you guessing.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac