Coming to Amerika

Amerika Square (Plateia Amerikis)
(Greece/UK/Germany, 86 min.)
Dir. Yannis Sakaridis, Writ. Yannis Tsirbas, Vangelis Mourikis, Yannis Sakaridis
Starring: Makis Papadimitriou, Yannis Stankoglou, Vassilis Kukalani, Ksenia Dania, Alexandros Logothetis, Rea Pediaditaki, Themis Bazaka, Errikos Litsis
There are many sad stories in the global migration crisis: deaths, rootlessness, hopelessness, and families torn apart. However, there are few narratives as distressing as those of people who refuse to accept change and hold the gates to freedom shut. Borders are closing and fences are going up to clamp the human flow. The rampant xenophobia inherent in the era is not humankind’s finest hour.

Just take the case of Nakos (Makis Padadimitriou). Nakos a fat, balding, unemployed white guy who still lives with his parents despite pushing forty years old. He blames the waves of refugees and immigrants inundating Greece for his troubles and his inability to get a job. Nakos thinks the Greeks are outnumbered on their own turf, and Amerika Square begins with the portly anti-hero taking an “us” and “them” tally to gauge the changing population of his beloved Amerika Square. He doesn’t like the results.

Nakos decides to rid the square of perceived vermin with a sneaky trick: preying upon the appetites of the needy. He acquires some hefty poison, bakes bread laced with fatal doses, and hides loaves around town for the newcomers to find. His motivation to cleanse the streets of “undesirables” in an effort to reclaim the neighbourhood speaks to the racist and xenophobic NIMBYism of Brexit-era Europe.

Poison baked in bread, however, is a pretty stupid plot hole. Kneading batch upon batch of fatally toxic dough seems more likely to kill Nakos through absorption before the buns ever make it out the door. For all its perceptive intentions, Amerika Square needs a bit more tinkering in the kitchen with its uneven and often implausible and unconvincing yarn of anti-migration woes.

Other segments of the film look at the narratives of people in Nakos’s building and immediate neighbourhood. They feature a mix of native Greeks and some refugees en route to better lives. These stories are often far more compelling than Nakos’s is as the film follows refugees like the Syrian Tarek (Vassilis Kukalani) or Kenyan Tereza (Ksenia Dania) as they submit to a dangerous human trafficking ring to flee Greece for the more prosperous lands of Italy and Germany. Tarek’s story is especially compelling as the dangerous exit strategy divides his family and puts his daughter’s life at risk—a story that is probably all too common and a highlight among the ham-fisted yarns that intersect in this drama.

Amerika Square might be a better film if it gave more attention to the migrants’ struggles rather than the disenfranchisement of a disillusioned homicidal white guy, but the film nevertheless speaks to a dangerous mentality that infects entitled folks worldwide. The film is Greece’s official submission in the Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film (although it contains a lot of English) and it’s an intriguing choice from a country at the centre of the migration crisis since the land of loukoumades often provides an access point from regions of conflict to mainland Europe.

Amerika Square is very timely with its fable about closed minds and closed borders. Lest we forget that the film comes at a moment in time where the European Union is exerting its power to close its borders to refugees escaping conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. Poison baked in bread is just a quicker death sentence than immobility.