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BFI Flare 2024 – The Summer With Carmen ★★★★



Released: 2024

Director: Zacharias Mavroeidis

Starring: Yorgos Tsiantoulas, Andreas Labropoulos

Review By: Gavin Spoors

Cinema is often said to be a reflection of life, and that idea is at the forefront of this intelligent queer comedy from Greek filmmaker Zacharias Mavroeidis. Underneath The Summer With Carmen’s gorgeous cinematography, is a thoughtful exploration of change and growth wrapped up in a meta-narrative that injects the story with life.

Best friends Demosthenes (Yorgos Tsiantoulas) and Nikitas (Andreas Labropoulos) work through ideas for a screenplay on the rocky cliffs of a Grecian beach. They’ve been friends for a while, having met as acting students, and whilst Demosthenes has opted to work in a ministry office, Nikitas is now a filmmaker searching for a project to pitch to a well-connected source. They quickly settle on the idea of exploring their own lives, particularly Demosthenes’ recent summer with the titular Carmen. The reveal of who Carmen is (which I daren’t spoil) is one of the best laugh-out-loud moments of the year so far, and acts as a gateway into the creative heart of the film. 

Armed with one of Syd Field’s screenwriting books, the protagonists mould their lives into a traditional narrative structure, which in turn informs the structure of this very film. Mavroeidis and co-writer Fondas Chalatsis are clearly having a tonne of fun blurring the lines between memory and the fictionalised story in their heads. With Demosthenes and Nikitas questioning the arcs and characteristics of their fictional selves, the audience in turn questions them. It also leads to some truly funny moments — Nikita’s mentioning of budget restrictions for their film are then slyly reflected in the next few scenes of The Summer With Carmen, and the brief idea of a genre switch-up leads to a hilarious standout sequence.  

What the two characters explore has emotional weight that makes this more than just a cheerful comedy. During that fateful summer, Demosthenes breaks up with his long-term boyfriend, Panos (Nikolaos Mihas), but struggles to process things and move on. No amount of cruising or taking on sudden new responsibilities can let him move on — unless he tackles some internal issues head-on. It’s a simple story but one that also touches on the queer experience; specifically about wanting to be loved as a gay man. Another vital aspect is the relationship between the two leads. It’s so refreshing to see a gay friendship at the centre of a queer comedy, and thanks to great performances from their respective actors, Demosthenes and Nikitas quickly become loveable characters, flaws and all. 

The Summer With Carmen is held together with playful editing, which at first is quite disorientating as it flits between questionable realities until it becomes clear that that is entirely the point. The camera beautifully captures the sun-drenched beaches and the colourful city streets, and the direction often lets the actors live within each scene through extended takes and close-ups. It’s a technically accomplished film, even when its merits are hidden in plain sight. 

Like any great meta-narrative, Mavroeidis pokes fun at the process it is analysing whilst simultaneously using it to tell a compelling story. It may be told from a gay perspective but The Summer With Carmen presents an inventive story that is universally relevant.       

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