It's An Exercise


A lone man descends a sweeping stone staircase. He is young and bearded. He comes right up to the camera, up to us, and extracts a gun from his pocket. He asks us to imagine carrying it around, going into a bank with it. "How does it make you feel?" he asks. He then mixes amongst a group of police, relaxing curbside, challenging them to question the bulge in his pocket. "It's an acting exercise," he tells us.

Oh, right. Because fine acting requires a gun.

The young man in question is Luca, who lives with his brother Alekos in their mother’s apartment in Athens, Greece. Mom died recently, and Luca keeps her bedroom sealed off and sacred. Luca (played by Yiannis Niarros) aspires to leave Athens and go to America to become an actor. He's been awarded a scholarship with Stella Adler's Method Acting studio but does not have the money to go, so with brother Alekos (Kostas Nikoulis), he plans a robbery (who wouldn't?) at a strip club (where else?), which results in him shooting an innocent bystander, Ilias (Alexandros Chrysanthopoulos). Ilias is a stranger to Luca, yet he visits Ilias in the hospital and soon ingratiates himself. Ilias happens to be crazy rich and a virtuoso pianist. He doesn't know Luca shot him, and soon Luca's whole crew of fellow artistes wends their way into the pianist’s lavish home and lifestyle.

Brando with a Glass Eye is the first feature film by Antonis Tsonis, and it wears its influences on its sleeve. Mr. Tsonis is an inspiration for Italian neorealism, the French New Wave, and the independent American movement of the 1970s. We also see hints of Almodóvar, Taxi Driver, and even Madeline's Madeline, all stitched together into a pastiche about acting, identity, life, death, etc. The film is segues and non sequiturs. One imagines Mr. Tsonis scrolling through the Criterion Channel menu as if ordering dinner. A little of this, a little of that. Before you know it, you have a movie.

The first shot of the film is, tellingly, a closeup of a sewing needle; Luca uses his dead mother's machine. The symbolism is portentous. Mr. Tsonis, who directed and wrote the script, unspools thematic threads like triffids: We get significant props (clocks, a single red rose, a tomato eaten as an apple), the absence of parents (besides Luca's deceased mother, Ilias' father has died, leaving his mother in his uncle’s clutches; 'They want to turn me into Hamlet'). The legendary Stella Adler appears on videotape to punctuate the action (and is that a young Mark Ruffalo she's tongue-lashing in one sequence?) with bon mots like "The actor has to measure up to the size of realism." Mr. Tsonis attempts to stitch together all these threads.

Yiannis Niarros as Luca is appealing in a Gael Garcia Bernal kind of way, but Luca as a character is pretentious, performative, and a pain in the ass. ("Luca is always playing a role." "So, do I need to be careful?"). One minute he’s conversing like a normal person, then he drops to the floor and crawls across it in a diaper. Luca mugs, mimes, and agonizes, but that raw emotion does not appear to inform his actions in the real world. His Method is his madness, and his unpredictability becomes tiresome.

Luca's passion for acting coheres to nothing and has the quality of an afterthought. So, too, the police investigation into Ilias' shooting. Both feel inorganic and a disingenuous way to connect plot points.

Luckily, we have beautiful people and beautiful locations to look at. The film is visually sumptuous, thanks to Joerg Gruber's cinematography. Alexandros Livitsanos's score swells when you least expect it, defining majesty to the mundane. So there’s that.

Brando with a Glass Eye is not about Marlon Brando, nor does he appear in it, except for brief film clips and his name on a marquee. "Brando" is meant to be a term synonymous with Acting, the pinnacle of The Method. It takes cojones to appropriate the name for your first film’s title. But cojones is the name of the game for Brando with a Glass Eye.

It's an exercise.


Brando with a Glass Eye. Directed by Antonis Tsonis. 2024. Produced by Finico Films and Bronte Pictures in association with the Post Lounge. 122 minutes.

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