First-time Greek director Margarita Manda describes her movie “Gold Dust” as one born out of a need to talk about her home city, Athens, that has, over the past few decades, changed immensely. Although a pertinent issue for Manda, the movie, with its loose storyline, overly sensual scenes and preachy tone fails to engage on the issue of urban gentrification or inspire sympathy for its three protagonists.
In order to talk about a city being overtaken by private urban planners, with old buildings being replaced by fashionable malls and fancy apartment buildings, Manda centers the film’s plot around the possible sale of a family house by three siblings in their forties to a local construction company.
Argyris (Argiris Xafis) wanted to be a pilot but was forced by his late father to enroll in law school and take over the family’s law firm. Now middle-aged, frustrated and divorced with a son, Argyris is pursuing the house sale in order to secure his son a better future.
Amalia (Anna Mascha) is an unhappily married banker, unable to make up her mind about the sale in the face of pressure from her cold husband, who sees the sale as a solution for their financial hardships. (In spite of her shallow character, Mascha’s performance secured her the best supporting actress prize at the 2009 Greek Academy Awards.)
Our main protagonist is Anna (Mania Papadimitriou). A romantic and self-righteous pianist, Anna objects to the sale, seeing it as another attempt to destroy her childhood memories of the city. In an exaggerated sentimental conversation with her colleague from the orchestra, set on a hill overlooking Athens, Anna complains about how she no longer recognizes her home.
For more than an hour, the audience is exposed to hints of the city’s degradation and loss of identity. The unfriendly urban environment of Athens irritates the protagonists, who repeatedly try to talk on the phone on streets plagued by racist drivers. Anna complains about the state of the city, condemning everyone who disagrees with her idealist views.
She insults a racist cabdriver in a scene that seems to function solely as a way to distinguish her from the uncivilized masses.
It is only towards the end of the movie that “Gold Dust” becomes partially interesting as it delves more into the relationships between the three siblings. Amalia decides to reconcile with Anna, who has stopped returning her calls, by sharing their mother’s old diaries. In them, the mother discusses the family dynamics. Because of her mother’s words, Anna decides to reconcile with her brother. She first accuses him of not being interested in her work. He answers that she was never interested in his. They pause for a few seconds and then start tickling one another like they did when they were children. In a single moment the broken relationships are mended, thanks to the mother’s memories.
The actors were obviously enthusiastic about the film; most were volunteers. Nevertheless, “Gold Dust” failed to engage the audience. Most people walked out in the middle last Sunday, with only three, including this reviewer, making it through to the end.