From Greece, Happy Birthday mixes two highly volatile subjects: politics and adolescence. Yiorgos (Dimitris Imellos) and his teenage daughter Margarita (Nefeli Kouri) really don’t like each other. During the height of Greece’s financial crisis, Yiorgos is the head of the riot squad charged with maintaining the peace anyway necessary. Margarita is a member of the anti-authoritarian resistance movement.
It’s Yiorgos’ birthday, and while attempting to enjoy cake with his squad, a violent demonstration breaks out by the Grecian youth as they attempt to storm the capital.
“…the trip is filled with passive-aggressive insults and sharp backtalk.”
While cracking down on the demonstrators, Yiorgos spots his daughter, Margarita, as one of the demonstrators. Escaping to a nearby rooftop, Margarita and her boyfriend, Konstantinos (Vasilis Magouliotis), survey the city on fire. The two even share a romantic Molotov cocktail.
Later that night, the family including mother Sofia (Mirto Aikaki), gathers at home for an explosive birthday celebration. Yelling, ignoring, and door slamming are on tap for dysfunctional festivities followed by the dropping of the cake. Sofia is caught in the middle.
The violent opening of Act I sets the stage for a disastrous road trip to the family’s seaside home. Unable to make the first part of the trip, Sofia convinces the reluctant Margarita to go along with her father on the trip. The trip is filled with passive-aggressive insults and sharp backtalk. Attempts at love and reconciliation lead to anger and fighting. Ultimately, it’s a father demanding respect and a daughter who has no respect for the man she is forced to call father.
“…to bridge the divide between opposing viewpoints…in hopes of mending a fractured nation.”
Writer/director Christos Georgiou makes no attempt to take sides in the battle between father and daughter. They are both right and both wrong. In this joint Greek and French production, its message is to bridge the divide between opposing viewpoints within the context of family in hopes of mending a fractured nation. While I fear the film’s message of peace and understanding may be lost on American audiences today, it is still an important message, not the less.
Happy Birthday says a lot about family and love, like the grip we lose as parents at the onset of adolescents or the growing independence we assume as teens. Politically, the film shines a light on not just the Greek resistance movement, but also the cruel violence of the police and those in authority. It’s not the most powerful film about the subject, but it’s one worth watching.
Happy Birthday (2017) Written and directed by Christos Georgiou. Starring Mirto Alikaki, Dimitris Imellos, Nefeli Kouri, and Vasilis Magouliotis.
3.5 out of 5 stars