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By Michael Talbot-Haynes | October 25, 2023

Love is a friendship that catches fire. Writer-director Apollo Bakopoulos’ radiant debut feature Aligned shows how fun seeing the sticks rub together can be.

Aeneas (Panos Malakos) is a modern dancer in Greece who can’t give himself a break. He is always putting himself down, letting internal negativity poison his self-worth. Dance provides both an escape as well a direction for him to embrace who he truly is. Meanwhile, in NYC, another modern Greek dancer, Alex (Dimitris Fritzelas), is flying to Greece to perform there. His girlfriend, Dianne (Mantalena Papadatou), worries about being apart for three months. Lucky for her, Alex is partnered with Aeneas. They dance beautifully together.

Alex is swept away by the emotions of being in Greece again after living in NYC and savors the joys of life in the slow lane. Aeneas is taken in by Alex and dreams of being with him intimately. However, Alex doesn’t react well when Aeneas gets up the nerve to make his move. Surprised and uncomfortable, he runs off to work out on a punching bag. Alex and Aeneas move so well together, but days before the performance, they could not be further apart.

Being a modern dancer involves a lot of improvisation. You’re projecting emotion through your movements. When done with a partner, you start improvising off their movement and emotions as they yours. Aligned embraces all the glorious possibilities modern dance has for inner expression and self-exploration. It is also sexy as all get out.

Alex and Aeneas move so well together, but days before the performance, they could not be further apart.”

Bakopoulos, on his first try, hits that frisky Dirty Dancing zone of maximum sensuality without slipping into softcore. The sexual tension pulls on your belt buckle like a magnet throughout. The dancing makes the audience invoke a physical relationship even when the main characters are not. It is interesting how the fantasy sequences allow the viewer a chance to taste Alex and Aeneas joining without dropping the tension. Also, the filmmaker gives us something beyond the tease of consummation. Starting with the first voiceover by Aeneas, we are steered into a more profound emotional arena of learning to stop rejecting ourselves. It is these additional moves to the dance that raise the film above a simple romance. It also builds to an unusual finale that is not predictable and borders on the cosmic.

Aligned has a battalion of striking visuals with beauty carved into each frame. The spectacular cinematography by Dan Kneece delivers vista after vista to our pleasure centers. Whether it is panoramas of Greece from above or bodies rippling through the air, the camera drinks it down like wine, one glass after another. The editing flows with the ease of inebriation. The fluidity of the movements is matched by a cutting pace that moves past slick into frictionless. All of this makes for some fantastic dance scenes.

Malakos and Fritzelas move amazingly with each other, generating a lot of energy. It is interesting to gauge how the actors express themselves during dance versus dialogue; you can see their wings open and close. I loved how the director kept switching the audience’s perspective from Malakos and Fritzelas, giving each a chance to be that elusive North star for the other’s desire.

The New York parts get a tad corny, mainly because the metropolis itself has become corny as hell. As it is the modern dance capital of the planet, there is no way to do without it, but it is quickly joining the ranks of other fallen great cities like Constantinople, whose power and relevance were fixed in a time that has moved on. This tribute to the Big Apple might be the last hurrah the old girl gets on the way out the door. Aligned is the type of film that will seep into your pores and stay with you for a long while.

Aligned (2023)

Directed and Written: Apollo Bakopoulos

Starring: Panos Malakos, Dimitris Fritzelas, Mantalena Papadatou, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Aligned Image

"…will seep into your pores and stay with you..."

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