There’s a lot at play throughout the 122 minutes of Antonis Tsonis‘ Brando with a Glass Eye, a bizarre hybrid of a movie that deserves recognition for so confidently going against the grain, even if it doesn’t always successfully lands its execution.
It’s offbeat – to say the least – and the opening minutes very much clue us in on Tsonis’ unique vision as he introduces us to Luca (Yiannis Niarros), an extreme method actor. Breaking the fourth wall and telling us the audience that “This is just an acting exercise”, he boldly strides around the streets of Athens with a realistic-looking prop gun, testing if the close-by authorities will pick up on his intentionally shifty behaviour. This scene sets the foundation for Luca’s mentality for the remainder of the film, as he continually tests the boundaries of his surroundings, regardless of the impact.
Whilst Luca’s personality will surely test certain viewers, it would appear that a New York City acting academy – one that seems to specialise in the art of method acting – is quite taken with him, so much so that they have offered him a scholarship. Unfortunately, he has to have enough funds to get himself to New York, and survive whilst there, and that’s just not the type of coin Luca has at his disposal. Nothing a planned heist won’t fix, right?
Overseen by his brother, Alekos (Kostas Nikouli), who is visibly annoyed by his in-home method acting, Luca reluctantly agrees to go along with it, namely so that he can afford his trip to New York. As to be expected, it doesn’t go well, and an innocent bystander (Alexandros Chrysanthopoulos) is shot, leading the lines of reality and fantasy to blur for Luca as he befriends the victim in his quest to seek redemption.
The story at hand – Tsonis also serves as the film’s writer – is an interesting one, and one that opens itself up to a variety of strands, but they don’t all sit by each other harmoniously, leading to Brando with a Glass Eye to feel disjointed and unfocused. The failed heist and the fallout from that is enough of a narrative for the film to lean on, but the inclusion of Luca and Alekos’ past trauma (their father killed their mother) and Luca’s continual reality break with his performances upsets the dramatic momentum. Tsonis has a great eye and his voice deserves to be heard, but he perhaps overstuffs his own vision in a manner that makes it feel as if he won’t get another chance to prove his worth as a storyteller in this medium.
Brando with a Glass Eye is ambitious and a riveting character study, but it feels as if it’s ultimately trying too much at once. I can’t deny that Yiannis Niarros delivers a fascinating turn, and the character’s relentless spirit in chasing his dreams is likely mirroring Tsonis’ own, but the film’s personality-plus temperament overwhelms a little strongly throughout.
TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Brando with a Glass Eye is screening as part of this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, running physically between January 19th and 25th, 2024, and virtually on the Slamdance Channel between January 22nd and 28th. For more information head to the official Slamdance Film Festival page.