Sundance Film Festival 2023. Review of “Airhostess-737” by Thanasis Neofotistos

Airhostess-737 by Thanasis Neofotistos is as much a cinematic hit as you can get one. And, every (short) film festival that it has played at knows it, including Sundance, where it is screening as I write these words.

Airhostess-737 was conceived entirely in Neofotistos’ dream and is the piece he was missing to complete his trilogy about a road, a journey, a route that includes the shorts Patision Avenue and Route-3. It follows Vanina, a 39-year-old flight attendant, who is flying on a Boeing-737 and is trying to hide her obvious discomfort. Everyone seems genuinely worried about her while she goes on complaining about her new braces. She blames her mother for not taking care of her teeth when she should have. However, her colleagues know: this plane carries her mother’s dead body to her hometown. When the turbulence becomes threatening, Vanina faces an urgent need to see her mother in what proves to be the last chance for reconciliation.

Vanina doesn’t take herself seriously and neither does Neofotistos – even with those pesky braces – because, who in their right mind, carries the body of their dead estranged mother on a plane as if it were a sack of potatoes? Nobody. Also, Neofotistos doesn’t take himself seriously, because nobody who is serious could have crafted such a brilliantly crazy film. And, thank God for this lack of seriousness that is infused in this unhinged airborne precipitation into utter pandemonium.

Vanina, self-conscious about her new braces, eventually ends up being drowned in her own subconscious as well as her surroundings. Neofotistos plays with his audience, willfully making the film an uncomfortable watch and Vanina’s face impossible to turn away from. In this, he is deftly helped by Giannis Fotou’s camera – albeit with a somewhat hazy lensing – that is exclusively centered on Vanina and her facial expressions, intimately registering her mounting distress. And, we can’t look away. This claustrophobic characteristic is further achieved with the passengers who we hardly see and if we do see them, they are blurry and in the background, as well as the voices of her colleagues we barely see and who are only there to prompt “our” conversation with Vanina. We very much feel like we are on that plane with her. Once this intimacy with his protagonist has been nimbly accomplished, Neofotistos invites his audience – or passengers if you will – to witness a nervous breakdown, healing and reconciliation all at once. And, it’s cathartic for everyone involved. Because we are very much involved. We can’t look away. And, we emerge on the other side of the (plane) ride much more empathetic and more acutely aware of other people. Both the audience and Vanina have been given closure. We have let go. Neofotistos has maginificently and unapologetically manipulated us. And, that’s OK.

All techs are on point, especially the production design – a plane specifically built for the film – as well as the sparse score, courtesy of Lefteris Samson along with the clever editing by Panos Angelopoulos who deftly incorporates Vanina’s humming in the midst of the deafening silence and the intercom announcements in the escalating madness, thus heightening the tragicomic vibe, claustrophobic feel and confining quality of the space. All this is nicely rounded by the smeared red lipstick on her face at the end of the film – the external proof of her inner agitation. Moreover, Neofotistos has an innate talent in extracting marvelous performances from his actors. Lena Papaligoura gives a nuanced, pitch-perfect and thoroughly entertaining turn, her deadpan demonstration of onboard safety protocols being a particularly amusing moment.  

Airhostess-737 may be utter madness, but it is also a subtle exploration of grief and trauma and the need to let go. And, watch out for Thanasis Neofotistos, for he is going to do amazing things.

Production:  Argonauts Productions S.A., Atalante Productions S.A., Cosmote TV (Greece, 2022)

Producers: Ioanna Bolomyti, Dimitris Tsakaleas

Director: Thanasis Neofotistos

Screenplay: Thanasis Neofotistos and Grigoris Skarakis

Cinematography: Giannis Fotou

Score: Lefteris Samson

Editing: Panos Angelopoulos

Cast: Lena Papaligoura, Alexis Hariou, Konstantina Koutsonasiou

Color – 16 min.

Premiere: 11/08/2022 (Locarno Film Festival)

Photo credits: Courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.

Latest from Reviews