A tattoo artist, his racist friend and a Syrian refugee come together in Yannis Sakaridis’ “Amerika Square” a story of the opposing forces facing today’s humanitarian crises. Nakos (Makis Papadimitriou), is unemployed and lives in the small neighborhood of Amerika Square. He is tired of the thousands of refugees in his neighborhood. Much of his frustration comes from his inability to do anything about Athens new demographics, something he spends most of his time brooding over instead of doing anything about his life that is going nowhere. His only confidante is his childhood friend, Billy (Yannis Stankoglou), who doesn’t share his friend’s worldview and who believes welcoming refugees is the correct response to the crisis of people fleeing war and seeking asylum. Nakos is working on a sinister plan to eliminate these illegals and Billy has an opportunity to help two migrants escape from Athens. One of these is Tereza, a beautiful African singer with whom he falls in love and the other is Tarek, a weary Syrian ex-military doctor escaping the war in Aleppo and trying to reunite with his 9 year-old daughter who has already been smuggled to Germany.
The stories come together when Nakos stops their smuggler cold and Billy is forced to step. Nakos realizes his anti-migrant attitude has cost him friends, family as well as his pride and dignity.
This is a chilling portrait of an angry, disenfranchised racist who turns to poisoning immigrants to make them “go back where they came from.” We see a liberal and a xenophobe as friends and this suggest that one’s attitude to immigration is not linked to class and is an individual response.
Nakos is frustrated and unemployed, living at home with Mom and Dad. In a sardonic voiceover, he lists all the foreigners living in his building. They come from all over the world and, to his mind, mess up the whole neighborhood. In contrast, the images show normal, friendly people going about their business. Nakos’s own psychological profile is sad and we see a long-running conflict with his father and a chronic inability to find a job. Nakos becomes deadly serious when he has a plan to make homemade bread laced with strychnine and hang it in bags from garbage cans to tempt the hungry and the homeless. He is targeting immigrants, but killing vagabonds is also okay.
Nakos, who hates tattoos is friends with cool tattoo artist Billy who falls for a pretty African nightclub singer (Ksenia Dania) to the point of running afoul of her gangster protector and finally sacrificing everything for her.
Tarek(Vassilis Kukalani) is the most engrossing character. He is a middle-class Syrian on the run from the war and looking for passage to Germany. His “travel agent” is Hassan, who outlines the various routes and prices available (raft, private boat, plane) with unsettling precision. Tarek opts for air travel with fake passports, but the stakes are raised when he’s separated from his daughter in a test of wills with the “authorities.” Nakos and Tarekrepresent two diametrically opposing forces that threaten to overwhelm the social order.
Director Sakaridisbrings the stories together in a natural way with well-written voiceoversand this is an excellent film that deals with the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe. There are many sad stories in the global migration crisis: deaths, rootlessness, hopelessness, and families torn apart. Yet, there are few narratives as distressing as those of people who refuse to accept change and hold the gates to freedom shut.
Parts of the film look at the narratives of people in Nakos’s building and neighborhood. They feature a mix of native Greeks and some refugees on the way to better lives. The film is Greece’s official submission in the 2020 Oscar race for Best Foreign Language Film. It comes at a time where the European Union is exerting its power to close its borders to refugees escaping conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.