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[whitespace] Julian Garner, Alex Dimitriades
Looking Up Down Under: Sean (Julian Garner) looks up to Ari (Alex Dimitriades) in Ana Kokkinos' 'Head On.'

Ari Spotting

An angry gay Greek man wars with Australian society in 'Head On'

By Richard von Busack

IN THE MANNER of Trainspotting, the Australian import Head On begins with a young hero reciting a litany of things he doesn't want to do with his life. Ari (Alex Dimitriades) cuts out of a tacky wedding to get high with friends. He comes back home to a violent squabble with his parents. Ari is a first-generation Greek immigrant who has been living in dowdy Melbourne since he was a child. He can't stand any other ethnic group, and he doesn't like his own much either. Worse, he's a gay man who dislikes being gay. His gayness is no surprise to his friends, but in a sense it's a secret to himself. Ari's anonymous public trysts always end with him running, as if he could outrun his own sexuality.

Head On follows the uneventful events of a few days. Ari has an unsuccessful fling with a girl who loves him but who is engaged to someone else. Ari deals with the flirtation of Sean (Julian Garner), a confident young gay student. He tries to erase his own self-loathing and aimlessness with drugs. Fortunately, the world isn't completely against Ari. His relatives can change from prying nuisances into a warm extended family, given to celebratory drinking and the tsiftiteli (you know, the Zorba dance). Even if Ari thinks that the defining quality of being Greek is "hairy shoulders," director Ana Kokkinos thinks there's more to being Greek than being nudged by parents. The film doesn't try to reconcile the fact that Ari can be the target of public discrimination at one moment and turn into a ranter who shouts "wog" at passersby. His self-hatred explains all that.

Why, then, is Head On an only moderately compelling film? I think it's because Kokkinos takes Ari's self-dramatizing dilemma as gospel and doesn't trust the more intimate moments. The movie tries to sell the kinetics, the flashing drug trips, but this decadence is less interesting than the daily ambiance of this boy's surroundings. And I want to challenge the film's insistence that Ari, the narcissist, is the most important figure in this landscape. I think the story is untrustworthy because Ari can't be the only gay Greek boy in Melbourne into sport sex.

On the other hand, I loved the way Kokkinos avoided the two usual endings of this kind of story: death or love. Head On was an avant-garde shocker in Australia because of its scenes of explicit sex and police brutality and its use of obscene language. Two out of three of those don't mean that much here, and so I suspect it really got U.S. distribution because of its star. He's a tremendously good-looking man, even if he is a novice actor, and the director makes sure he and his splendid body are shown off to full erotic advantage. Alex Dimitriades: you'll be hearing more from him.

Head On (Unrated; 104 min.), directed by Ana Kokkinos, written by Andrew Bovell, Mira Robertson and Kokkinos, based on the novel Loaded by Christos Tsiolkas, photographed by Jaems Grant and starring Alex Dimitriades, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the November 11-17, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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