There’s undoubtedly a political and social commentary being made by Cyprus’ Block 12—it’s just hard to spot underneath the film’s over-the-top ridiculousness. The film lambasts everyone through caricature, making its points but loses the thread along the way because of its heavy-handed approach.
It’s director Kyriakos Tofaridis’ first time helming a feature film, which might be why things don’t fit as well as they could. Writer Panos Stathogiannis has knitted together a complicated story about the English finding a massive patch of oil underneath the home of Costantas Rizites (Costas Demetriou) and his wife Ellou (Karmen Rouggeri). It’s further complicated by the land’s history—Greek Cypriot Costantas bought the land off his Turkish Cypriot colleague—and the inexplicable appearance of an Indian goddess of love.
The film successfully shames English meddling while imagining a tidy resolution to the island’s issues thanks to the hash-wielding women of the Rizites family. And it devotes considerable time to criticizing a younger generation of perceived dilettantes, the country’s financial crisis, certain tourists, the Americans and, it seems, whoever else might have earned the ire of Tofaridis–though in many cases the criticism feels legitimate, especially at a political level (the film’s allusion to a real oil deposit off the coast of Cyprus helps its case).
But when every character on the screen starts turning into a joke, the impact of those observations gets watered down. The side-plot with goddess Haniya slowly working her love magic on most of the Rizides clan and the meddling officials who’ve come to swindle the family out of the oil toes a dangerous line as she, on the one hand, stands up to racism and single-handedly takes on and defeats the English officials, but on the other is set up as nothing more than an available body for distribution whenever someone is in need.
It fits a bigger theme of help coming from unexpected sources. As the politicians, and even the men of the Rizides family, dread having the women find out about the oil because it will mean having to deal with them, in the end that’s exactly what it comes down to. And while it gives the women, like Haniya, a chance to prove their critics wrong, the way it plays out undermines them in the same way as Haniya. Tofaridis, who’s clearly not interested in using subtlety to get any point across, just can’t seem to handle the issue of sex with any kind of thoughtfulness.
It’s not all bad and there are some real laughs to be had, especially before Tofaridis gets lost in his attempt at re-creating Indian cinema as unapologetically as he can. Michalis Marinos does a great job as a music encyclopedia/Cypriot secret service agent trying to dance along to the Greek anthem, even if his post-Haniya breakdown takes away most of his charm. The president’s lackey, who tags along to meetings only to sit in a corner and snack, ends up as quite the scene-stealer and Rouggeri delivers far more than her on-screen husband as a put upon wife and mother. All Block 12 needed was a touch more restraint.