The abduction of an Albanian-Greek orphan is the catalyst for an epic picaresque misadventure through Athens’ seedy underbelly, in this dazzling sophomore feature from director Menelaos Karamaghiolis.
J.A.C.E. - Just Another Confused Elephant
A sprawling baroque fable with a protagonist who is equal parts Odysseus and Oliver Twist, J.A.C.E. is the singular sophomore feature from Greek director Menelaos Karamaghiolis. Drawing on accounts of the child-trafficking syndicates that prey on the youth of the Balkans, Karamaghiolis has fashioned an epic, postmodern picaresque that is by turns tragic, dazzling, and seductive.
The film opens just before Jace, a seven year- old Albanian of Greek origin, becomes an orphan for the second time. His mother was a victim of an honour killing shortly after his birth; now he's forced to watch in helpless horror as gangsters massacre his adoptive family. Jace's life is spared, but the boy is left mute by the traumatic event. He soon finds himself a silent refugee amid Athens's seedy underbelly, where his upbringing takes the form of a nightmarish odyssey of vice and exploitation. Years later, an adolescent Jace finds succour in the ranks of a troupe of carnival performers, but it's only a matter of time before the clutches of the underworld threaten to reclaim him.
As the elder Jace, Kosovar actor Alban
Ukaj (of the Dardenne brothers' Lorna's
Silence) captivates with his near-wordless portrayal of a tortured soul, variously a
victim of circumstance and a hardened
anti-hero. Meanwhile, making his return
to feature filmmaking after a thirteen-year
absence, Karamaghiolis shows himself
to be a director of enormous stylistic and
narrative ambition, melding influences as
disparate as Alejandro Jodorowsky and
Pedro Almodóvar to improbably seamless
effect. He exhibits, too, a keen social
consciousness, with his operatic parable
doubling as a trenchant plea on behalf of the
victims whose real-life ordeals inspired it.