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One vice of beauty is that it is very often boring. This is the case with "Arcadia Lost." Visually, the movie is phenomenal — filmed in Greece, it's a slow whirlwind of gold, blue, white, and yellow, sifting through a sun-drenched Mediterranean landscape. The camera lolls around the characters and drifts across the ancient topography, giving the audience the sensation that they are watching a memory. It's a soothing thing to look at, a balm for the eyes.
But it is boring. Only the first 20 minutes contain enough intrigue of plot to match the film’s prettiness. Sixteen-year old Charlotte grieves the loss of her father and is dissatisfied with her mother’s marriage to a new man. She is a sly Lolita, lazily promiscuous, snappy and incorrigible. Her stepbrother, Sye, cannot figure out how she wants to be treated, so he hides behind his Pentax and innocently follows her around. The story meanders around Charlotte’s ennui and seductiveness until a car crash strands her and Sye in the desolate, rocky countryside.
Enter Nick Nolte — the unfortunate herald of yawns and glances at the clock. He is Benerji, a sage, or a guide, or Socrates, or a hobo, depending on your interpretation. His lines are incoherent; he sounds wise because he speaks in contradictions, not because his character is meaningful or provocative. Charlotte and Sye decide that they have no choice but to accompany him on a journey that dips in and out of mythological parallels, testing the fortitude of their newborn relationship, spanning the rest of the movie, and, sadly, abandoning all potential for interest.
Nothing else happens, really. They wander around, pick olives, meet an Australian, roll around in the grass. "Arcadia Lost" falls into a trap that catches so many other indie films — it tries to rely too much on profoundness, on its hope to enlighten and inspire the audience, and in doing so forgets that a movie is meant also to entertain. During the Q&A session director Phedon Papamichel said that he enjoyed directing a small film because he was free from the “ball and chain” of a large-scale, heavily systematized Hollywood production. Perhaps such constraint can be a good thing, though, in keeping the filmmaker from straying too far off from an already empty plot.
Charlotte’s alluring sexuality spurs the action, but it is cast off too quickly. At the end she has become flat, almost sexless. When the sexual tension is turned off, only the panorama of Greek mountains and an unimaginative epiphany that was evident from the beginning remain. The film has fleeting references to Greek mythology, but by the end it is all but pagan. The conclusion is overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian, which is fine, except that rather than dramatically building up to a hard-hitting, revelatory climax, it just simmers, like a pot of rice, until it’s ready to be taken off the stove.