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Cosmic Candy
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by Jay Seaver

4 stars

SCREENING VIA THE 2020 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It took me a bit of time to reset my brain for how off-kilter "Cosmic Candy" is, and the funny part is that because I saw it via this festival and consume a fair amount of fantastical material anyway, I had to adjust it downard. It's trippy at the start but things didn't click into place until I realized that it didn't take place in a world where hallucinogenic confections make it to supermarket shelves, but one where things get plenty weird and interesting on their own.

So that piece at the start where Anna Pilarinou (Maria Kitsou) seems to fly into space from the liquor aisle of the supermarket where she works is just a dream, one from which she is wakened by Persa (Magia Pipera), the ten-year-old next door, loudly practicing her lines for the Independence Day school play. That may not be an issue for very long; the other residents of the building are circulating a petition to kick Persa's father (Dimitris Lalos) out, what with them being behind on the rent, attracting suspicious characters, and being generally weird. Of course, Anna is a bit of a mess herself, probably kept on at the shop because her late father was the best friend of proprietor Yannis (Fotis Thomaidis) and apparently suffering from some sort of compulsive behavior. But when Persa's father disappears and the landlord changes the locks, she can't bring herself to push the girl in front of her door away.

It takes a while for director Rinio Dragasaki and her co-writer Katerina Kaklamani to really start digging into the reason why Anna is the way she is, if that's what they actually do - for all that viewers may wisely nod at understanding why she's a lousy supermarket clerk clinging to certain things despite apparently owning a very nice apartment outright, the filmmakers leave the exact extent to which it is cause and effect up to viewers. Similarly, there's almost no time spent on exactly why Persa's father needs to run and hide; the two learn just enough about each other to recognize a bit of themselves, but the story keeps their backstories fuzzy enough that the film can't really lead to them confronting the past as opposed to deciding on a present and future.

So it becomes about Anna and Persa figuring each other out, and they turn out to be great to watch go about it. Maria Kitsou plays Anna without obvious OCD-signalling tics but with a sort of constant strain, occasionally breaking it with a moment where she can dip back into a less-burdened mindset, something that happens more as having Persa around becomes normal. Magia Pipera never makes Persa feel like a little adult even when the film indulges in a bit of role-reversal, always getting across how a kid at ten can start to grasp longer timeframes than "right now" but still kind of lives in the moment. She and the filmmakers make Persa very individual without making her too much of an weird kid, with one of the more delightful moments coming when Anna takes her to school and is a bit surprised, like the audience, that Persa actually appears to be a popular girl who fits right in rather than someone strange and eccentric.

That sort of grounded portrayal is a big part of what makes the movie work even when it's the poppy colors of Anna's sugar-powered flights of fancy that may initially grab a viewer's eye, with little details like the contrast between Anna's childhood bedroom and the rest of the apartment hints at a major change in her mentality, while the back half of the movie is a bunch of bad decisions with earnest reasons behind them. A detour to a small village does a nifty job of making both Anna and the locals seem a bit peculiar mostly without being mean, although there's a sharp double warning to be found in when meeting Persa's grandmother - it serves the story to make Anna realize she cares enough about Persa to not leave her in a bad situation, but also may be a wake-up call of what her own future may hold if she keeps building up walls rather than engaging with what's around her.

So, no, this isn't really an outright fantasy where drugs are a metaphor for unhealthy escape; it's just got some elements that look like that from a certain angle. Instead, it's a surprisingly grounded and almost-conventional story finding the person you need at a certain moment, and how it's not always romantic.

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originally posted: 08/23/20 03:25:58
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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