Fantasia Festival Review: Cosmic Candy

Year: 2019
Runtime: 95 Minutes
Director/Writer: Rinio Dragasaki, Katerina Kaklamani
Stars: Maria Kitsou, Maya Pipera, Kimonas Kouris, Dimitris Lalos

By Harris Dang

You may be forgiven if your first impression of Rinio Dragasaki‘s directorial debut, “Cosmic Candy” (2019) looks like a Day-glo fairy tale adventure or a surrealistic drug trip. But the film itself does not veer into whimsicality as much as you think; as it is at heart a comedy/drama about holding onto emotional baggage and learning to let go of said baggage. As this type of aesthetic on film goes, does the film veer so much into quirkiness that it becomes annoying self-conscious? Or does its style have a purpose that accentuates the storytelling and characters at hand? A little dash of sugar is a good thing but too much of it can make your teeth rot. Will “Cosmic Candy” satisfy one’s sweet tooth or will it drown you in a pool of mawkishness?

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Maria Kitsou stars as Anna, a checkout worker at a supermarket who is essentially stuck in a bind in her life as she drifts through the same routine over and over: wake up, go to work, go home in her lousy apartment (populated by noisy neighbours) and sleep. It is repeated ad nauseum but it is Anna’s routine and she is content that it is hers to control. But in her dreams, she pictures herself in her supermarket (which is shown to be glazed in a zero-gravity, Hubba Bubba-colour schemed fantasia), consuming her favourite childhood titular candy (which is similar to Pop Rocks).
“Cosmic Candy” (2019) looks like a Day-glo fairy tale adventure or a surrealistic drug trip. But the film itself does not veer into whimsicality as much as you think.”
One day, Anna’s life undergoes a major change as one of her neighbours goes missing; which results in the neighbour’s daughter, Persa (Maya Pipera) standing in her front door, trying to catch her attention as well as a place to stay. In addition to that, Anna has to contend with workplace issues that could result in her getting fired as well as an unrequited romance with one of her co-workers. Will Anna keep it together as she finagles out of her situation?

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For the visual style of the film, writer/director Dragasaki and her crew seem to have ingested huge amounts of space dust, resulting in a phantasmagorical, drug-addled, hallucinatory space ride. It perfectly captures the mindset of our lead character; a sense of peace (and denial) she can rest in when her emotional baggage still weighs heavily on her shoulders in nightmarish ways. It is all aided by an interstellar score by Felizol (aka Yannis Veslemes), who funnily enough provides a cover version of Clair de lune.
The film would not work as well as it does without the stellar lead performances by Kitsou and Pipera. Kitsou is compellingly conflicted and manages to encapsulate all of the neuroses of Anna perfectly, grounding her portrayal with nuance and heart.”
In one particular scene, after Anna breaks out of her dreams, she is shown vomiting what appears to be a glow-in-the-dark syrupy substance that looks like magma; which is not only eerie to watch but it shrewdly pinpoints the peak of the character arc of Anna in a clever fashion.

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The heart of the film is the relationship between Anna and Persa. It is conveyed in a charming and realistic (yet never cloying) manner, as the their contrasting personalities (Anna is guarded and apprehensive while Persa is free-wheeling and impulsive) provide much-needed humour as well as an examination that hints valuable context to Anna’s past that results in a second-act reveal that is quite fitting and thankfully never melodramatic. Alongside its fantastical elements, the film deals with mature themes like child abandonment and it is dangerous that filmmakers would explore such material when intermingling it with its own aesthetic. Thankfully, writer/director Dragasaki and co-writer Katerina Kaklamani imbue their script with enough psychological insight and verisimilitude to make their characters believably flawed and the editing by Panos Voutsalas keeps the proceedings concise and running at an even pace.
“Cosmic Candy” is a sweet and charming debut/calling card from writer/director Rinio Dragasaki that charms as well as illuminates thanks to its vibrant visual style.”
In a pivotal scene in the second act, both Anna and Persa peruse through each others belongings and both contributions by Dragasaki and Voutsalas keep the storytelling visual and it never patronises the audiences; giving them a chance for them to pick up the pieces and put them together for themselves.

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The film would not work as well as it does without the stellar lead performances by Kitsou and Pipera. Kitsou is compellingly conflicted and manages to encapsulate all of the neuroses of Anna perfectly, grounding her portrayal with nuance and heart; without ever resorting to histrionics apart from a few dream sequences. Pipera is bubbly, playful and most importantly avoids the trap that most child actors fall for; which is to act cute and precocious for the camera. As for the flaws of the film, the ending is resolved a bit too neatly considering the dramatic ramifications shown. The unrequited romantic subplot feels like an afterthought in comparison to the rest of the story and some of the tone shifts in the storytelling can be quite jarring as it swerves back and forth from being comic and serious.

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Overall, “Cosmic Candy” is a sweet and charming debut/calling card from writer/director Rinio Dragasaki that charms as well as illuminates thanks to its vibrant visual style, compelling lead performances and its deep examination in how people deal with loss and absence in their lives. Recommended.

3.5 stars

“Cosmic Candy” will be showing at Fantasia Film Festival from 20th August to 2nd September. FT20-PressRelease-horiz-EN-F2

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