In Katerina Patroni’s moving and profound The Fourth Character, selected for International Competition, three Athenians each reflect on the emotional complexities within their seemingly simple lives.
Older Pavlos (75) is full of regret for a life carelessly, he may say savagely, lived. At the age of 63 he looked in the mirror and decided he didn’t like what he saw. Because throughout his life he discarded people; his grandmother, his wife and children, even the mother who he claims he adored. Now he travels every day across Athens, finding solace in the feeding of squadrons of pigeons.
Tina is still dealing with the death of somebody very close in a motorbike accident, and now refers to her existence in binary terms, namely the lives she lived before and after the devastating telephone call that alerted her to the tragedy. She ties ribbons to the tree and railings where her beloved Takis was killed.
The younger Pavlos has dedicated his life to God. A former national skier and, as we interpret, a man who has been active in the arts, he how finds joy in small but essential acts of industry (such as clearing a road of debris) or acts of physicality, such as cycling hands free through the back streets of Athens. “I offer God my will, I have no will of my own… My life is in his hands,” he says.
The pace of the film is slow but the revelation of detail within the lives of each protagonist is captivating. “To be honest, I think that they are all aspects of me, different parts of me,” comments director Patroni. “People who are carrying around their own personal stories, their own questions and personal feelings of loss, who go around unnoticed in the crowd as we all do.”
But the director did notice Older Pavlos, from a bus as she saw him engulfed by pigeons. Then she saw him again in the same place a few days later. The third time she saw him she spoke with him. Eventually he told her the story of his life, over the course four hours, recorded on tape and subsequently used as voice-over. But the next day, he felt he had more to confess, and the vice of gambling was added to that of carefree womanising. “He was feeling very guilty and said that he didn’t tell me it all, and that I would have to come again, and so he revealed other stuff that he didn’t say first time. It was an amazing revelation for me.”
Patroni says that she went “in search” of somebody like Tina, eventually finding her via an organisation that offers care and advice to people who have suffered bereavements in motor accidents. “[The connection] is not so straightforward, but of course I had a loss in my life, like Tina. Somebody died – just like that.” Tina tells how she encounters the dead Takis in her dreams but has learnt to communicate with it gently, so as not to alarm it and therefore hasten its departure.
The younger Pavlos intrigued Patroni, and not only because he intones the same prayers her grandmother used to say when she was a young girl (the film is, incidentally, dedicated to her grandmother’s memory). The man is, she says, a highly skilled musician and filmmaker (“he wanted to become like Glenn Gould”, and he plays the flute on the film’s soundtrack). What’s more, despite his itinerant status, he retains his film star looks. But these issues are, at least for the purposes of this film, peripheral. Patroni’s intention was to chronicle Pavlos’ innate and all-consuming spirituality, and “to concentrate on God, first.”
So, who is the fourth character of the film’s title? “You can ask, but I don’t answer,” the director responds, preferring to allow the audience to reach their own conclusions, or make their own assumptions. Some think the answer is God, others a departed loved one. When Pavlos the Younger saw the film, he suggested that we, the audience, are the fourth character.
“It is so wonderful to hear these interpretations and I accept them all as valid, but I refuse to impose my own,” Patroni concludes.