Cosmic Candy opens as if it’s going to be a sugar-coated fever dream about one woman still obsessed with candy and stays away from strangers. While not the absurdist Greek comedy it initially appears to be, Rinio Dragasaki’s feature debut still swerves into weird moments amid its more bleak reality. The role of parental figures and the impact their absence has on their children is front-and-center of Cosmic Candy. While small in scope, it is a quaint exploration of maternal bonding through the eyes of two people left behind by their fathers.
Anna (Maria Kitsou) is extremely anxious about veering from her daily routines. She gets visibly distraught when she finds out the store she works at as a cashier will no longer be selling her favourite sugary treat – the titular, Cosmic Candy. Spending her days and nights either at work or at home, any threat to her schedule or way of life is monumentally destructive. So when she finds out she’s on the verge of losing her job and she is forced to take care of an eccentric, energetic child while her father is away, her entire world is shaken. It doesn’t help that Persa (Pipera Maya) has told her she can’t go to the police about her father’s absence.
Shifting from one plot to the next, Cosmic Candy has a difficult time finding its footing when it steps outside of the core relationship between reluctant guardian and child. It’s a movie that doesn’t really give a lot to its audience in order to flesh out why Anna handles things the way she does. It uses broad strokes to create a character who has managed to be self-sufficient and maintain a set lifestyle after her father’s untimely passing. Now she takes medication, but she also still escapes reality through candy – being able to live carefree in those brief moments trapped in the sugar high. We know her Dad passed away from an accident, but have no grasp on their relationship besides the fact that she has a recurring nightmare of his death. There’s enough to bite on but nothing substantial.
It’s those moments between Persa and Anna where the film shows its strengths. Their bond strengthens over time and to see Anna step out of her comfort zone, even if forcefully, to take care of someone else’s child during her own struggles is endearing. The conundrum is that once the movie does that, Anna’s arc is complete. So the movie spreads itself out with a romance subplot, a road trip, and a manhunt – all unnecessary or redundant in their purpose. Cosmic Candy can tell where its strengths are, but it doesn’t know how to make the rest of it matter anywhere near as much.
If it weren’t for the acting from Maria Kitsou and Pipera Maya, all the anxiety and tension of the movie would be more annoying than charming. Kitsou brings a nervous energy to Anna and plays off well with Maya’s Persa – a character so frantic that she coaxes Anna out of her shell. Forcing two opposing dynamics together, but finding that middleground – they’re both still children – is the stuff that makes Cosmic Candy compelling.
There’s also a level of whimsy to the movie’s set design and overall aesthetic. It often avoids cold, drab settings unless the plot has taken a darker turn. Instead, Anna works in a grocery store that’s colorful and her hallucinations are vibrant and kaleidoscopic. Her home is neat and organized but has pockets of eccentricity in them. While those remain the two main settings of the film, even in bleaker looking shots the film is backed by Yannis Veslemes’ (otherwise known as Felizol) bouncing, bubblegum synth and percussion-heavy score. It creates anxiety while still maintaining a level of fantasy to it all that stands out as one of the best parts of the film.
It’s hard to say that Cosmic Candy is a necessary watch because even in its strongest moments the movie still feels a bit too familiar. It’s using different coming-of-age tropes to make something whimsical and sweet. There’s just so much going on and yet it rarely matters. The main relationship is the focal point of the film and how it develops Anna as a character. Without it, some of the subplots would still have some of the same impact because they don’t require Persa to exist. Everything feels superfluous and tangential to the main arc. While endearing in many respects, Cosmic Candy nails it’s one plotline, but fails to capitalize on making anything else as rewarding.
The Fantasia International Film Festival’s virtual event is composed of scheduled live screenings, panels, and workshops, taking place from August 20th to September 2nd, 2020. For more information, visit the Fantasia Film Festival website.