How far would you go for your dog? To the end of the neighborhood? To the ends of the earth? Or how about to the ends of internationally recognized territory as detailed by the United Nations and the European Union? If you said yes to all three of these questions, then you may love Marios Piperides’ Smuggling Hendrix, a Cypriot film about a middle aged man who finds himself trapped in a labyrinthine, Kafkaesque nightmare while trying to rescue his beloved dog. The film starts with Yiannis (Adam Bousdoukos), an unemployed musician living in Cyprus with plans to hop on an airplane in three days and leave his life (and hopefully his motley assortment of legitimate and not-so-legitimate debtors) behind. But on a walk around the neighborhood with his dog Hendrix, his fuzzy friend gets loose and high-tails it across the border into Northern Cyprus, the northeastern portion of the island and the Cypriot capitol city of Nicosia that’s been occupied and colonized by Turkey since their 1974 invasion. As the territory is only officially recognized by Turkey, it exists in a dubious legal netherworld precariously maintained by a United Nations buffer zone. So while Yiannis is free to move about between the two “countries,” he discovers to his chagrin that Hendrix can not—a preposterous byline in an obscure treaty prohibits the transportation of live animals and plants for fear of “diseases not controlled by the EU.” Faced with foot soldiers and petty bureaucrats eager to flex what little power they have, Yiannis realizes he must get creative to steal Hendrix back across the border in time for their flight.
For a time it seems like Smuggling Hendrix will be a light comedy about an exasperated everyman just trying to save his dog. But as Yiannis collects a growing number of allies, it morphs into a leisurely heist/hangout flick that pauses every now and then for sententious monologues about the idiocy of national borders. The strength of these sequences depends largely on the supporting characters themselves. Yiannis’ ex-girlfriend Kika (Vicky Papadopoulou) who leads him to an unguarded hole in the border is painfully one-dimensional and so are her scenes. A corpulent Turkish smuggler named Tuberk (Özgür Karadeniz) who tries and fails to sneak Hendrix across the border feels like an undercooked parody of intimidating mafioso types. And finally there’s Hasan (Fatih Al), an exasperated Turkish settler living with his family in the house Yiannis’ family was forced to flee from during the Turkish invasion. He’s the most interesting character in the whole film—born a Turkish settler, Northern Cyprus is the only home he’s ever known and the only home he can ever legally have. So when some exhausted Greek maniac comes banging around his house declaring that his family used to live there, we sympathize with his indignation.
Is Smuggling Hendrix a good movie? Well, it’s certainly not a bad one. But it’s trapped by its own gentle insouciance. It’s too nice to truly get mean or venomous about the Northern Cyprus situation and too predictable in how it frames Yiannis’ quest to rescue Hendrix as a metaphor for his emotional maturity. Oh yes, the film may claim to be about saving a dog, but it’s really about Yiannis saving himself from his need to run away from problems by facing him with one he literally can’t run from. People in need of a breezy comedy might enjoy it, but otherwise your mileage will considerably vary.