The life of Thanasis (Giorgos Voyatzis) is shattered when his adopted six-year-old daughter Melissa (Veronika Vassilakopoulou) is taken away without warning to the United States by her biological mother. With the help of his cousin, the eccentric Plato (Georges Corraface), Thanasis sets out on a search to retrieve Melissa at any cost.

2.5
Tense, touching road trip goes off track on final stretch.

GREEK FILM FESTIVAL: Written and directed by Nick Gaitatjis, this movie is part crime film, part weepie. It’s a pursuit story and a father/daughter story, too, and its plot taps into a series of grim observations to do with immigration and racism. At times it reminded me of early Wim Wenders; there’s the same affection for unlikely friendships (here, between a young child and an old man) and the little human moments that most movies contrive to avoid. But then, at other moments, Without Borders has the tense urgency and 'you are there’ feeling of a Costa-Gavras political picture, especially late in the movie when the film’s hero characters join a group of Mexicans as they attempt a dangerous – and illegal – crossing into the USA.

The story is told in flashback and begins in the States with a murder investigation and grim scenes of a bloody shooting and the metallic terror of an interrogation room. But this ugly mood is swept away pretty quickly. A lot of this has to do with the casting of Giorgos Voyatzis who plays Thanasis, the films’ hero, an old man who ekes out a living as a candy vendor in Greece. He has a gentleness about him that’s irresistible. He’s almost a mythic creation; he’s Father Christmas, a kind uncle, and parish priest all rolled into one.

As the movie begins, he’s accused of murder. The suspense of the film is about whether the cops will nail him since, as it happens, he has opportunity and motive against him and the circumstantial evidence is staggering. Still, this construction seems a little 'movie-convenient’. You get the feeling that Gaitatjis has elected to use this murder accusation plot conceit as a way to pump some tension into the film. Part of the problem with it is that right from the get-go you get the feeling that Thanasis is incapable of hurting anything or anyone (regardless of the material circumstances). Gaitatjis’ alibi, I suspect, for the cop’s vindictive pursuit of the old guy is to make a 'statement’ about casual racism; Thanasis is suspect by virtue of his 'foreignness’.

As Thanasis offers up his explanation to the cops (one played by the great Seymour Cassel) as to why he may be involved in a murder/kidnap, then we flashback to Greece and a yarn that critics from another age may have charitably described as 'heartwarming’.

Central to this story is Melissa (a terrific performance from Veronika Vassilakopoulou), the young daughter of prostitute Milla (Eugenia Kaplan). After she asks the old man to look after her, Milla disappears overseas for a long time. Thanasis raises the kid as his own. Milla returns to Greece with a new husband and moves to the US with Melissa. Thanasis is distraught and the kid is confused. With the help of his charming but definitely dodgy cousin Plato (Georges Corraface), Thanasis heads to the US to reunite with Melissa. (Exactly what he expected from this reunion is not, somewhat tellingly, pursued in the drama.)

The last stanza of the film tracks the cunning and intrigue Plato and Thanasis bring into play to reach Melissa, whose family has settled in Chicago. Since the legit channels of travel are closed to them both, they get into the murky world of back door deals, and human trafficking. Gaitatjis uses this as an index for Thanasis’ love for his 'adopted’ daughter, but it’s also a way for him to sketch a portrait of bureaucratic heartlessness.

Superficially, Without Borders (I suspect the title implies the idea that love has no boundaries) has a verve and drive that’s winning; but Gaitatjis is a blunt director and the movie is broad and rather crude in character. The film’s emotions aren’t so much earned but pushed at you; afterward I felt a little beaten up. Even the tears-and-smiles ending felt like a compromise; its romance seemed to cheapen the harsh commentary Gaitatjis sutured into this self-consciously fairytale like sentimental story.