At the outset of the film the heroine’s face dominates the foreground. In the next scene we discover that we are at the central station of a large city in present-day Europe, which is none other than the Greek capital city, Athina (Athens). An Athens that is full of apparent and less apparent traumas due to the successive crises of an entire decade. The economic crisis, the political crisis, as well as the refugee tragedies of more recent years, are to be interwoven in an existential trajectory where contending discourses collide and clash. The heroine’s figure becomes the zero point where these wider occurrences meet head-on, producing exponentially a major personal impasse, through bitter experiences that leave us unsuspecting all along. We are given no insight beyond the film’s scenic compositions and the escalating anxiety reflected in the principal character. The film unfolds elliptically through scenes that evoke a realistic narrative and at times turn into plainly surreal moments, like the ones where a French and a German lady in their respective downtown Athens shops refuse to answer in Greek and demand that the heroine answer their questions in their own mother tongues. The joy, the pain, the agony, but also the constant questioning of what constitutes a political and social struggle nowadays are inseparably intertwined with the heroine’s existential wandering and a series of events that make her wonder where she is, although always in Athens. She is like a modern female Odysseus who has left behind the battles of the past, yet feels trapped in the lingering frustration. Elpiniki Voutsa-Rentzepopoulou’s film is not one of easy answers and solutions. Besides, the endeavor of seeking clear understanding and safe outlets to the complex and conflicting stakes that have led so many people of all ages, men, women and children, to flee the grim realities of their homelands and keep propelling them to reach for a promise of a better future, elsewhere and beyond, despite all hardship and danger, is definitely a challenging one for all those who were found to observe or cross paths with this movement, to support or clash with these populations.
The film uses the cinematic means very carefully, especially the close-ups of the face of its Odysseus-like heroine. Thanks to its cinematic economy, the film succeeds in making the most of every feature that may enable the viewer to partake in the spirit imminent in the minimalism of its images. The city is treated as a phenomenological canvas, up till the lofty end where the camera wanders off on the bare stony Mediterranean landscapes. Moments of memory and observation make Athens become a labyrinthine extension of the cinematic face and its struggle to break through its anguished collapse into a place of balance that will encompass both a new stability and a renewed sense of hope. Not only the city’s space but also the encounters between the main character and those she comes across (whether strangers, friends or foes to her perception of things) and the themes that emerge, all become parts of this cinematic sonata that in every movement strives to compose in a common psychodramatic key all the three times: the memory of the past, the hardiness of the present and the vision of the future. This uncertain future, rendered as a continuous present, makes the principal character shoulder events that exceed her. Is this a reflection on the inadequacy and impiety of our actions as a culture and the consequent downfall? As stated earlier, the film falls for no easy answer. On the contrary, it encourages the viewers to hold onto their own overseeing and ingenuity when it comes to forming further insights about what is being addressed through the primarily iconographic, and not verbal, dialogues. For this reason the impressions of memory are constantly present in every sequence of images, in every action and movement, in every narrative statement. The director, besides making great use of the cityscape and the characters for representing the impasses and the anxious quest for answers, manages to harness the power of the soundtrack when it comes to the silences that remain meteoric over the receding dialogues. In these moments the music manifests an outburst of unuttered emotions. The truth concealed by the deceptive narration is unveiled through the way the iconography and the music are brought together in the final scene – just as in the last shot of Citizen Kane (1941). The music succeeds in pulling the wool from our eyes, but fortunately without attempting to extort any specific emotion or to direct us unilaterally to some place. Here the viewer is the one called to form the ending of the film, and this gesture of Voutsa-Rentzepopoulou’s suggests a latent contemplative interactivity.
The film seemingly implies that the key to the ongoing drama it undertakes to represent may not be found through a private turn inward reinforcing individualism. Maybe and ultimately the thread that will be able to provide a Bible-like way out of the tragic desert of the Real, the absurdity entailed by the absence of meaning and the failings of our declining institutions, is to be found through collective interrelatedness and interaction. The idea of Community thus emerges as a viable response to the pain of the Other, as a creative force up against the collapsing Meaning and as a counterforce to the ubiquitous forces of Power and the cruel demands they produce on the Life of the global populations in motion. In this Community it is absolutely necessary to set up new forums that will bestow rights and provide means of expression and agency not only to the cold reasoning of numbers and the technocratic solutions of governments, but also to the human qualities of empathy, care, compassion and mutual support. In this struggle, that is actually a struggle for existence, the cinematic art, as indicated by Voutsa-Rentzepopoulou’s film, may become a powerful means for interconnecting fragmentary moments of resistance and eventually evolve into a springboard for leaping to something greater; as great as the stakes of our times call for.
© FIPRESCI 2020