Contemporary Greek Cinema in Four Movements

in 28th Panorama of European Cinema, Athens

by Ifigenia Kalantzi

The 28th Panorama of European Cinema in Athens (26th November-2nd December 2015) was successfully held despite the contradictory economic conditions, and also the absence of the honorary guest Bertrand Tavernier (due to serious health reasons). The simultaneous screenings of premiers by young directors alongside classic masterpieces from the great auteurs of cinema, like Bresson, Bergman, Cassavetes and Orson Welles, suggests a different approach, developing new affinities between contemporary filmmaking and classical methods.

The four Greek films scheduled in Competition covered different aspects of filming, in order to reflect the multi-tone dimension of contemporary Greek cinema.

Zenaida, by Alexis Tsafas and Yiannis Fotou, describes the cruel everyday life of Zenaida, a beautiful African immigrant woman, surviving in Athens as a prostitute. Captured between dream and reality, fiction and documentary, Zenaida finds shelter in her nostalgic dreams, revealing the cruelty and poverty she left behind in her native country, devastated by the new-colonialism.

The drama Invisible, by Dimitris Athanitis, focuses on a dismissed worker’s despair, the father of a six year old boy, who struggles against poverty and accumulating violence, trying to get over his morality, in order to commit a crime. Athanitis provides social criticism through his raw neorealist film, full of sharp close-ups. Filmed in an industrial district of Athens, the film illustrates a proletariat ruined by the current economic crisis. The filmmaker counterbalances the exaggerating emotional melodrama through remarkable musical selections, such as a dramatic aria by Bizet and an inspired remake of old songs from Asia Minor, using modern rhythms, by the composer Papercut, demonstrating the lead character’s mental transitions of a Dostoyevskian moral dilemma. Yannis Stankoglou’s heartbreaking interpretation, in the lead role, received an honorary award at the Panorama closing ceremony.

On the other hand, The Cypress Deep Down, by Nikos Cornelius, expresses an artistic experimental trend, not common in Greek cinema. Noted for using completely different types of directing, the restless filmmaker introduces in his new film an innovative artistic approach, based on modern dance, to visualize intimacy and eroticism in a young couple’s daily routine. The elaborate editing contains experimental aesthetics mixed with choreographed shots of naked actors, along with the sounds and sights of Athens, far from a touristic view. Between cables in the urban sky, parks with benches and trees under the winter light, with a poetic narration in voice over, the director’s main concern is the emptiness of love in modern relationships.

The director tries to convey what brings together or tears a couple apart, driving them in a chain of alternate companions, amplified by significant contemporary music works by Arvo Pärt, Snitke and Gkoreki, through the director’s audiovisual approach, close to the feeling of Terrence Malick’s films.

In a similar way, Impressions of a Drowned Man, by Kyros Papavasiliou, carries Beckett’s sense of paradox in a futuristic surrealism, with experimental shades, in this his debut feature film. Inspired by the true incident of the suicide of the great Greek poet Kostas Karyotakis (1896-1928), Papavasiliou creates a spatiotemporal event to demonstrate in a cinematic way Karyotakis’s antiheroic sense of a sarcastic and hopeless poetry, protesting against all banality. A man wakes up with amnesia on a beach. After a strange wandering, a woman reveals to him that, being the poet’s ghost, he appears in the real world every year on the anniversary date of his suicide, repeating the events of the last day of his life. Stuck in a time loop process, this cinematic quest of identity also involves references to other suicidal poets, such as Sylvia Plath and Vladimir Mayakovsky, expressed through a surrealistic atmosphere.

Edited by Steven Yates