One of the key themes of the modern era is the conflict between different national identities and the searching for a new one. The emigration issue and the acceptance of the other are central in every western society. The Greek society is a society that reflects the zeitgeist in a more complex way. Greeks are immigrants in many countries (USA, Western Europe). However, Greece is also a country that immigrants (mainly Albanians, Russians and Africans) live in and consider as their new home place.
The Greek Cinema continues to seek themes and modes that could express the living in a foreign land, in the midst of troubling times. Usually in Greek movies the theme of emigration appears as a conflict between Greeks and the immigrants. It sometimes appears as a searching for a home and a construction of a new identity.
Constantine Giannaris movies From the Edge of the City (Apo tin akri tis polis) (1998) and Hostage (Omiros) (2005), Kyriakos Katzourakis’s The Way to the West (O Dromos pros ti dissi) (2003), Fillipos Tsitos’s My Sweet Home (2001), Stavros Ioannou’s Roadblocks (Kleistoi dromoi) (2000), Marco Gastine’s Marseilles, a Greek Profile (2003): are some recent Greek movies which try to explore the yearning for a new home place and also the conflicts between different national identities.
Especially the two recent Greek movies, The Homecoming (I Epistrofi) by Vasilis Douvlis and Elli Makra — 42277 Wuppertal by Athanasios Karanikolas, continue the exploration of this theme.
Vasilis Douvlis’s movie is a reconstruction of the classic film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice (Tay Garnett, 1946) that is based on James M. Cain’s classic novel. There is also a remake which Bob Rafelson directed in 1981 with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in the main roles. Vasilis Douvlis places his adaptation in a little village near the Greek—Albanian border, a crossing for illegal Albanians immigrants. A couple, Ilias and his younger and still beautiful wife Eleni, live a rather boring life. Ilias is an ex-immigrant who has been working in a factory in Germany for 35 years, and finally returns home. When Petros, a young Albanian immigrant, arrives, a new balance is created between the couple. Eleni feels the erotic impulse when she is approached by Petros.
However, in the sometimes-cloudy sometimes-sunny mountains of Greece there is no place for the shades of a film noir. In this movie there is something of the dramaturgy of an ancient Greek tragedy. In a way Petros is a younger Ilias, a person who is trying to make a living in a new country, someone who is searching for a new home place. The erotic relationship between Eleni and Petros could be considered, on a metaphorical level, as the acceptance of the other, of an immigrant in a new home place. Petros commits hubris, when he kills Ilias. As Aristotle says “men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater”. He is not only stealing Ilias’s wife but he is also stealing his home place. So the punishment must be severe. The compunctions of conscience are so heavy that the killer is obliged to surrender to the police. In the end the young immigrant cannot live as a free person in his new home. This is the Nemesis of a tragedy, the avenging of a crime and the punishment of hubris.
Elli Makra — 42277 Wuppertal
Athanasios Karanikolas’s movie is a portrait of a woman, something that is quite rare in the recent Greek cinema. The main character of the movie, Elli Makra, is an immigrant who lives in the German town of Wuppertal. She has been living in Germany since childhood. She does not consider this place as her home. She usually speaks Greek rather than German. She is not German and certainly she is not “100% Greek”. She is in-between; she actually lives in a ghetto — a Greek place in the midst of a German town. Living in this place is a real burden. Elli wants to escape from this place and she hopes that she can find a new home in Greece. She is not only looking for her identity; she is also trying to construct a new identity. Most of all she is looking for a “stainless” identity. She is trying to create a new life.
The amazing part of this movie is the connection between fiction and reality. All the cast are amateurs, all are immigrants who live and work in Germany. There is a neo-realistic touch, a reminiscence of early Roberto Rossellini movies. Actually this movie is the first totally neo-realistic movie in Greek cinema.
We don’t watch the psychology of the character but rather we follow her footsteps. The camera follows her from behind and we sense her agonies. This not-so-young woman tries to find a passage to a new home; she is seeking the “Greek Light” in a German town. Elli is cynical in a sense; she has experienced a tough life not only as an immigrant but also as a woman. However, there is still hope in her life. When she is facing the troubles of life, when she is wandering in the cold streets of Wuppertal there is still dignity and decency in her face.
In the final scene Elli Makra is dancing zeimbekiko. Zeimbekiko in Greek culture is considered a man’s dance, a dance in which the dancer expresses “ton kaimo”, his inner feeling and his melancholy. So when Elli Makra dances zeimbekiko there is an apocalyptic moment. We glimpse something of her inner self, her lost hopes, and her failures. As she moves in the slow rhythm of zeimbekiko, we feel that even though she fails to find a new home, she is in harmony with herself. Elli Makra is in fact a free woman; she does not belong to any man and any place.
As an ironic comment on national identities, the Thessaloniki Film Festival considers Elli Makra — 42277 Wuppertal as a German movie. It is worth noting that all the actors and actresses are Greek immigrants who live in Germany, most of the dialogue is in Greek and the director is Greek; only the production company is German.