Political Aspect in the Greek Section

in 57th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Ifigenia Kalantzi

Among the thirteen Greek film premieres in the 57th Thessaloniki IFF, America Square, by Yannis Sakaridis, which won three awards (FIPRESCI/ Special Youth Jury/ Actor Special Mention), reveals the formation mechanisms of the emerging extreme-right-wing nationalism. It successfully reflects the social and political situation in today’s Greece, capturing last winter’s images of Athens squares occupied by large numbers of refugees.

Winning two awards (ERT S.A. / Best Actress) with her first feature, Park, Sofia Exarchou chooses a raw realism to sketch the portrait of a wild, violent, futureless youth, set in the abandoned outskirts of the former Olympic village, a decade after the glamorous 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Through continuous long-shots, an unemployed boy with his girlfriend, a wounded former athlete, his younger brother and their pitbull, trained for dog fights, loiter aimlessly with other teenagers, vandalizing the abandoned sport facilities or strolling among drunken tourist groups in south suburbs’ expensive hotels. Grounded in sonic contrasts, such as the extremely loud sounds of the teenagers’ excessively violent outbursts juxtaposed with silent scenes, the film translates unconscious teenage stupidity, boredom and anger in a not yet revealed social despair, blended smoothly with the original electronic music of The Boy. Influenced by Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold, 2009), Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant, 2007) and Wasted Youth (Argyris Papadimitropoulos, 2011) the director designates the rage of youth as a savage tribe, a pack of dogs, developing a violent sexual corporality also referring to Cassavetes’ movies.

Exarchou seems to follow the dominant choice among emerging filmmakers of raw realism rendered with hand-hand camera, a cinematic style deriving from cinema-verité or the Danish Dogma movement. Such an approach was also very common in the majority of the films in the International Competition at this year’s TIFF, which focused, almost epidemically, on the difficulties of today’s teenagers to deal with the expanded phenomenon of blind violence. The integration of young people in a social group of shared ethnic and class features, despite multinational cultural diversity, reflects on a global level the social and political consequences of the assault on social gains, leaving young people without prospects while increasing unemployment and prompting more violence. Perhaps this widespread “independent” style is associated with the submission of the film product in a globalized aesthetic as required by international festivals standards, imposing through financial aid programs similar guidelines on emerging directors, creating a new mainstream style.

Alongside the awarded films, the inspired musician and talented director Alexandros Voulgaris, aka “The Boy,” in his experimental film Thread, continues the “political thread” from the previous generation of parental directors—Voulgaris is himself the son of two famous intellectuals of the 70s, Pantelis Voulgaris, a renowned director, and the author Ioanna Karystiani, both political prisoners under the Greek dictatorship (1967-1974). Dealing with a rare thematic diligently avoided by his contemporary young filmakers, Alexandros Voulgaris dares to bring out the untold tortures of political prisoners and returns through a nightmarish futuristic style from the real historical past of Greece, to the current situation, creating political thought through experimental cinema. His passionate heroine is “red” Niki, a word which means “victory” in Greek. Niki is often portrayed wearing a red dress. She is interpreted by the natural redhead actress Sophia Kokkali, who plays both Niki and her teenager son Lefteris, a name which means “liberty” in Greek. Niki is a left-wing activist and resistance member who was caught by the junta and tortured wildly. Giving birth in 1972 to Lefteris, in the times of democratic restitution, Niki tries to maintain her maternal role, raising her son, who will later will strive for his own freedom. With its psychoanalytic autobiographical dimension and the hysterical outbursts of the protagonist, the film is based on actual historical facts of the dictatorship regime, but situated in a fictitious time. There is the government of “the Visionaries,” who betrayed the people, and the resistance group “the Faces,” who sign illegal leaflets with poetic political slogans similar to the angry lyrics of the film’s original songs by The Boy and electronic pop music by Felizol. In keeping with the director’s formalistic researches from his previous experimental films, “Thread” approaches Godard’s militant pioneering spirit, overflowing with multiple stylistic influences and mixed with a colourful pop-culture nostalgia conveyed through a multitude of fuzzy close-ups referring both to Lynch and Jodorofsky’s cinematic style. Furthermore, the film’s Greek title, Nema, also refers to the word “Amen” in reverse. The reddish splatter from the torture scenes reflects the fetishistic spirit of De Palma and Cronenberg, and the New Year’s announcement, a typical time-stamp reference to Theo Angelopoulos’ cinema, mixes nostalgia with a political dimension. The mainstream junta kitsch songs of the 1960s contradicts the sublime interpretation of militant singer Maria Dimitriadi in “Alexis,” a song by Thanos Mikroutsikos based on the poetry of Yiannis Ritsos, the famous communist Greek poet. The code name “cyclamen” refers also to the lyrics of a well-known poem by Ritsos, set to music by the major Greek epic composer Mikis Theodorakis. This density of meaning and feelings deal with the Greek political blend of the 1970s, combining elements signifying the struggle of the previous generation against the dictatorship with psychological biographical elements and pop colours of the subsequent generation.

A first feature film and academic project, Common Ground, by Penny Bouska, is deeply influenced by the existential philosophical cinema of Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr, It features amazing black and white photography, with gray tones under winter light, and persistent, almost hypnotic, static and slow long-shots, with a gradual evolution that allows the spectator to intensify their sense of time’s passage.

Far from conventional cinema, a simple story of the sudden arrival of a group of foreigners who disturbs the serenity of residents on an isolated island, the film is situated in a timeless location, allowing the plot to evolve both in past and future tense in order to put us once more inside the film frame and the social notion of the troop as a dynamic form of collectivity.

The diachronic aspect of a mass of people, dressed in old-time coats with a suitcase in hand, initially seen as an unspecified dot in the distance approaching forward from the background, recalls haunting images of a historical past, referring to the crowds of refugees from Smyrna in 1922 and the Nazis’ pogroms in the 1940s, onward today’s refugees. Horizontal long traveling shots between the open doors of the wagons gradually reveal the refugees’ hopeless faces. The melancholic original music by Isidoros Papadakis refers to the minimalistic composition by Michaly Vig for Tarr’s films. Dialogues portend uprising for a sleeping crowd that will stand up and fight for its rights, building an allegorical sense of a parable.

Edited by José Teodoro