Tales of Division and Pregnancy: "The City of Children"

in 52nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Nestoras Poulakos

Yorgos Gikapeppas’ The City of Children (I poli ton paidion) was the big revelation of the 52nd Thessaloniki International Film Festival, outshining the year’s other Greek selections. This is the first feature from Gikapeppas, a theatre and television director who has filmed several short stories. Interestingly, the production of the film was inspired by the country’s economic crisis, which has undeniably affected local filmmaking. City of Children was shot without public subsidies from the Greek Film Center or ERT; it was self-financed with support from the private television station NOVA. Therefore it is an independent production, with a relatively low budget for a feature film.

Like Alejandro González Inárritu, Gikapeppas’ subject is the modern urban landscape of social crises and economic and political problems. He presents four stories of relationships which have pregnancy as their central theme. An Iraqi immigrant who is about to give birth meets with indifference from her family; the only person to help her is a Greek neighbor who is in love with her. A middle-aged couple with teenage children is on the verge of separation, even though the wife is expecting another child. A young couple on the margins of society come to a standstill when the girl announces that she is pregnant during a car journey. Two barren women who want a child are in love with the same man, a doctor who cannot find happiness anywhere. All four stories are ultimately connected by tragedy.  

Gikapeppas shows us crises in human relations, the renegotiation of values, the decline of morality, the rape of logic, the inflexibility of habit, broken communications between couples and family members, selfishness, and a denial of the diversity of others. Everyday life in a large city is marked by difficult and violent rhythms: couples of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds collide, break up, fight, and trample over everyone to preserve their egos. These people are, of course, also influenced by the general crisis of their country, which leaves them with no protection or social peace. Unemployment, misery and political turmoil can only adversely affect human relations.

The City of Children is the first work of contemporary Greek cinema to substantially address a society in crisis. Greece has experienced a severe financial crisis; it has been in a precarious economic position even during the false hope of the Democratic period after the dictatorship. Greek society is torn and broken, and now looks ready to explode. This national situation is reflected in the relations between couples, families, friends, colleagues and even strangers.

Despite some dramatic problems involving the exaggerated reactions of certain characters, Gikapeppas has created a contemporary urban story which is entirely anthropocentric, focusing on childhood and adults’ controversial relationships with children. The film maintains a critical and reflective stance towards a very difficult and real issue. The film’s doses of pessimism and its moments of reflection and commentary on the economic, political and social reality of Greece create a story which aims to awaken the nation from its slumber.