The Art Of Keeping It Simple By Loukas Katsikas
Pretentious artistic acts on one side, over ambitious but barely successful efforts on the other and a whole national production trying to cast away its limited world appeal and restrictive budget in the middle. This is certainly a quick but totally representative view of Greek cinema, circa 2005. We saw it paraded throughout the 46th Thessaloniki festival, we watched it fall prey to poor screenwriting, mediocre acting, big budgets offered to underprivileged directorial hands and thematic autism.
Thirteen is an unlucky number, but it also happens to be the exact number of films the five members of the FIPRESCI jury had to watch and evaluate during their days in Thessaloniki. In this selection, collectively a representative image of the state of Greek cinema, there were things to enjoy (the Lynchean odyssey of A Dog’s Dream), things to cherish (the exciting presence of actors such as Ioannis Papazisis or Evgenia Kaplan in Face Control and Liubi respectively), things to admire (the directorial assurance of Nikos Grammatikos in The Wake and Constantine Giannaris in Hostage) and things to be angry and infuriated about (the messy ideological patchwork that is Sweet Memory , the experimental dead end of Kinetta , the sadomasochistic masturbation of The Zero Years).
There were expensive productions suffering from an overload of stereotypes and conventions (Chariton’s Choir), carefully made but totally predictable teledramas (Ikaro’s Dream) and films suffering from the eternal Angelopoulos complex, where an obsession with form and image surpasses and often crashes any investment in story or character (once more Sweet Memory seems to fit the description).
Among this maelstrom of half baked intentions and style over substance, there was a film that stood apart and stood alone, simply because it was made with the simplest aim of not needing to prove anything to anyone. Devoid of any pretension, made on a shoestring and disarmingly sincere concerning its origins, Tsiou. was more than a pleasant surprise. It was a statement, a sort of “fuck you” to the whole of Greek cinema’s production mentality. Its director, 34 year old Makis Papadimitratos, gathered a few friends, picked up a camera and came up with a very simple but perfectly executed plot device: on the 15 th of August, the day of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin and a bank holiday, several people are drifting through the empty streets of an abandoned and warm Athens in search of some heroin. Tsiou. moves around a multitude of characters and humorously tries to portray their desperation and urgent need for a good fix.
The film relies on a solid sense of rhythm, a fleeting use of vivid and original dialogue, clever one-liners and a colorful mosaic of characters to overcome its amateur production origins. Refusing to assume any moral position on its subject matter, it is a spontaneous, energetic piece of cinema, a film made for the fun of it, rather than trying to change the history of cinema. What makes Tsiou. such an interesting case is not its poor production values and guerilla filmmaking but the mere fact that it is a film made out of nothing, with absolutely no state or distribution funding but only with the spirit and dedication of its young, inexperienced cast and crew, who brought a freshness and spontaneity to the film.
This immediacy together with the “as independent as it gets” attitude makes Tsiou. certainly flawed and clumsy but a perfectly honest answer to Greece’s austere, dead serious and drained of any sense of entertainment approach to filmmaking. It is a shot of bliss, an example worth following. It is also an answer to the festival audience’s plea for a little fun.