Not a day has gone by since we (the wife and daughter and I) landed back in England after our week in Greece that I wanted to turn back the clock, plonk myself back in that time, so cherished I can not wait to return. The Greeks are fun and social, they keep on going through their own struggles, they are about family and love, their music is involving and refreshing, they embrace us with amazing food, and a passion for living. I adore them and the country for all those reasons and many, many more. S’agapo, s’agapo, s’agapo. Greek cinema is something I am still digging deep into with great admiration, and I implore you to educate yourselves too. To celebrate whole-heartedly our seven days in Athens last week, let me give you a celluloid starter for seven with these varied but representative Greek film experiences.
Δεσποινίς Διευθυντής (Miss Manager) 1964 – Dinos Dimopoulos
Delightful, charming, and ultimately very funny. An endearing everyday fun-fest, typical of the great sixties churning of those quirky social comedies, clearly demonstrating equal giggles and comic timing from other film-making countries than the mighty USA and indeed Britain. Rolling out the classic, satirical battle of the sexes and social status in its narrative, Miss Manager still finds a place in contemporary anthropology, and also delivers a light-hearted, thoroughly entertaining film experience. A comedy certainly not lost in any of its translation.
Μια αιωνιότητα και μια μέρα (Eternity and a Day) 1998 – Theo Angelopoulos
Bleak, lingering, often depressing, but yet beautiful, fresh and captivating. The movie pulls you in slowly and indefinitely, with a heart that beats uncertainly towards an unknown future. Some vivid cinematic moments here throughout, two stand-outs include a village wedding that spills onto the streets and the horrifying images of children clinging to the Albanian border fencing. Not distracting in it’s shift in tone, you never quite feel where this might go or indeed take you as an audience member – you stick around for the journey regardless.
Ρεμπέτικο (Rembetiko) 1983 – Costas Ferris
Telling the story of rembetiko singer Marika Ninou, Sotiria Leonardou lights up every frame, a presence here as bold and bright as the iconic images of Ava Gardner or Rita Hayworth perhaps. Mixing music with misery then, there is often nothing wrong with that, Rembetiko shows us the exuberant impact of Greek music (oh that bouzouki) as well as the hardships of the characters and the country’s history, still the rhythmic strings and vocals force you to toe tap and head-bob to the melodic melancholy, almost celebrating, embracing it. Incorporating the music into the story wonderfully via the vast club scenes, this might be more Cabaret than Evita in that way. Dramatic story-telling and musical cinema intertwined seamlessly, both components feed each other so gracefully it is a masterful, laboring movie.
Κυνόδοντας (Dogtooth) 2009 – Yorgos Lanthimos
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Although apparent this is not a visual parenting manual to swear by, there is a respected kind of discipline and educating going on here as the three young adult children live in complete isolation of and captivity from the big bad world. A huge whiff of child cruelty for sure, and some truly eerie human behavior, both mentally and physically, but also some addictive and transfixing film-making from director Yorgos Lanthimos. Dogtooth is a lesson in grabbing you firmly by the balls with all the discomfort a movie can bring, mixing in some truly visual ecstasy that is very tough to resist.
Μικρά Αγγλία (Little England) 2013 – Pantelis Voulgaris
There’s a lingering, revealing scene in Pantelis Voulgaris’ sumptuous Little England when the couple simply walk up steps, it seems to be the first moment they are alone, there’s the moment they let go and free-fall into their feelings all over again. No touching, no words, just a look left hovering between them a moment too long. The film’s beautiful cinematography, music, attention to detail with costumes, really put you in the eye and feel of the era. A blindsiding story-line of two people that never really got together. It simmers emotively in the background, and in the morbid final act you subconsciously feel their love evolving, suppressed under the watchful eyes of their families.
Πολίτικη Κουζίνα (A Touch of Spice) 2003 – Tassos Boulmetis
There are food metaphors for emotional impact galore here, as Fanis (Georges Corraface), now a grown man, is sent back to his childhood to reminisce on the cherished time with his grandfather. The film touches too on the turbulent relationship between Greece and Turkey in the 1960s, but remains grounded in its bitter-sweet and often humorous moments, Such sequences as young Fanis over-indulging following advice about cinnamon bringing people closer together, resulting in some petty squabbling. This is indeed a delicious film-making feast, the likes of Cinema Paridiso and Chocolat are in good company here.
Αλέξης Ζορμπάς (Zorba the Greek) 1964 – Michael Cacoyannis
The last time I sat and watched the intoxicating Zorba the Greek, a couple of years ago, I was still sucker-punched by the film’s darkest moments, primarily through the magnetic Irene Papas’ heart-breaking sub-plot. The gloom creeps up on you amidst Basil’s (Alan Bates) blossoming attraction with the widow, and the optimism and philosophy flowing from the elaborate central character. Anthony Quinn as Alexis Zorba is compellingly over-powering, you welcome his unfiltered lust for life, and the film fills your heart throughout it’s see-saw of emotions.