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Greek films on European stage
(Karlovy Vary, 2010)

O Diahiristis

The resurgence of Greek art cinema continues this year, with two films receiving their international premieres (outside of Greece) at the prestigious Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which unspooled between July 2 – 10.


Last year, 2009, there was a breakthrough for Greek cinema when Dogtooth (director: Yorgos Lanthimos) was selected for (and awarded at) Cannes, Strella (dir: Panos H. Koutras) selected for Berlin, Plato’s Academy (dir: Fillipos Tsitos) for Locarno, the films then travelling the world to various festivals, promising a new era for Greek cinema.


This year things have been a little slower, but Karlovy Vary is actually the No.1 festival of Eastern Europe (it is located in the Czech Republic), and only a step or two behind such glamour events as Cannes or Venice.  To give you an idea of Karlovy Vary’s size, I was one of 600 journalists in attendance.


The two Greek films selected for Karlovy Vary were Mavro Livadi (Black Field, dir: Vardis Marinakis) and O Diahiristis (The Building Manager, dir: Periklis Hoursoglou).  Both films had several sold-out screenings, the films being received well, with the directors, producers and lead actors all attending the festival.


Mavro Livadi is an atmospheric piece about a group of nuns in the 17th century, and how a seemingly dangerous, savage man intrudes into their world.  Whilst the first half is a little too smooth (with its slick “moody” design), the second half is full of surprises and some genuinely raw passion, with standout performances by relative newcomers Sofia Georgovassili and Hristos Passalis.


O Diahiristis, on the other hand, is set in the all-too-recognisably real and contemporary world of apartment buildings, touchy people, mixed emotions.  The director Periklis Hoursoglou himself plays the lead role, and his real-life wife (the experienced actress Vangelio Andreadaki) plays his on-screen wife, and … you guessed it, their real-life kids play their on-screen kids.  It’s a quirky little film, about human foibles, about things going out of control.  It has a beautiful grasp on reality and that’s why it’s a slight shame that it has too many sub-plots.


For Hoursoglou, his instinct for cinema started early:  “From a small child I liked to observe people, and imagine them in different circumstances.  So I started writing little stories.  How they would take their shoes off when returning home at night, how they would eat, if they prayed before sleep ...”


I ask the director if Greek films at the moment should reflect the troubled times of the country.  He confuses me by simply stating the film’s plot:  “The film is about an apartment block where the sewerage system is broken, someone undertakes to repair it, he tries and tries, but it never gets fixed.”  He then delivers the punch-line:  “Does that remind one of Greece?”


About the success of last year’s films at the major film festivals, Hoursoglou opines: “The issue of how ready Greek cinema is to “break out” from Greek borders is complex.  In the past, it was never a matter of how good or bad a film was.  The films of Damianos, or of Koundouros, barely travelled the world, while Cacoyannis with Zorba the Greek reached the Oscars.  Angelopoulos is well-known by cinephiles, while Voulgaris who is a very good director, is much less known.  In any case, it makes no sense to make films with the sole critieria of whether they will travel the world or be liked by foreigners – it is better that they are good films.”


I turn to his wife, the actress Vangelio Andreadaki, and ask her if she is confident more roles will come her way.  “I will have many offers, for better films, and I will take the Best Actress Award at Cannes Film Festival and Meryl Streep will present me with an Oscar!”  It’s a joke, but … who’s to say it can’t happen?  For that’s the kind of energy Greek cinema has at the moment.

© Bill Mousoulis July 2010.
This report first appeared in Neos Kosmos.