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Wasted Youth at MIFF

Argyris Papadimitropoulos

This coming week at the Melbourne International Film Festival, you have the chance to see two of Greece’s most talked-about feature films of the past 12 months – Attenberg (directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari) and Wasted Youth (directed by Argyris Papadimitropoulos and Jan Vogel).


Attenberg is a continuation of some of the themes and style of the watershed art film Dogtooth (directed by Giorgos Lanthimos) from a year ago, with some of the same people involved in its making.  Boasting a brilliant central performance by Ariane Labed, who won Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival for this role, Attenberg is an enjoyably kooky but also poignantly humanistic film, though it lacks the gravitas and sheer artistic vision of the aforementioned Dogtooth.


Wasted Youth, on the other hand, is a more conventional film in a way, a documentary-like, but still fictionalised, film of a particularly relevant real-life incident in recent Greek history: the killing of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by a policeman on December 6, 2008.


The filmmakers approach the subject in a smart way: rather than focus on and sensationalise the murder itself, they penetrate into the two main people’s lives, showing their everyday lives in the couple of days leading up to the incident.  So we see the boy, and the policeman, in separate stories, with their families, their friends, we see their frustrations, their confusions, their edgy existential states …


For me, this is one of the finest of the Greek films of the past couple of years, it has a down-beat realistic style that perfectly suits the subject matter, there is a freshness to the camerawork and the acting, and it certainly captures the temper of the current times.


I asked co-director Argyris Papadimitropoulos his intention in making the film. “Our intention was not to make a film about the Dec 2008 incident, nor the aftermath of it. The tragic event was simply the inspiration for the film. So with this as a starting point, we decided to make a film about the situation in Greece now. How do people live their lives and what leads to this craziness, why people don’t understand each other, why they lack the drive to change what they don’t like. It’s a portrait of a city and a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”


It’s a very realistic film, watching it, you feel like you are right there, in this current Athenian world.  Papadimitropoulos agrees: “Harry - the skater - is a boy that we found on the streets of Athens.  His real life informs the script. There is no dialogue that he didn't use in real life, no location that he wouldn't go in real life, there's nothing scripted about him. Vasilis - the cop - was impossible to do the same way. That's why we chose a great actor (Ieronymos Kaletsanos) and we worked a lot on rehearsals but also we did a lot of research, talked to a lot of real cops to make sure we created a real character.”


But surely the police didn’t co-operate in the making of the film? “The police didn't help us at all. They only made the making of the film even more difficult. The Greek police is not where you go for help, it’s where you go for trouble!”


The film was released in Greece earlier this year, and I asked him how that went. “The reaction of the Greek audience was amazing. Most of the people loved the film and became fans. They were asking for the stickers the kids in the film were sticking and they would put them on the funniest places. The media also loved the film, with political columnists writing about it. That was very exciting for me, because that meant our goal was achieved: we didn't want to make a film that answers questions, we wanted to start a discussion.”


And what will happen with Greece now? “Through this deep chaos we will come to light again. Greeks seem to be willing to change their mentality, because they see where it lead at the end.”

© Bill Mousoulis July 2011.
This report first appeared in Neos Kosmos.