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a 2012, 87 mins
a film by Bill Mousoulis  


Cinema, life, wild, precious
by Bill Mousoulis, Ekran, February 2012.


Okay, this is personal.  And political.  It is cinema, and it is life.  These Godardian dialectics may seem a little cliched, but this is the state of Greek Cinema currently – it is between, it is dual, it is indeed in Heraclitean flux!


And for me personally, there is a “doubling of the double” – I am an Australian citizen of Greek parentage who only now, in his mid-late 40s, is experiencing Greek culture directly, in an unmediated, unromanticised way.


As a cinephile for many years, living in Australia, what did I know of Greek cinema?  Angelopoulos certainly.  A smattering of Cacoyannis and Voulgaris, a taste of the next generation of Giannaris and Athanitis, and the occasional commercial film.


But when I started living in Greece in 2009, I immersed myself in the lot, the whole panoply of Greek cinema history:  the brilliance and anarchy of the comic icon Thanasis Veggos;  the freshness and fun of the Aliki Vougiouklaki musicals;  the intriguing and majestic work of lesser-known art auteurs such as Kanellopoulos, Marketaki, Panayotopoulos, Nikolaidis;  and of course the “New Wave” of Greek cinema from the past few years, spearheaded by Giorgos Lanthimos’ scything Dogtooth.


To actually be living in Greece over the past couple of years, directly witnessing the release of all these new films, in the midst of the unsettled situation of the Greek economic Crisis, has been an invigorating experience.  I’ve encountered nothing of the kind back in Australia , where life (and cinema) is easy, polite, diluted.


Now, an economic crisis is simply an economic crisis, it is not a deadly war or a restricting dictatorship, but it impacts on the filmmakers.  It is as if Life is pulling out the ultimate “cruel irony” for these filmmakers: at the exact moment their films are recognised and lauded internationally, they are struggling to find the money for their next projects.


Of course, the “star” directors (Lanthimos, Tsangari, Tzoumerkas) will find a way through this, because of the international nature of film production, but for the other directors at the more “local” level in the Greek film scene, they will be left stranded.


Remember, if we are talking about “New Greek Cinema”, we are talking about “new Greek cinema”, and not just the films that have had the most attention.  The brightness of some stars can tend to block out the light coming from other ones.  Whilst Dogtooth (Lanthimos), Attenberg (Tsangari) and Homeland (Tzoumerkas) are stunning films, there have been many other excellent films made in the past few years:


  • Elvis’ Last Song (dir: Vassilis Raisis) is a completely low-budget digital feature about 20-somethings living and falling in love.  It is unpretentious and genuinely fresh and inventive. Shot with no money, it has an easy-going charm to it, and a great sense of music.  Winner of some awards at festivals within Greece, it deserves to be better-known.
  • In the Woods (dir: Angelos Frantzis) is shot with a DSLR camera, giving it a distinctive look.  A tale of intense connections between three friends in a barren, other-worldly landscape, the small camera gets in close, creating an intimate, eerie cinematographic effect.  It is a pure, sparse, almost abstract film, similar to Gus Van Sant’s Gerry.
  • Ecce Momo! (dir: Anastas Charalampidis) is an experimental feature, an “essay” film about a Russian drifter, full of his diary-like musings. Filled with many “ordinary” scenes of cafes, streets and other everyday settings, the director creates a rich, lush soundtrack, combining voice-over, music and other effects.  A rigorous probing of an alienated soul.
  • The Fruit Trees of Athens (dir: Nikos Panayotopoulos) is the latest film from this now-veteran director.  We see a young man walking the streets of Athens and examining all the fruit trees, with a great whimsy and innocence.  And the film itself has a great cheek and humour, surprisingly reminiscent of satiric French films such as Alain Resnais’ Wild Grass.
  • Knifer (dir: Yannis Economides) is a down-beat B&W study of a triangle situation, featuring the great actor Vangelis Mourikis (the father in Attenberg). Economides is probably the “darkest” of the modern Greek directors, not shying away from ugliness in human nature.  This film is not as brilliant as his previous film Soul Kicking, but it still packs a punch.
  • Three Days Happiness (dir: Dimitri Athanitis) is a complex portrait of several different women, in a form reminiscent of Bergman and Buňuel. Athanitis is one of the most interesting directors in the Greek scene, with 6 features now to his name, including one genuine masterpiece in 2000 + 1 Shots.
  • 45m² (dir: Stratos Tzitzis) is a conventional but still fresh social realist film, about a young woman finding her feet in the world (a knockout performance by Efi Logginou). This film captures the Greek crisis at the ordinary level – we see how young adults have to keep living with their parents to survive, for example.

The economic Crisis is, of course, simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Greece’s problems.  The film Wasted Youth (dir: Argyris Papadimitropoulos & Jan Vogel) points to one other major fracture-point of recent times, namely the police killing of the teenage boy Alexandros Grigoropoulos.  And corruption (at the highest levels, of Government and Church) is rife in recent Greek history, with a lack of accountability that is finally frustrating the masses (who, of course, accepted and even indulged in the corruption themselves up until now).


Make no mistake, the Greek “character”, or “identity” if you will, has now been “stirred” – the “Greek Dream” (of Dionysian revelling and polemicising on the one hand, and Apollonian reflecting and cultural expression on the other) is now “on hold”!


I myself, as an outsider but now also a Greek citizen, observe all this with great interest, wondering where I fit in, if at all.  It is this questioning that I place within my own film Wild and Precious, a feature shot in Greece and Italy in April 2011, and now completed.


There is a double displacement here: I am the outsider filmmaker, making a film about an outsider, an Italian cameraman in the midst of Greece, filming the social conditions and the rioting.  And where does reality end and fiction begin?  I use as this central focal point a real-life Italian self-exile in Greece, Alessandro Figurelli, casting him in a fiction where Greece is violent and Italy is peaceful.


This is extrarodinary in fact.  Can anyone outside of Greece actually be interested in the welfare of this troubled nation?  Greece is always under-estimated by the world, its attraction as a tourist resort overriding all other considerations.

Alessandro returns home to Italy twice in the film, and each time finds himself drawn back to Greece.  As he says in the film, he is a “Nowhere Man, in this Nowhere Land”.


But is it a Nowhere Land?  Maybe it is a landscape of dreams, a cinemascape of ideas and emotions, and a drawing board, an open vista on which we are creating the future.


Greek Cinema is clearly on edge, and anything is possible.