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55th Thessaloniki International Film Festival, 2014

Greek Films at the Thessaloniki Film Festival
By Ninos Feneck Mikelides 

Stratos
space.
"Stratos" (Yianis Economidis)

Although one would expect that the economic, political, as well as moral, crisis currently plaguing Greece, the day-to-day disappointments as well as the lack of money for the production of films, would impede our filmmakers from continuing to express themselves through film; in reality, these conditions have, on the contrary, inspired them to proceed in recounting their ideas and queries on celluloid — or, to be more precise, in digital formats, since we are now speaking about modern technological changes. This was, at least, my impression after watching the recent crop of Greek films at the 55th Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF).

From an artistic point of view, this year's Greek productions, with few exceptions (e.g.: Yianis Economidis' Stratos and Panos Koutras' Xenia), may have not been on the same level with previous years' films. All of these films, however, showed that their directors, younger or established, managed to convey on film, in a very realistic way, their pursuits and their vision. Poverty, unemployment, different moral and other manner of stalemates, family and social repression, the impact of a crisis which is not limited to the economic, are all subjects that found their expression in the seven films that had their premiere at the TIFF.

Bathed in a psychedelic/dreamlike atmosphere, Norway (FIPRESCI prize for Best Greek Film) ushers us into a Greece of living dead, where a vampire (the film's only sympathetic character) clashes with the evil that has taken over the country, a Greece imagined by its creator (director, script-writer, artistic director and composer) Yiannis Veslemes. Visually, the most impressive film was Polk, directed by Nikos Nikolopoulos and Vladimir Nikolouzos (which garnered a FIPRESCI jury special mention). This is a big, I must admit, venture, with the two young directors revisiting the story of the titular American journalist, murdered during Greece's civil war, by using various symbols (water, a crab and chickpeas meal enjoyed by the murdered journalist) and offering a personal interpretation of a very complex affair, wittily mixing time with memory and invoking the work of Jorge Luis Borges.

Yiannis Frangas, in his film Forget Me Not, attempted to marry elements of the road movie with those of the thriller, using beautiful, lyrical images, with his hero going on a dangerous journey from New Orleans to the Northern Seas, using his diving abilities for a mysterious, dangerous plunge, on behalf of a mafia group, somewhere in the Bering Sea. In Queen Antigone, Telemachos Alexiou transfers Antigone's tale into the modern world in order to speak to us, placing it within the story of a young woman with economic problems and her gay brother, addressing today's period of crisis, diversity and intolerance, not always with much success, but with the tenacity of a young man who wants, by any means, to express his inner concerns. Manos Karystinos' Dark Illusion, not always a well-balanced film, bearing the influence of various famous directors, including David Lynch, earnestly tackles the various problems of his lone, introvert hero living in a world between reality and an unhealthy fantasy.

Among the out-of-competition Greek films, mention should be made of Syllas Tzoumerkas' A Blast, another film dealing with the economic crisis, with its protagonist, a young married woman deciding, at some point, to declare her freedom from a graceless life as well as from her family's repression. Athens' current population may be more that 4 million, but the Athens that Margarita Manda presents us in her second feature For Ever is nearly a ghosttown, with trains running over ancient monuments and streams running under modern buildings, a town which, as we slowly discover, is fit only for two lonely persons: Costas and Anna. Manda relates her story with beautiful, lyrical long takes, sometimes static and at other times in slow, fluid travelling shots, which define the daily routineof its two protagonists while at the same time offering us a different, unusual portrait of life in contemporary Athens.

Special mention should also be made to Christos Voupouras' 7 Kinds of Wrath, distinguished byits critical, in-depth, realistic perspective ona certain kind of society, with the director commenting on the traumatic relationship of an archeologist with six different people.

Ninos Feneck Mikelides
© FIPRESCI 2014

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