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The year in local film, so far April 16, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life Greek.

Greek cinema production may lack blockbuster success, yet manages to say some interesting things

The Greek film industry may not have produced any million-ticket blockbuster this past couple of years, or a film phenomenon that caused crowds to flock to the theaters. It has, however, displayed new strengths with daring and a sense of questioning and introduced unconventional films and new directors with an experimental bent willing to hold a dialogue with paradoxes and doing so with humor and sensitivity. In their quest for a new cinematic idiom, these new directors did not try to hide their lack of experience, their fixations or the quandaries they faced.

Yiannis Economides, Alexandros Voulgaris and Giorgos Lanthimos are three diverse filmmakers who are captives to reality, or who hold reality captive, and who each react in their own very particular way. Economides took a head-on approach in “Soul Kicking,” Voulgaris sough refuge in fantasy with “Pink” and Lanthimos took the path of avant-garde experimentation in “Kinetta.” All three have been the talk of the town at one point or another and the year is still less than halfway through, with an anticipated arrival, Dimitris Koutsiabasakos’s “The Guardian’s Son” opening at theaters last week.

What were the main characteristics of the industry’s output in 2006-2007? There was plenty to impress and discernible trends, but also quite a few bumps in the road. Distribution proved difficult for the young and daring. Economides, for example, found just one venue at which to screen his film, the Mikrokosmos theater, while Lanthimos had to turn to alternative spaces such as bar-restaurants to show his films. Voulgaris found distribution, but the fact that his film failed to sell tickets means that it was moved out of the theaters very quickly.

Along with these up-and-coming directors, the year also saw seasoned directors coming up with new work. Directors now in their 40s and 50s, the main “corpus” of Greek cinema, made a dynamic appearance: Sotiris Goritsas, Katerina Evangelakou, Angeliki Antoniou and Costas Kapakas led the way. There is little in common between these filmmakers, at least in terms of the mood they evoke. Kapakas went down memory lane in his nostalgic “Uranya” in an attempt to repeat the success of “Peppermint,” but this time around, flowery writing and trite characters replaced the freshness and humor of his earlier endeavor.

In “Eduart,” Antoniou went for big-budget gloss. The production was topnotch in terms of quality, it was a joint Greek-German effort, directed by someone with a clear, strong perspective, yet it failed to breathe a certain vitality into the story. It was a dark tale approached in a very rational manner. Evangelakou in “False Alarm” and Goritsas in “Friends” drew their inspiration from modern Greek society. Their heroes have unsettled scores with the past, suffer from unhealed wounds and toil under contemporary realities. Using different approaches, they both created a sensitive record, Evangelakou more successfully, of what surrounds us and defines us, offering parallel versions of Greece today.

Documentary film this year was represented by Kimonas Tsakiris’s “Sugartown.” Seven men from the small village of Zacharo set off for Russia in search of brides. A veil for human trafficking or a take on life in the Greek provinces? The director observes the journey, the main characters and their points of view. The result was somewhat questionable but it did score points with the public. On the flipside of the coin, commercial cinema today is all about TV-speak. All three productions that managed to make box-office hits, “Straight Story,” “Another 5 Minutes” and “A Bee in August”, were successful comedies to varying degrees, aimed at the multiplex teenage crowd and featuring popular television actors. These familiar faces used lightweight recipes for communicating run-of-the-mill themes, infidelity, love, intrigue, effectively recycling television fare.

Greek cinema may have lost, as it has in the past and will probably keep doing in the future, the box-office battle, but it did gain a fresh infusion of interesting writing that spoke to the public, and an audience that is willing to discover and support Greek film, that will not merely rest at conventional market rules.

It greatest gain however was a handful of new faces: Actors such as Errikos Litsis, Vangelis Mourikis, Maria Kehayioglou, Maria Nafpliotou, Alexia Kaltsiki and Costas Xikominos appeared in very different kinds of films but left their mark with strong performances in highly demanding roles.

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