Why does Yiannis Economides shoot the collapse of one ‘holy Greek family’?

By Maria Katsounaki - Kathimerini

"I want my films to smell of people,» he says, and accomplishes this by sealing his heroes inside a «Matchbox,» keeping their relationships at boiling point. Thirty-five-year-old Yiannis Economides was the big surprise of this year's Greek movie output, with a film that is explosive, extreme, violent and courageous. His own version of Greece is choking inside a Korydallos apartment, where the members of a family - divested of any convention or pretty veneer - are tearing each other apart. They communicate by screaming at each other, sweating in the heat of the summer, with loathing as their common point of reference. It is as though the viewer has snuck a look into their daily lives, and what he sees is certainly not a well-served-up reality show. It is a life where there is constant hammering, lacking in mercy and forbearance, a life that has not passed through any of those filters that make it bearable. Why would a young director, who first appeared over a decade ago with shorts and documentaries, want in his first full-length feature film to present a Greece that is savage and extreme, to portray with such naked realism the collapse of one «holy Greek family?» «If I hadn't had the actors that I did, I wouldn't have been able to have achieved the same result,» says Yiannis Economides. «They are very intelligent and collaborated on the improvisation. Working-class kids with an unbelievable, instinctual knowledge of life. We worked very hard for seven months, almost on a daily basis, improvising on countless takes. We started with small sketches to see how this family worked, how it thinks, how it reacts. The actors also had to adapt to the feel of cinema, to throw off the theater attitude. Our reference point was life. Not the theater, but life. They had to realize that they weren't acting, they were there to overcome their egos and accept that life is the measure.» Is this your basic principle? Yes. Had you wanted to make a film about the family? No. I had two things in mind: to make a film that negotiated the gray zones of human psychology - about what you believe can happen that doesn't happen; what you think about but never confess. Those things you do that only God knows about. My next film will delve even further into those gray and black areas. At the same time, I also wanted to make a film with a social theme. Do the family members use their voices as a way to be heard or to impose their wishes? Both - in a familiar feature of lower-middle-class communication. If they were middle class, they might be killing each other, but with gloves on. Are they people of low intelligence? No, they are little people with little lives, uneducated. They probably lost all their money in the stock market crash two years ago; they are anxious about the future. This lower-middle class is under constant threat. They constantly feel the bad breath of economic collapse breathing down their necks. Sure, their lives in the film are quite ridiculous, but this is how I have understood life in Greece. We are living a tragic ridiculousness. I take myself as an example: On the one hand, I am making a film yet, on the other, I am running around so as not to get into trouble over my sales tax. On the one hand, art, on the other, absurdity. But there is no one to protect us. And the heroes are good people, they are just living savage situations. Sometimes, they live them in a barbaric and traumatic way, at other times, in a comical and sarcastic way. They take their lives seriously, however. Do you love your heroes? Yes, very much. Aside from the two children of the family. But I understand them as well. The relationships aren't just about hatred and loathing, but about coercion. These are power relations. Are the people of «Matchbox» familiar to you? Do you know them? Indirectly. My life is that of the average middle-class person: I'm politicized, I eavesdrop. I was born in Cyprus, in Limassol. I came to Athens to study law, abandoned it in the third year and went to the Hadzikos School to study cinema. For me, the real school is observing reality and attempting to understand it. To know what's «going down.» [Constantinos] Yiannaris, for example, knows how to film a certain world; I do the same with another one. That doesn't mean that my parents are like that. I go into people's houses; I talk to them, observe, am vigilant. I'm a middle-class person, I don't belong to the margins. Don't your heroes represent, then, what we might call a «subculture?» Yes, it's a subculture. But nearly all of Greece is like that. Young kids, top students, you ask them what was the last novel they read and they don't remember. Do you believe that the characters in your film represent a large part of Greek society? We all see bits of ourselves in it. At some point, we have all thought and acted like the heroes in the film. On the surface, they are what they are, neo-barbarians. Yet they thirst for life. They are instinctually trying to find a way out. They are in a bad state; they are suffocating. They are alive. What are your cinema influences? I feel part of a Greek cinema tradition of social dramas by directors such as Tatassopoulos, Manousakis, Glykofrydis, Voulgaris, Angelopoulos, Marketaki, and which comes down to us today through Yiannaris. They are bold, brave creators who looked at society - at man. They didn't make timid films that they wanted to be popular with the public. These were courageous films, endowed with the courage of their creators. I learned cinema through observing, and believe that what you have to do is find the key. What makes something cinema and what doesn't. For me, representation is the beginning and the end. To represent a world, that's a very difficult thing. Is this what interests you? To take a piece of reality and represent it? No, lots of things interest me. But there has to be a starting point. You can't get to the core if you are not first sure of your materials. Your materials must be OK, ready to be worked. By «materials,» I mean the script and the actors. I am always wondering why people in Greek films don't speak properly. Do you think this is because of the script? No, the directors are to blame. They should work through characters, people, actors. The most interesting and most inexhaustible things are people. Why should I make a road movie about the journey from Athens to Thessaloniki and not make a road movie about a person? This is the most amazing thing that there is. Life is a struggle, to discover the extremes of a person's life. I think that «Matchbox» has this element.