Lefteris Volanis’ analogue synthesizer

Greek composer’s soundtrack for Oscar-entry ‘Magnetic Fields’ takes us back to the 80s

Lefteris Volanis’ analogue synthesizer

The camera is in the driver’s seat in a first-person shot. The road twists and turns before a rapid montage spirits us from Kavalas Avenue in Aspropyrgos onto a ferry headed for Kefalonia. There’s a bit of dirt on the windshield, but it doesn’t seem to bother the director. After all, it suits the two protagonists: unvarnished, real and authentic to the point of awkwardness. The ice breaks about half an hour into the action – cue the music.

Like a chorus in an ancient tragedy that has been fidgeting backstage waiting for its turn to speak, the soundtrack makes a commanding appearance. The sounds of an old analogue synthesizer take us back to the early 1980s, to a world of TV screens with a 4:3 aspect ratio and melancholy echoes of the 1970s. In the talented hands of the musician and composer Lefteris Volanis, the theme tune by Stamatis Spanoudakis for the screen adaptation of Georges Sari’s “The Treasure of Vaghia,” Nanni Moretti’s pilgrimage to the spot where Pier Paolo Pasolini was killed in “Caro Diario” and Giorgos Hatzinasios’ score for “To Agystri” somehow become one thing, as he transports gems from the past into the future.

The sounds he has crafted are so moving, they stay with you, playing in your mind after the screen has gone dark. Even though his music appears for a few minutes just three times in the 78-minute comedy drama, the film would not be what it is without it.

“I wanted to write a soundtrack about the car itself, a musical theme for it,” says Volanis. And indeed, the beat-up old clunker going around as if cursed and hypnotized, resigned yet alert on a desolated island in Giorgos Gousis’ “Magnetic Fields” is very much a star. Its lights move like something haunted across hushed landscapes as, behind their dimmed glow, a man and woman travel across an island dipped in the wet, mystical and wintry Ionian.

With its weird energy and eerie relics (old stone lighthouses, wind parks and highland air bases with giant radars), Kefalonia complements the couple’s quest and also grabs the spotlight. The dialogue is improvisational to a large extent, familiar and real: We could have had those very same conversations just hours before the movie started.

“You see yourself in this film precisely because it gives you the right to,” says Volanis. 

We get a similar sense from our conversation with Gousis, who does not regard the film as “his own,” but the result of a creative process by a team of people. Almost five months after an excellent reception in cinemas, “Magnetic Fields” is Greece’s official entry for the 95th Academy Awards in the Best International Feature Film category.

What was it that made it such a hit in Greece and may also appeal to an international audience? Maybe it’s Gousis’ knack for inviting chaos while laughing in its face with disarming self-mockery. And the way he accomplishes all this with such modest means. Or, as Volanis puts it, “You may not get quantity in ‘Magnetic Fields,’ but you get truth and simplicity – and sometimes that’s enough.”

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