The marriage of fantasy with reality in the works of Nikos Nikolaidis resulted in one of the most comprehensive and homogenous oeuvres in Greek cinema. The director, who died in 2007 at the age of 68, had previously told Kathimerini in an interview: ?Ever since I was a kid I knew that if my imagination and reality never clicked I would be unhappy. So I did the only thing I could do: I made my fantasies reality.?
Comfortable with being an outsider and also with the five awards he received over the course of his career at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, Nikolaidis liked to be on the outside looking in as it gave him a better view of the world and kept him out of a ?system? of which he was critical.
Nikolaidis?s world is the subject of a full retrospective of his work, organized by his friends and family, at the Greek Film Archive from May 26 to June 1, and coordinated by Marie-Louise Bartholomew, his companion since 1970, mother of his two children and producer of his eight feature-length films and some 200 television commercials. One can even say that Bartholomew was his creative partner, as she served not only as producer, but also as costume designer, editor or any other discipline that was necessary. She spoke to Kathimerini recently about her relationship with Nikolaidis, the contradictions of his character and her admiration for him, which never waned during their 40 years of living and working together.
Would he have liked the idea of a tribute to him?
I don?t think he would. Initially he had turned down a tribute proposed by the Thessaloniki Festival. Despina Mouzaki, then the director of the event, insisted and Nikos agreed but only after writing down 10 conditions on a piece of paper. He never got a chance to see it though, and in the end, when we saw that his terms were being respected, we agreed for it to go ahead. The tribute at the Greek Film Archive is different. It is being put together by friends and by his son. The purpose is to introduce young people to his work. I realize now that over 30 years have gone by [since he started making films] and he made reference to things that are happening right now or have yet to happen. I think his films are timeless; they haven?t aged and I don?t believe they will.
Nikolaidis has an image of being both very hard and cynical, but also very tender and beloved. How did these traits blend?
Nikos was very hard when he worked. He was perfectionist and would conduct rehearsals for a year, teaching and talking, and he demanded that there were no questions afterward or that he be made to repeat things he?d already explained. He could be very hard; there were times when he was hard with me as well. But with friends, over dinner, at parties, he was a wonderful friend; he was romantic and sensitive. At work he was a different person: tough, but also fair.
To what do you attribute the love expressed for him by friends and by fans?
A lot of young people love him very much, because he represents a free spirit and camaraderie. They look at him as a mentor and continue to watch his works because they agree with his opinions, his lines, his obsession with revolt, his fearlessness. He did exactly as he wanted. Of course only as far as the establishment allowed, because he took a lot of beatings. I believe that if he had lived he would have made another film. He had a lot left to say, but he seemed to know that he didn?t have much time left.
What disappointed him?
Mostly his audience, which began to leave him after ?Sweet Gang,? when he started making the films he wanted to make. But, the people who had grown to love him through his work also felt that he was abandoning them. The critics had a hand in this. He was disappointed too by the state of Greek cinema because there was a time when filmmakers were a gang and they fought together.
How did he react to negative criticism?
He would laugh and use it to his advantage. He did it with ?Sweet Gang? and with ?The Thrushes Are Still Singing.? He didn?t need the critics or the confirmation. He knew exactly who he was, even if this could be construed as snobbery. What he wanted most was to connect with his audience, and especially with young people. He loved his audience, but when he saw them starting to leave, he turned his back on them as well.
Did commercial success irk him? He once said that the success of ?Sweet Gang? made him sick.
He felt exposed. He wanted to woo his own kind, those who loved his work and wanted it. ?Sweet Gang? was a film that had an impact on the 40-somethings of the time  and the fact is that we were not hurt by its commercial success. We had had to borrow to make it so getting some money helped. What bugged him most, I think, is that it was on the brink of becoming mainstream and that he was expected to continue in this direction afterward.
He once said that you belong ?to a different world? and that you?re a very positive person. Were you so different from him?
Not at all. We were both equally romantic, otherwise I wouldn?t have been with him. I was just more grounded. His mind was like a nuclear bomb set to go off. And his work a film, a book, an ad expended just a fraction of the energy he had. That?s why he could have done so much more if he had been given more time and if it hadn?t been made so difficult for him.
The tribute to Nikos Nikolaidis at the Greek Film Archive (8 Iera Odos