Greek cinema: Time to look within

Everyone present at the recent first-cut screening of Pantelis Voulgaris’s «Brides» had trouble holding back their emotions. At the end of another closed screening, held for friends and associates of Pericles Hoursoglou for his latest film «Night Eyes,» there were plenty of handkerchiefs out, wiping away tears. And the new cinema season opened with Tassos Boulmetis’s «Touch of Spice,» a film with the right touch of sentimentality and humor. The public has responded to and identifies with this kind of direct and unbridled release of emotions, and continues to flock to «A Touch of Spice.» The result? Record ticket sales: Approximately 300,000 in the first two weeks of screening. And there is more to come because many emerging filmmakers this year have turned their cameras on everyday life in Greece – to heroes who are neither perfect nor beautiful, to faces we never see in lifestyle magazines. Dimitris Indares, in his second feature film, «Wedding Slumber,» focuses on a middle-aged, middle-class lawyer couple who have a 5-year-old son and who are going through their seventh, difficult, year of marriage. Elisavet Chronopoulou, in her first feature, «A Song is not Enough,» turns her lens to a traumatized mother-daughter relationship, while another first-timer, Thanos Anastopoulos, reveals the hopes and fears of 11 urban individuals whose lives become intertwined in the film «All the Weight of the World.» Alexandros Voulgaris asks «Are You Crying?» (in his first feature) by observing a group of young people who are unable to express their feelings as they handle the obstacles of life, while Panos Koutras, in his second feature, «Real Life,» which is currently in the making, adopts the model of old-style melodrama to investigate Athenian society through the history of a wealthy family. Next week will see the premiere of Michalis Reppas and Thanasis Papathanasiou’s latest film, «Oxygen,» which comes hot on the heels of box-office successes «Safe Sex» and «Silicon Tears.» But this time they have turned away from satire and delved into the dark, ruthless world of a provincial town rocked by scandal and drama. Reaching out Greek films seem to be departing from the introspective, navel-gazing cinema of the 1970s and ’80s and are now attempting to reach out to the public’s emotions, opening the lines of communication. Young directors (and not only), free of the previously held notion that «showing emotion is bad,» are moving in this direction, according to Chronopoulou, who says: «We are trying to allow emotion to pass into our films. The manner in which you use it is a matter of personal taste. But there is no reason why we should not allow our heroes to live.» In many ways, this new trend was heralded in by last year’s «Matchbox» by Yiannis Economidis. A new director, he shocked rather than provoked sentimentality with his raw visuals and pointed theme. Another emotionally laden film last year was Penny Panayiotopoulou’s award-winning «Hard Goodbyes: My Father,» which dealt with the theme of personal loss. This year’s Greek films seem to have better come to terms with the drama of daily life. They bring tears, express weakness and passion, envy and revenge, and look at the hidden facets of Greek society. The characters presented in Hoursoglou’s «Night Eyes» are not trendy. «They do not have perfect bodies; they do not make love the first time they meet and most of the time, when they are nude, they switch off the lights,» says the director. In his «Wedding Slumber,» Dimitris Indares focuses on a fragile male, trapped in the stereotypes of his gender and unable to comprehend why his partner has become cruel and distant. «I wanted to make a film about ‘normal’ people who carry their burden of contradictions, who we see not with a surgical eye but with tenderness and sarcasm, as if we are seeing ourselves in the mirror,» says Indares. Chronopoulou, Hoursoglou and Indares agree that Greek cinema had reached «ground zero of emotion» after a few landmark films of the 1970s and 1980s. The emphasis, therefore, also reflects a turn from cerebral cinema to one that allows emotion to come forward. «Moving the viewer, of course, is not the sole aim,» explains Hoursoglou. The reason why an artist chooses to do a specific film is always personal, they also agree, but sometimes what is seen as personal can often be influenced by society. «When you are watching television or browsing through a magazine, you get the impression that the people living in this country are different from the ones you see on the street. But, ‘mundane encounters’ are the most common. Only they don’t have a voice; no one looks at them because there is nothing ‘extreme’ about them,» Hoursoglou adds. For Reppas and Papathanasiou, a film-writing duo which has become a household name in Greece, their new direction is entirely different from past productions, though they have tried their hand at realism with the stage play «Evros Across the Way.» «Oxygen,» which opens at theaters on Friday, is set in the Greek countryside and presents characters who are under all sorts of extreme stress: blackmail, extortion, cynicism and greed, leading to murder. «I believe that there is nothing right now to connect the social group, to create cohesion,» explains Reppas of the film’s cynicism. «Each person, trapped in his own microcosm, experiences his own tribulations and is, unfortunately, unable to share them.»