At first glance, the Lazaridis leather goods store in the arcade at 69 Academias Street in downtown Athens seems perfectly normal, with elegant leather purses and suitcases displayed in its window. When the shopkeeper and the customer start talking, though, it becomes apparent that we are not in the present day, as the potential buyer explains that he is planning to travel to Frankfurt by coach and would like to buy the red suitcase in the display window, which is just like the one shipping tycoon Ari Onassis is holding in a photograph displayed beside it. The shopkeeper warns him that it’s expensive at 400 drachmas but he’s willing to knock something off the price.
Outside the shop, the arcade is bustling with elegant ladies with well-coiffed hair, a young man delivering coffees on a traditional metal tray and another man carrying large film reels. While the weather and traffic outside tell us that its the spring of 2015, in the arcade, the clock has gone back to 1968 for the filming of Tassos Boulmetis’s latest project, “Notias” (likely to be titled “South Wind” in English, according to the director).
Boulmetis sits in his director’s chair and orders the “shopkeeper” (played by Taxiarhis Hanos) and the “customer” (Errikos Litsis) to repeat the scene again and again so that he can get the perfect take. In parts of the arcade, the production team has created convincing scenes depicting Athens as it was in the 1960s and 70s.
Boulmetis is joined behind the camera by his assistant Margarita Manta, an acclaimed filmmaker in her own right, veteran sound mixer Marinos Athanasopoulos and costume designer Eva Nathena, who reigns over the fifth floor of the arcade, where the costume department has been set up.
In the entrance, the extras, dressed, coiffed and made up to the tiniest last detail, wait to be called for a scene that they have to repeat more than 20 times. Before the crisis, the standard wage for a film extra was 50 euros a day. Now they’re being paid half that.
My conversation with Boulmetis happens in fits and starts, between takes.
“Notias” is Boulmetis’s third feature-length film after “The Dream Factory” (1990) and “A Touch of Spice” (2003) and tells the story of a boy (played by Giannis Niaros) growing up in the turbulent and promising 1960s and 70s and his journey from adolescence to adulthood as he tries to make his dreams come true.
Does it bother you that people keep reminding you how long it’s been between films?
It’s annoying but it’s entirely my fault. I worked on the “Notia” screenplay for five years though I initially got the idea in 2003. It started taking shape only after I started adding my own experiences into it, like, for example, making the hero’s father a leather merchant like mine. His store was on Socratous Street, right next to the old Kathimerini offices. This film is related to “A Touch of Spice,” not in terms of subject, as it has nothing to do with Turks or food. The heroes are not Asia Minor Greeks but Athenians. It is related in terms of how two parents raise their son at a time of incredible change. The 60s and 70s were huge not just for Greece but for the entire world. We will also be using archive footage from major events like the moon landing, the Vietnam War and Woodstock.
Is it nostalgic?
Sort of, but on a political level. I define it as “ironic nostalgia” and, of course, there’s a surreal element as the hero always loses the thing he desires most – usually a woman. Every time he loses an object of desire he comes up with these crazy stories. The political events in Greece from 1967 to 1981 play a key role because they dictate the course of the hero’s life as he tends to fall in love with women who are very passionate about politics.
Is the hero trying to escape reality? The boy in “A Touch of Spice” also likes to escape into the world of food, its aromas and flavors.
That may be something from my own life coming through which I can’t quite define. But I always explore the same theme and that’s how we manage loss or not having the things we want. Every one of my heroes in “Notias” deals with an unrequited desire or a loss. The main idea of the theme is that the Greek political system castrates the people’s desires. This notion is not the result of an intellectual process but of observation.
So are Greeks a castrated people?
That’s a huge subject. The biggest enemy of the modern Greek is himself, through the political system he chooses. It is not about a clash between leftists and conservatives, or those who are for or against the memorandum. It is a clash with the minotaur called statism, which supports the entire political system and the people. Statism sucks up our emotions and is perennially disappointing.