There is a void in the recounting of Greece’s recent history when it comes to the period from the late 1960s to the early 80s, which for older generations is still too fresh to discuss comfortably and for younger Greeks is simply undiscovered. Athens and life in the capital during that period – so misunderstood yet so simplified by the passage of time – is the focus, or motif, of Tasos Boumetis’s latest film. It is about his own experiences of that era, the director behind the acclaimed 2006 film “A Touch of Spice” says.
It is rare for such a personal point of view to include an entire generation, which possibly feels the need to take stock of its legacy. Boulmetis claims that his film is not nostalgic.
“It goes a lot deeper than nostalgia, which is just a narrative tool through which to tell the story I want,” says the director.
“Notias,” which opened at theaters last week, is both a coming-of-age tale in the style of the literary bildungsroman, but also an exploration of urban self-awareness.
“It is a film about handling loss,” says Boulmetis. The loss in question, explains the director, is symbolized by the two girls the hero (played by Giannis Niaros) is in love with, each representing a step toward his political awakening. Athens is a stage where fantasies, desires and angst are acted out, but beyond that it is also cast as a completely realistic landscape that, like a guardian, takes a boy and turns him into a man.
“Notias” represents the first serious effort to recreate the atmosphere of Athens in that period. For Greeks over the age of 50, it is more than a nostalgic revival but, rather, a “mandatory” process of introspection. And for the younger generation? The truth is that today’s 20-somethings know very little – and that from their parents – about this period and its atmosphere. “Many younger people who saw the film were astonished that, for example, students held assemblies back then as well,” says Boulmetis.
“Back then” is a where lot of the tired and misshapen issues predominating today started, but what seems to emerge strongly in “Notias” is a sense of self-awareness and rebirth. On the canvas of a bygone Athens, the narrative is like an escalator, retrogression on one side and self-awareness on the other. It awakens an odd sensation for those of us who vividly remember those years. Despite the deprivation and prevailing conservatism, we believed we were living the “modern life,” and now it is strange to see those years acquire the patina of the past and demand the filters of time so that they take on more realistic and tangible proportions.
Boulmetis says that it was incredibly difficult to find spots in the city that still look like they did 40 or 45 years ago. “The location scouting was exhaustive and some spots were incredibly hard to find,” says the director.
Technology was instrumental in recreating all kinds of details of the areas in and around Omonia and Syntagma squares in the 1970s: the buildings, the buses, trolley buses, cars, facades and commercial arcades.
One of the biggest projects was the complete redesign of the Pantazopoulou Arcade, also known as the “Hollywood Stoa.” Dating from the 1950s, the original form of the arcade within the big building at 69 Academias Street near Kaningos Square – a solid modernist structure designed by architect Ioannis Lygizos – was revealed through extensive cleaning and remodeling. The building, a maze of corridors and office spaces, is associated with Greek cinema’s golden era in the 1960s, and in “Notias” it is one of the focal points of the action, a symbol and microcosm of reality.
For Boulmetis, the arcade, a hub of the then-newly emerging class of shopkeepers, represents the birth and growth of Greece’s middle class, as well as the huge changes that transformed society in the wake of World War II.
The hero, Stavros, meanwhile, belongs to the much besmirched “Polytechnic generation,” after the student uprising against the military junta in 1973. This fact steeps the character in symbolism so that he represents not just the zeitgeist of that era but also a type of person. The entire cast, in fact, is well selected (by Sotiria Marini) and convincing, as are the costumes (by Eva Nathena) and sets (Spyros Laskaris).
It is hard not to feel moved as this Athens comes alive before your eyes and is revealed in a way that is both optimistic and extremely current.