The sad irony of ‘Beautiful People’

Nikos Panayiotopoulos may have been inspired by Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (Le Mepris, 1963), a film that is emblematic of French cinema’s nouvelle vague, but he appeals to Francois Truffaut when the questions become difficult or demand specific answers. A film is like a postal delivery van. It sets off but you don’t know if it’s going to reach its destination, says Panayiotopoulos. Who, then, is the film director Nikos Panayiotopoulos? I am whatever my films are, he replies. And he avoids categorization, as does his rich and diverse oeuvre. Is it really possible to categorize his sarcastic view of the middle class and their blissful sleep in The Idlers of the Fertile Valley (I tebelides tis eforis koiladas), the humorous exploration of the relationship between cinema and reality in The Colors of the Iris (Ta chromata tis iridas) and the psychological and erotic dead ends in Melodrama or in The Woman who Dreamed (I gynaika pou evlepe ta oneira)? As the years go by, instead of relaxing and working at a slower pace, he is working even harder. After Ergenis (The Bachelor), he shot Afti i nychta menei (Edge of Night) and then, within a year, Beautiful People – showing now. He is already preparing his next film: a film noir, this time round, on the subject of overmastering passion, inspired by an essay by Kostis Papagiorgis on jealousy (Imeros kai Klinopali), whose subtitle is I am tired of killing those dear to me. Meanwhile, what worries Panayiotopoulos most about Beautiful People is the possibility that it might slip… It talks about very crude things with great sensitivity, he says. Where does the crudeness lie? In the modern way of life, in human relationships. There is tenderness as well, though. This film is an homage to a great film director, Jean-Luc Godard, whom I love very much. I’ve noticed that in the past few years I’ve looked for ideas in other films or books. It’s as though life itself inspires us less and less. Beautiful People is a remake of Contempt and it narrates the story of a feeling, that of contempt. How the love of a woman for her husband gradually turns into disdain. Is Beautiful People not The Idlers of the Fertile Valley of 2001? You might be right, as I get the feeling that I repeat myself in my films. The Bachelor in some was The Colors of the Iris. This is something I realize afterward. The same themes keep reappearing. Modern castaways What is the film about? There is a diverse group of people who have been invited to the house of a rich businessman in Myconos. Among them is a newly married couple, Andreas and Rea. He’s an architect and is building the businessman’s new house, and she’s a former model. These are people on holiday, so they’re in a relaxed mood. They wander around, cross paths, look and are looked at when, suddenly, Rea starts to treat her husband with contempt. Whatever else I say will just diminish the film. Did you choose Myconos because it is an island patronized by high society? My heroes are modern castaways. Myconos is the ideal place for these contemporary castaways. Ideal from which point of view? Because Myconos has become a display window for modern Greek nouveaux riches while also being a very beautiful island. The tribes of the Greeks Someone watching your last two films might think that life in Greece shifts somewhere between night- clubs and Myconos. That might be true. It really could be! If you were to isolate my last two films, it’s as though I’m attempting a wall painting of all the Greek tribes. The prostitution of things is the subject of all three films [author’s note: including The Bachelor]. The hero in Beautiful People has to make a choice between earning his living and saving his relationship. This is an issue which concerns all modern couples. Only in this case, Andreas and Rea go in reverse directions. Andreas gets embroiled in middle-class life while Rea is going through the process of disentangling herself. But I must confess that it is a very pleasant world, indolent. At some point the American director, one of the film’s characters, says, I practice an art by which I have been completely defeated. Do you share this sentiment? My films are never completed. They never find their full expression. They are suspended and half-done. From this point of view, it is an art form by which you are constantly defeated. I count more failures among my films than successes. Do you feel defeated? If I made an absolutely brilliant film, I would never make another. But each time, I feel that I have left out the greatest part of what I wanted to say out. The pace at which I have been working recently helps; while they are criticizing my previous film, I’m already making the next one! This also reveals a certain anxiety. In my films, I convey emotions more than stories. There’s only one story which we all know: the journey which leads from life to death. This is why I use stories as a vehicle to put emotions across. I think that it is only through feeling that you can really touch someone, talk to them. Images are a form of expression as well as communication. And it is in the expression that the value of a work lies, not in the communication. Cynicism and sadness coexist in Beautiful People. The title is ironic. There is also a subtitle: The Other Side of the Wind, a reference to a film by Orson Welles which was never made. It is, then, a reference to something which does not exist, just as the other side of the wind does not exist. Really, it consists of a pirouette. The irony trickles from the title to the subtitle and poisons the whole film. I wouldn’t say that it’s a sad film, but a film poisoned by irony. Films resemble their creator. My films are like me. What are you like as a person, then? A fool, I would say, since I haven’t managed to find the true depth of anything. This is where the irony and sadness stem from and this is why there are many people who cannot stand me. Contempt might contain this idea as well. The theme of all my films, both directly and indirectly, is cinema – cinema and life, and how cinema encapsulates life within a rectangle. Cinema is an independent, parallel world. In the film, the art-house movie references are not limited only to Godard. I am someone who has lived through the whole history of cinema in Paris during the 1960s. I know a lot about silent movies and perhaps deep down, I am a director of silent movies. I believe that only the silent movie has fully evolved as an art form. The films of that era have left their mark on me indelibly. A dichotomy has existed since the birth of cinema: Some wanted cinema to be a true representation of reality, others wanted it to be an art. A pure art form for some, an impure one for others, cinema and I have never managed to resolve this dilemma. So, I have the freedom to go from Dreyer’s Gertrudto Hitchcock’s Vertigo or from Bresson to Nicholas Ray. This is what saves me. Because inside me, I haven’t worked out what art form I’m working on.

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