CULTURE

The city that no longer exists

Athens may be dressed in ceremonial colors, at least in the most popular areas, the tourist destinations. But, what about Vathis Square, Sophocleous Street and Omonia before the Olympic facelift? What about the homeless, the immigrants? They seem to belong to the past, as if they have been hurriedly «tidied» away so they would not impose their disagreeable presence on the city’s new and improved image. This «bygone» face of Athens will be revealed first to audiences at the Venice Film Festival, which on September 2 is showing Greek director Nikos Panayiotopoulos’s latest film, «Delivery.» With a hand-held camera, «dirty» photography and lots of night shots, the director moves us among that «third» society. «The film captures a part of the city that no longer exists. It shows the part of Athens we have all turned our backs on,» explains Panayiotopoulos. He has wandered the turf of those who have nowhere to live, those who are branded as foreigners and second-rate citizens. «I often go back to these areas and everything looks pretty,» he says. «’Where did all the homeless go?’ I wonder. I find that ‘Delivery’ is a sad, poetic film.» It might even be argued that it is his most political film. «Now is the time for political films,» he retorts. «Now that homogeneity is threatening to devour the universe.» Below are excerpts from a recent interview the director gave to Kathimerini: Has reality been pushed aside simply because we just don’t «see» it? We turn our backs on it, like junk we kick under the bed. The city in your film appears cruel and uninviting. Is that the Athens you are trying to show? It is very much a real Athens. The homeless are no different than we are. They have the same ambitions, the same selfish goals. Athens is no different than any other big city. So I am addressing the exiled reality of a big city. The one we pretend exists does not exist. The one we walk past, without looking back. There are people who don’t even know it exists. While I was shooting, I hardly heard any Greek at all, and when I went home at night I felt as if I was returning to a ghetto. I think «Delivery» is a political film in that it takes the side of human pain and suffering. Would you like to help the people who feature in the film? I am not naive. I’m sensitive, but not naive… I wouldn’t like my intentions to be misconstrued. I haven’t made a film that’s meant to be an accusation. It is fiction. The city is a stage on which a big drama is played out. The main character, a pizza delivery guy, who springs up from nowhere in particular like a fallen angel, wanders around listening to all these horrible stories. These compose the film. In fact, they’re not even stories really, just snippets of conversation. With a dose of parody Don’t you find that amid the euphoria of the Olympic Games it is somewhat sad to hear the stories of the disenchanted? It is sad, but then again all celebrations are a bit sad, especially when they come to an end… The invisible protagonist of the film is the medley of voices that comes from those who have been exiled from the modern-day lifestyle, which composes its own long dark story. Of course, there is also a good dose of parody in all this. We are, after all, in the city of Athens, where everything has something of the audacious, the anarchistic and the familiar. Which side of Athens seems more real to you? The celebratory Athens or the other one that has been pushed aside? They are the two sides of the same coin. In your previous film, «I’m Sick of Killing Your Lovers,» you looked at the mainstream and in «Delivery» you go to the fringes of society. What took you from the very center, to the very outskirts? Why a person does one thing and not another is in itself a dark story. The roots of desire, of a passion, are untraceable. Nevertheless, the city, to a filmmaker, is always a perfect stage on which to play out a drama… Anyway, the distance from the center to the outskirts is a lot shorter than you’d think. In «Beautiful People» you showed the life of the jet set on Myconos. In «Delivery» you turn to the outskirts of the city. Which side do you belong to? Both. When I’m around the elite, often I feel stifled. The same happens when I’m around the others. Bunuel, an upper-class urbanite, filmed Los Olvidados. You don’t have to be homeless to make a film about the homeless. People are not that different from one another… What did you feel during the filming? Rage. And that rage comes through in the film. Why rage? I saw a society that accepts the logic of its two-thirds. That’s why artists exist, to get mad. Now that you have some distance from the actual filming, what has stuck the most? What made an impression was how we, the outsiders, «lend» these people our emotions, our madness and our behavior. It’s not true. These people are not necessarily sad. They may well be happy. A homeless person or a junkie may also be very sociable. We have been experiencing very rapid changes in Greece over the past few years. We now live in a multinational society and the issues that have come into play are huge. Who, as an artist for example, am I directing my work to? Who’s my audience? With the Games boosting the city’s image as much as they have, do you feel proud to be an Athenian? From the point of view of the two-thirds, which suits the two-thirds just beautifully, many will feel proud. «Delivery» deals with that one-third that does not participate in the celebrations.