CULTURE

A young director’s first film

Greek filmmakers may have a hard time drawing the public to the movie theaters to see their films, but this has not stopped actor and emerging film director Alexandros Kollatos from making a daring and slightly risky foray into filmmaking by choosing the morbid and unsettling subject matter of death. «Death on the Prowl» (Otan o Charos Vgike Pagania) which is currently playing in the movie theaters and is Kollatos’s first attempt at directing a film, touches on gruesome issues but gives them a spin by blending elements of black comedy with drama and producing an effect that even in its harsh realism, is strangely optimistic. Although a heart-wrenching film that weighs heavily on the viewer, «Death on the Prowl» also constantly plays between the tragic and the comic, that which is unsettling yet moving, unrelenting yet profoundly human, bitter but oddly sweet. In the end, it is a film about making us come to terms with death, about chasing away feelings of fear and making us realize that death and the loss of those close to us is as much a part of life as anything else. «I was greatly interested in the entire subject, in finding out how a funeral reflects on one’s daily life, on how death affects our lives; the ways with which one copes with death and that which is left behind after the loss of one close to us,» says Alexandros Kollatos, who became more interested in the subject after the loss of a close relative. In the film, Kollatos, who plays one of the characters, is in the midst of a tender relationship with a girl of his age when he learns of the death of an acquaintance he had made during his military service. At the funeral he becomes the observer of all the bizarre dialogues and customary uneasiness. Later in the film, when his father (played by his father in real life, the filmmaker Dimitris Kollatos) dies, he experiences death in a completely different way, far more personal. His grandmother, played by Despo Diamantidou, is also there, her presence making this death even more tragic. In the film there is no crying or lamenting, just a stoic and rather esoteric way of coming to terms with death. Although many of the scenes are filmed in the cemetery, there are plenty of others that follow daily life. There are several scenes of love-making between the young couple – Kollatos says that he sees life and death as inseparable – as well as their strolls in lovely parts of Athens, scenes between Kollatos and his friend as well as an amusing and cleverly filmed dialogue between Kollatos and his father, a lawyer and egotistical personality who lectures his son on the values of life and his (highly dubious) professional values. The young man listens patiently with a smile on his face, having learned to tolerate his father whom he also loves deeply. In general, the story moves chronologically with one event succeeding the other, yet this linear structure is interrupted with scenes interspersed in between. For example, Sotiris Moustakas, who is the stuttering funeral director, will appear offering rates and options for a funeral. «There is not one single funny phrase in his monologue, yet the public in the movie theater will always laugh when he appears,» says Kollatos, who also wrote the film’s script. There are also recurring scenes between Kollatos and Lakis Lazopoulos, a vague character who is like a mentor in life, offering valuable and general «philosophical» advice. As with the rest of the film, but even more so in this case, the dialogues between Lazopoulos and the young hero take place under bathing sunlight. The story unravels in the middle of the summer and light streaks through in every single scene. In a way, daylight is a metaphor of hope and optimism but also of realism, connoting that which cannot remain hidden. «The Greek Line,» a book by Pericles Yiannopoulos, inspired Kollatos to think about the effects of light, particularly the strong light of Greece. In his film he uses no artificial lighting but plays with the natural, summer sunlight. «It is interesting that in our folk tradition, the face of death strikes in full daylight, not in the dark as is the case in other traditions,» says Kollatos. As with other elements in the film, this detail stems from the interest of Kollatos in revealing aspects of Greece, whether in terms of its landscape or culture and tradition. The script is actually filled with references to Greek folk tradition and demotic songs that Kollatos studied while preparing his film. Some dialogues are words taken out of demotic songs. In another instance, Kollatos has taken fragments from ancient tragedies and adapted them to his script. There are also references to rebetika and even to Greek art. The character of Death (Charos), for example, is heavily influenced by folk tradition, except that Kollatos has turned the character’s folk male personification into a female persona. He has also presented the character in black and white, therefore creating a stark contrast to the sunlight palette that fills the rest of the film. «I thought that since it is the woman who gives birth to life, it is also her that has the right to take life away,» says Kollatos. Interestingly, the character is cast as a being who has emotions. «In our folk tradition, Death has emotions and human qualities. He may, for example, regret taking a person away from life; he may feel flattered or let down. This is not a simple character. Through their folk tradition Greeks have played with death in order to come to terms with it,» says Kollatos. Coming to terms with death is also what this film is really about. «Reading about folk culture, I realized that there is an entire world around Death; there are professional women who are hired to lament and an entire system that used to surround funerals. In the old days, funerals were part of a process that lasted for days and which really helped people to realize and come to terms with loss. Now things are much more impersonal. However, I think that people do not take the time to realize what has happened and carrying that burden in their daily lives wears them out by the day,» says Kollatos. Kollatos has plans for future films. He would like his next film to tackle the issue of heroism as seen through the marathon race. Trained as an actor in prestigious institutions in France, Kollatos is also continuing his career as an actor and would like to act on stage in Paris, where he has also performed before. Asked about the state of Greek cinema, he says that television series have done much to harm Greek filmmakers, for they have spoiled the public and made it less demanding. He also believes that young filmmakers should be given the chance to make films not necessarily using the costly medium of film and large productions but, as with his own film, the medium of digital video, which is far less expensive. «There are countries which have produced very sophisticated movies and an excellent film scene – Denmark is an example – just by relying on the talent of filmmakers, not on large and costly productions,» says Kollatos. For him, this is a way to make his plans come true and to see more of his films enter the movie theaters. It could also help Greek filmmaking grow and more films on interesting aspects of contemporary Greek reality to emerge.