An awkward life journey for 700 immigrant ‘Brides’

If only «Brides» developed with the intensity and flow of the film’s last half-hour, this would be an unforgettable story and, subsequently, film. The story remains unforgettable. But what about the film? What happened to the most expensive Greek film ever made (as advertised), where all the ingredients were studied carefully, placed with attention and precision and the result leaves a sense of a bet won only partially? Audiences are already flocking to movie theaters while the trial runs met with the public’s expectations. In cases such as «Brides,» the critic feels as lonely as can be. This is because while the film proves popular with audiences, he or she cannot share in the general euphoria. I went through three stages: surprise (though not a pleasant one), rekindling of interest (fluctuating), and finally emotion (and sadness for what I didn’t see). The film’s introduction features well-polished postcards, a genuine tableau vivant, and scattered images of Greece in 1922, of Smyrna and Odessa, the cities from which 700 special passengers took off for a life-journey on the King Alexander. Without any frills of romance, the brides-to-be are in search of a better, transatlantic future. When the camera zooms in on the ocean liner’s Third Class, the script (Ioanna Karystiani) and the director are breathing freely. When the camera focuses on the encounter and unfulfilled love between the two lead characters (the bride from Samothrace and the American photojournalist), the chemistry between Victoria Haralambidi and Damian Lewis is uplifting. It’s quite a different story in First Class, however (the «nasty» Russian, owner of the immigration office), where the film is exhausted in quaintness. What is left is one final, uplifting stretch when the ship reaches New York’s harbor and the matching of dozens of brides with eagerly awaiting grooms begins. In his first international production, Pantelis Voulgaris signs two films: one following the indirect, yet clear, instructions of producer Martin Scorsese and the American point of view, on the one hand, and on the other «his own.» This is where we recognize a director who knows how to sense the semitones of human behavior, narrated through glances and gestures, handling the minimum as if it were the maximum. With «Brides,» Voulgaris traveled outside territorial waters and was forced to employ conventional techniques in order to ensure the ship’s safe passage. Ioanna Karystiani, on the other hand, appears to have skirted her demons, choosing poetic and symbolic ways to insinuate them. They were both squeezed; the pressure and awkwardness are obvious. Box-office hit During the first three days of screenings, Pantelis Voulgaris’s «Brides» made an impressive premiere at the box office. Following a particularly long period of shooting – which turned out to be an asset in terms of the movie’s promotion – the film was released in 41 theaters around the country, reaching 62,000 entries. In Athens, ticket sales amounted to 35,500, with 10,500 more in Thessaloniki and another 16,000 tickets sold in the rest of Greece. In some cases, the theaters were operating at full capacity, a rarity for a Greek film. Long queues formed outside various cinemas – particularly in downtown Athens – while many eager moviegoers were forced to leave the theaters and return for later screenings. How did audiences regard the film? Like the critics, viewers at large were divided. Those who embraced the film focused on the movie’s main love story as well as the emotional issue of 700 young women leaving behind country and family in order to marry some stranger in America. Amid the general enthusiasm, however, many are pointing to the movie’s inability to fully evaluate its powerful subject matter. One way or another, however, the fact remains that «Brides» is the season’s first major event for local cinema.