Cinema: ‘Escape, search and hope’

In his voice you can sense a slight accent, as is the case with someone born and raised abroad. When talking, as expected, he often has recourse to English terminology, even if he uses Greek with precision, daring, and vigor. Just as he does the camera. «I’m a mixture of immigrant, diaspora Greek, Morea…» says Constantinos Giannaris, a son of Sparta, raised in Australia where his family had migrated, and with studies in Britain. He has made several short films. «A Place in the Sun» won an award at the festival of Drama in 1994, while the feature-length «Three Steps to Heaven» was featured at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes (1995). His next feature film, «From the Edge of the City,» took second place at the Greek State Cinema awards in the same year that the victor of Cannes, Theodore Angelopoulos, won first prize with «Eternity and a Day.» Giannaris disapproved of this decision and gestured so with his finger, something which is still discussed today. With a provocative and aggressive character, he has both friends and dissenters in the world of cinema. With «One Day in August» (Dekapendavgoustos) his new film, he left this year’s state awards with empty hands, while a few months later, the film was chosen to participate in the official competition of the Berlin Film Festival. The last time we saw a Greek film compete in Berlin was 10 years ago. This Friday, «One Day in August» opens at local cinemas. Here’s the story: Athens in August, three couples (yuppies, lower-middle-class and marginal figures), three parallel stories, and a burglar who wanders around in their empty apartments. A city that is steaming, during a time of solemn promises, miracles and visions. The powerful cast includes Eleni Kastani, Akyllas Karazisis, Aimilios Heilakis, Michalis Iatropoulos and Theodora Tzimou. A metaphysical aura, at times especially pronounced, runs through the film. Is this a new feature of your directing? No. This metaphysical element exists in my first, short-length films as well, such as «Jean Genet is Dead» and «Trojans.» It is, I think, the atheist’s view of the divine. A view characterized by awe but also by cheek. Maybe the cheek you speak of lies in the way the Virgin Mary appears. I’ve said that if God or the Virgin Mary were to appear today it would be via the Internet or television. I even had an idea, to present Christ as though he were a TV presenter. I feel awe toward the divine. The awe of the person who on a rational level has rejected some things but at the same time is in a dialogue with them. Especially through the art of cinema. Because cinema is not just about a relationship with reality. It’s also escape, a search, hope. Does hope for you mean seeking refuge in religion? Do you have a respect for Morfoula, who is waiting for a miracle? Absolutely. She is like my mother, who goes to Tinos on August 15. She goes, but in a strange way. She doesn’t believe in life after death, only in God. She prays to the Virgin Mary, who helps her in her difficult moments. It’s the identification of the mother with the mother, which is an amazing relationship, without any condescension. The Virgin Mary appears in the film practically deus ex machina, like in ancient drama. I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, perhaps there is a connection, if we look at Christianity as a continuation of paganism. I made the film during a very nice period in my life, when I loved the people around me. I felt a great love for everyone. I was happy. I looked upon things that previously I would have despised with a different perspective, with love. I hope I can hold on to this, because it’s not so bad! We need to struggle with ourselves in order to be able to see the world like this, though. Because the world in which we live isn’t particularly nice. It’s not just the metaphysical element which prevails in the film, but love, and the fixation in people’s relationships. We don’t abandon our partners or families when things get difficult, just because we want to be free. What Jean Baudrillard characterized as the «pseudo-revolution of the ’60s» has led us to a dead end, to something bad. His essay «The Transparency of Evil» has had a great influence on me. It is true that you love the heroes in «One Day in August» more than in your other films; you «touch» them? And in «From the Edge of the City» I loved the kids, I respected them. But here I went a step further. I allowed the tears… There was a rage inside of me which doesn’t exist here. Here, I made a nice weepy movie. I had to struggle a lot with myself before I could understand that cinema is about emotions. It’s not dance or fine art. It’s based on emotion. This is why a good result is difficult to achieve. It’s not just good photography, acting, plot. It’s also the emotion, addressing a wider audience. There is a metaphysical element in many Greek films this year. I don’t think this is the case just for Greek cinema. It’s a profound social phenomenon, global. Is it because of the failure of the left, that people’s faith has been shattered? Extreme rationalism has created a materialistic society where the bonds between people have been lost. We are living a giant lie. We are in a labyrinth with no way out. The bad version of this dead end is the fundamentalism of bin Laden, but also the fundamentalism of the American Midwest in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s a contradiction which runs through Greek society as well. You shouldn’t be afraid to admit it. Even your confusion. Have you put any personal experiences into «One Day in August?» First of all, the wedding dress which the burglar wears. Everyone has misunderstood it. They look upon it as a vice of Giannaris, his homosexual eye, a bit cheap. I find it comical, like the camera in «Big Brother» which follows some kid’s innermost desire. And at the same time tragic. It makes me think of the death of my cousin, who died on the day of her wedding and we buried her in her wedding dress. Then the scene with the car accident. A cousin of mine died in a car accident as we were finishing filming «From the Edge of the City.» He was going to a fair between August 17-20. I think that Greeks are possessed by a desire for death. It’s not just a question of bad driving. They have a psychosis around death. There’s a dark side which is always playing with death and has nothing to do with joy. And the film has a lot of death in it, but it also has a lot of light. The miracles are for me an «answer» to the loss of many friends from AIDS, before the medicines existed. And I have experienced many losses. It’s like a cry of resistance against death, which came unjustly and took them at their best moment.

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