From ‘Colombus’ to ‘Chariton’

Thirteen years ago Giorgos Corraface starred with Marlon Brando in John Glen’s «Christopher Colombus: The Discovery.» Since then, the Greek-French actor has become a top thespian in Greek cinema, most recently turning heads as a pensive Greek scientist looking for his lost childhood Istanbul in the touted «A Touch of Spice.» Corraface is always looking for new roles and closely watching film developments in the country. He has also worked with emerging and talented directors, including Loukia Rikaki, Andreas Pantzis, Costas Kapakas and Tassos Boulmetis. Now, Corraface is set to star in Grigoris Karandinakis’s first feature film, «Charitonas’s Choir,» a comedy that follows life in a small Greek provincial town at the end of the 1960s. Corraface plays the loud, extroverted high school principal Charitonas Ulianov, who works his magic on the school choir. The film’s shooting ended last week and Corraface, sporting a thick beard and a few extra pounds, talked to Kathimerini about his artistic past and present. So where do you feel better, in Greece or in France? I have a split personality. I feel relieved when I’m back in Greece, emotionally as well as spiritually. But I do lack knowledge of the place. When I come here it’s as if I have traveled in time and have missed a lot of episodes… In order to be a member of the community you must be part of it on a daily basis. You have become a regular fixture of Greek cinema. Now you’re playing a role in a comedy. He’s Chariton Ulianov, and I had to change a little bit physically in order to interpret the role. I also had to become louder, a little bit of a Falstaff… Chariton is Slav and French. His father, an admiral of the czar, and his mother, a French marquise, fled Soviet Russia and were invited to Greece by the royal family. Chariton was brought up in an aristocratic environment, while at one point – I imagine – he became a bohemian in Paris and London. Quite a cosmopolitan… He adores literature, Ancient Greek and music. He comes to the provincial town to take over as the school’s principal. The town is not used to his kind of people. The people there are passionate about the choir and music. Is it based on a true story? The concept is rather surreal – though this doesn’t mean that it’s not a real story. The story unfolds through the eyes of a 14-year-old who talks directly to the camera. Just like Fellini’s «Armacord.» Perhaps the film has something of Fellini’s surrealism. The narration is very well constructed, with a little bit of folly a la Kusturica. A Slav kind of Fellini. Something in between… The story takes place at the beginning of the dictatorship. Yes, but they are not fully aware of what’s going on, until the arrival of the major – superbly interpreted by Akylas Karazisis. He begins to pull people back. He is not a caricature, however. On the contrary, it’s a serious case because he incorporates all the values – motherland, religion and family, the kind of values dictatorships tend to take advantage of. Competition develops between the two men. Both go after the same woman [the beautiful mathematics teacher Eleni, played by Maria Nafpliotou], struggle to outshine each other in French billiards – compete in lifestyle and values. I’m very Dionysian, while he’s very proper and set on achieving his goals. How did you experience the junta as a teenager and how does Chariton go through it? Chariton builds a small, personal resistance against the «symbols of the revolution,» which he doesn’t accept at school. He is neither actively involved in the resistance nor is he a victim of propaganda. He recognizes how pathetic and tragic the situation is, but he doesn’t actually have any solutions to suggest. Of course even this stance of personal dignity comes at a certain cost. He pays a high price. There are losses. I, on the other hand, was 14, living in Paris. A year later I experienced May 1968: the Sorbonne, the demonstrations, the discussions. We came to Greece in the summer of 1968. Imagine the gap – it was huge. Some people had embraced the lie. They truly believed that it was better for the country. I remember my father getting very angry. Personally, I have a bitter taste left from the constant prohibitions. Did you approach Chariton as a comedy role? Yes, in the sense that he is a clown. And the role of the clown is to overturn reality and make you laugh. There is no air of importance in Chariton. He is impulsive, he has emotional ups and downs, he has doubts. There is something of the teenager in him. He is a 55-year-old teenager. In the last few months Greek cinema has been going through a deep, structural crisis. What do you think of this situation in comparison to the way the French state deals with cinema? There is no comparison. France has a tradition in cinema. The country supports the sector because it considers it a great source of financial and political investment. They invest money which then gets lost, yet which is ultimately regained in other ways. They don’t see things from one sole perspective, i.e. the films and how well they do at the box office. I was expecting a crisis in Greek culture following the Athens Olympic Games, with film production being the first victim of Olympic debt. On the other hand, however, let’s not forget that the Games offered the country a great push and became a source of self-confidence and satisfaction for the Greeks. Between two countries Raised in Paris, where he was born in 1952, Giorgos Corraface is the son of maestro Dimitris Corraface. He graduated from the Conservatoire National Superieur d’Art Dramatique de Paris, where his repertoire included classical roles in works by Racine, Shakespeare and Camus. At the same time he also began spending time in Greece working in theater and television. Over the years, he has worked with Peter Brook («Mahabharata»), Antoine Vitez («Phaedra») and Michael Cacoyannis («Anthony and Cleopatra»). Beginning in the 1990s, the actor became increasingly active in Greek cinema, starring in Loukia Rikaki’s «Quartet in Four Movements,» Andreas Pantzis’s «Slaughter of the Cock» and «To Tama,» Costas Kapakas’s «Peppermint» and Tassos Boulmetis’s «A Touch of Spice.»

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