A return to happy innocence with a playful film about serious issues

You can never tell what Nikos Panayiotopoulos’s next move will be. The only constant aspect of this unpredictable director is his persistent desire to undermine anything expected. Following his dark, harrowing and inert film «Delivery,» shot with just a hand-held camera and with emphasis on shadowy photography, Panayiotopoulos has just completed filming a bright and shiny musical titled «Dying in Athens.» Its narrative flows in a conventional fashion, and the actors have a clear relationship with the camera. The film’s soundtrack was written by Stamatis Kraounakis, a composer with a penchant for exuberant musical work, while the choreography is by Constantinos Rigos, domestically, at least, a leading figure in his field. Despite the project’s cheerful nature, its plot is foreboding. A middle-aged man is struck by leukemia. With just months left to live, he hammers away at the truth and lies that have tormented his existence. The three major loves of his life – wife and lovers – unite to accompany the dying man right to the very end. But the trio’s real motives are ambiguous, somewhere between support and revenge. Borrowing a descriptive one-liner from the director himself about his latest film, «Dying in Athens» is a «serious film dressed in frivolous attire,» a tender, melancholy and humorous account of a waning life. Topics such as love, death, and the need to forget weave their way through the film. This pattern is reflected in the choreography. «It’s very minimalistic. The choreography is organized but doesn’t appear to be dance-like,» said Rigos during a short break from filming of one of the film’s last scenes. «We could say there’s a reference to the style of Jacques Tati, with elements of breakdancing also slipped in… it’s innovative how Panayiotopoulos has brought the element of dance into the film,» he continued, before returning to work to guide two of his dancers through a rooftop scene in Athens. Stathis Livathinos, also a director, plays the role of a doctor, and Maria Nafpliotou was cast as the wife of the unfaithful dying husband, played by Spyros Papadopoulos. This is not the first time Livathinos has acted. The director has worked on two previous films by Panayiotopoulos, «I Dream of My Friends» and «Beautiful People.» «I think Panayiotopoulos’s films are authentic. Whether he is good or bad is for others to decide. I call him ‘authentic’ because he is distinctive and absolutely individual,» remarked Livathinos. «He’s also very good for the actors because he works in a theatrical way. I especially like the way he perceives the world – with a lightness and happy-go-lucky attitude, even during the dark moments. He observes the world’s essence and detail,» he continued. Commenting on his role as the film’s doctor, Livathinos describes the character as a «cinematic, Panayiotopoulos-like doctor, a person totally immersed in work and life who finds consolation in his dying friend’s wife – that’s not very flattering – but when he falls head over heels for her, his life changes fundamentally.» Nafpliotou, who plays Anna, the dying man’s wife, spoke of her character’s unusual nature. «She has been married for many years, and has children. This marriage is her entire life. She tolerates and perseveres. She reacts quite strangely to the news of her husband’s imminent death,» said Nafpliotou, without giving away further details. «On the one hand, I could understand her, and on the other, not at all… the main actors respond by doing something different and unpredictable.» This is Nafpliotou’s third film role. The previous two were vastly different experiences for the actress. She appeared in «Charitonas’s Choir,» a romantic comedy by Grigoris Karantinakis, and «Soul Kicking,» a realistically brutal film by Yiannis Economidis. The demands of this latest role required singing and dancing. «The collaboration with Nikos Panayiotopoulos went very well. He knows what he wants, is very disciplined, and organized, while at the same time, allowing the actor leeway,» said Nafpliotou. Both Livathinos and Nafpliotou are firm believers in Greek film. «Actors need to find outlets in good films to revitalize their expressive means. But education is absolutely necessary. Education – we’ve been saying this for years – is the fundamental problem,» said Livathinos, before Nafpliotou chipped in, saying: «The problem with Greek film is not the creators themselves. There’s talent to spare. There is no organized support system. Financial support, especially, is needed.» Panayiotopoulos, moments before returning to his roving mobile camera crane, ordered especially for his latest film’s cinemascopic scenes, signed off by saying he felt the future of film lay in Burlesque and musical comedy. «I wanted to return to the roots,» he said, «to address serious things in a light way.»