CULTURE

Greek movie dealing with immigrants selected for European Film Awards

The Academy of the European Film Awards, or the Felix awards, has chosen Layia Yiourgou’s film «Liubi» to represent Greece at the competition this year. «Liubi» tells the story of a beautiful young Russian woman who gets caught up in the pettiness and opportunism of a typical lower-middle-class Greek family. The academy will announce in October whether the film has been short-listed for the awards. The film has been screened at international film festivals, where it earned very good reviews, though Greek critics were cool to it. «Liubi,» Yiourgou’s third full-length production, confirms the filmmaker’s continuing focus on people’s relationships, intensive work with actors and spare, controlled narration. Yiourgou spoke to Kathimerini recently about her work. Although «Liubi» is a realistic film, you provide the leading character with a romantic outlet. Yes, because she is the strongest. She loves and leaves. In this home, as is the case in many Greek homes, everyone has turned against each other and nobody loves anyone. Is that the result of people becoming entirely petit bourgeois? Yes, and it is also because of the search for wealth and the desire to climb the economic and social ladder. That was the model Greek society was based on so far, but I think it is starting to shake. The dead end is becoming more obvious. Greece makes me sad. You can’t communicate with people; you don’t know how they are thinking. They are miserable. That feeling becomes much more intense in the countryside, where television leads the way. Did you have anything specific in mind for the story of «Liubi»? I had very extreme and harsh stories in mind, much harsher than the ones I told. I didn’t dare lead things where life actually led them, maybe I should have… But I guess I can’t. I agree with Mike Leigh, whom I know from the London Film School, where I studied. While teaching, Leigh used to say that he gives happy endings because people go through a lot and we have to give them a breeze of optimism. Of course, the endings of his films are not exactly optimistic. Do you feel your work has been influenced by the British cinema school? I would like it to be, but I am much more influenced by Hollywood, [such as] Douglas Sirk’s dramas, which I used to watch with my mother. Do modern dramas feature immigrants as the leading characters? Possibly. My new film will again be about immigrants. Their arrival over the past few years has created a new social situation. The real Liubi came to Athens looking for work and started looking after an old man, a recent widower, who had fallen into depression and who in fact didn’t want her and whose family imposed her on him. She looked after him very well and he regained his joie de vivre. The unmarried girl had a child with a Russian man and the old man, who was well off, signed over a house to her. As a result, his family shut him off. Nobody talks to him and he has been «adopted» by the Russian girl and her child. His family never forgave him about the house. Despite the [mixed Greek] reviews, the film paved its own way. It was distinguished at the Houston Festival, had a good reception in Montreal and has now been selected for the Felix awards. I think Greek film critics have put a label on me and look upon my films as B movies. I don’t claim to have created a masterpiece. I don’t believe in talent, I believe in hard work. I think Greek cinema is looked down upon, both by critics and in terms of distribution. Nobody has faith in Greek films. My last film cost 60 million drachmas. This film cost 175,000 euros, the sum needed for just a few shots of other films participating in the Felix awards. In your films you focus on people refusing to integrate and flirting with the fringes of society. I am interested in people trying to survive in a world where nobody helps them. I also feel like an immigrant in my own country, whether working on a film or simply going to the tax office to take care of some business.