CULTURE

Land of memory and emotion

Greece as depicted in many of its films is often more attractive than the films themselves. From the most recent, «Uranya,» to the 20-odd-year-old «The Tree We Wounded,» Greek cinema has frequently turned to the theme of childhood in order to gloss over its more inherent weaknesses with the power of nostalgia. Some films, however, proved to be much warmer than the lukewarm crust of memories, as well as revealing. These are the ones that succeeded in discovering in childhood a fantastical shelter, an imaginary yet real homeland that strikes a vibrant chord in every Greek. In one of the final scenes of Costas Kapakas’s «Uranya,» the young star of the film, Achilleas, with his left leg bound in plaster from ankle to thigh, walks disappointedly away from the small seaside home of the local prostitute, Ourania. Three bicycles – two red and one blue – lie on the sand, while some of Achilleas’s friends – the ones who have dipped into the common fund set up by the boys in order to buy a television – have thrown themselves into the deep waters of Ourania’s embrace. The story unfolds over one summer in 1969 Greece, as mankind is making its last frantic preparations to set foot on the moon. In «Uranya» (a wordplay combining the name of the prostitute and a brand of television), the pale reds and blues show a Greece that was in the grips of the colonels’ dictatorship. The Greece depicted in «Uranya» is composed of shards of the past placed in the order commanded by present-day needs. For Achilleas, the concept of left or right wing seems anachronistic, farcical. The past, which is undefined and seems very distant, has them at each other’s throats for no apparent reason. The present brings them together. «Uranya,» which disappointed critics and received a lukewarm public reception, is no worse a film than «Peppermint,» a blockbuster by the same director from 1999. It is less compact, but certainly more ambitious in terms of its intentions of creating a portrait of the dominant ethic of the time, though the way it is portrayed in «Uranya» is more fitting to the urban middle classes of Athens than the provinces where it is set. The way Greece is depicted in the film, the colors used, make it appear as a still-life painting that is brought to life by the boy’s very real experience of it and, in effect, of the post-Civil War reality of Greece. Young Achilleas is confused between the dream of conquering the moon and having the very earthy Ourania. Achilleas’s Greece is a small, white lie, sweet as the long Greek summer that left its best imprint on the most transparent Greek film ever made about childhood, 1986’s «The Tree We Wounded» by Demos Avdeliodis. The beauty of this film lies in the truth of a child striding toward adolescence and the world of adulthood, alone and with mixed feelings. Set in a small mastic-producing village on the island of Chios in the early 1960s, Avdeliodis’s film observes a childhood friendship that is put to the test over a summer. The images are eloquent because they are based on experience and compose a simple symphony of emotions that rush through the film, washing away all ethology. The story (or small events that take place around the character of the child, whose – in the words of Francois Truffaut – «absolute» morality comes into conflict with the «relative» morality of the adult, marking the end of innocence) unfolds smoothly on a documentary-like canvas whose backdrop is the mastic harvest. The mastic tree weeps, as does the young star of the film, from the shallow and deeper scars inflicted upon it by man, and becomes a parallel of the child, Avdeliodis’s silent star. The Chios captured by the filmmaker is the most fluid image ever to be shown of Greece in a Greek film. The child and innocence are but an excuse to return to a land of memory, basically a fantastical land, where happiness and misery sail side by side. Growing up on the silver screen The theme of childhood in Greek cinema lies somewhere between a past that defined it as adventurous and the nostalgic present. «Invincible Lovers» (1988) by Stavros Tsiolis, which is about a young boy who escapes from an orphanage and travels to his hometown of Tripolis, is one of the most authentic Greek road movies ever made. In a sensitive and nostalgic reference to Greece of the 1960s, «The Flea» (1990) by Dimitris Spyrou looks at the efforts of a 12-year-old student in a mountain village to write and publish his own newsletter. «The Dead Liqueur» (1992) by Giorgos Karypidis tells the story of a dysfunctional family in 1950s Athens through the eyes of three children. Dinos Dimopoulos’s «Little Dolphins» (1993), a discreet comeback by the veteran director with a moral tale, is about a group of boys who protect one of their peers from being shunned by the local community. «Peppermint» (1999) by Costas Kapakas is a nostalgic look at the 1960s by a 45-year-old man who remembers his carefree past at a time of personal crisis. A schoolteacher comes into conflict with his bigoted colleagues when trying to help a dyslexic pupil in Dimitris Stavrakas’s «Canary-Yellow Bicycle» (1999). Penny Panagiotopoulou’s «Hard Goodbyes: My Father» (2002) is probably the most mature Greek film of recent years. In the drama, a young boy growing up in 1950s Athens refuses to accept the death of his father and creates a fantasy world in which he is still alive. Finally, Tassos Boulmetis’s «A Touch of Spice» addresses the theme of the lost homeland through the reminiscences of a man visiting Istanbul, where he was born.