Loneliness in combat boots

It took about half an hour’s walk around Exarchia before Constantina Voulgari and I finally agreed on the cafe at which I would interview her. Although she does not avoid the press, she is hesitant by nature and discreet, not just with journalists but with the people in her own field as well. «I did not make this film with any specific career objective in mind. The idea was not to play the role of the professional or to tell my friends that I am a film director. I just wanted to tell a story,» she says. She is direct and sincere, just like her first full-length feature, «Valse sentimentale» which won the New Director award at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival last month. The daughter of film director Pantelis Voulgaris and sister of Alexandros Voulgaris, she is the youngest member of what has been described in the press as «the Voulgaris film dynasty,» something which annoys Voulgari. «I would prefer that my films speak for themselves rather than having to defend myself because my father is a director,» she says. Voulgari wants to stay away from commercial cinema but also from didacticism. She admires the work of Ken Loach and says that she would like her films to be closer to realism. In «Valse sentimentale,» Voulgari places relationships under the microscope. Set in an empty Athens, the film tells the story of two young kids who fall in love gradually and with great difficulty. In the process, they go through successive conflicts and self-inflicted injuries (the boy slashes himself with a pair of scissors three times). It is the middle of August and the two lead characters, Stamatis (Thanos Samaras) and Electra (Loukia Michalopoulou), aimlessly wander the streets of Exarchia, each immersed in a post-adolescent, almost autistic adherence to solitude. The music, composed by Nikos Veliotis, is a post-punk musical loop that keeps repeating itself just like the conflicts between the couple. At some point, something makes them open up, accept one another and be together. «If you only knew how prevalent these kinds of relationships are nowadays,» Voulgari tells me. Everyday life in Athens There is more to say about what the film does not do than about what it does. This is also true of Voulgari’s responses to the interview questions. Most of them begin with a negation. When I tell her that the film does not draw any real portrait of what the lives of the young generation are like, or what real life in Exarchia and Athens is like, she is pleased. «I do not like discussions about the generation gap, about the difference in what loneliness feels like when you are 25 years old than when you are 55. My idea was not to make a ‘free press’ movie about the alternative scene and the youth who live in Exarchia, how they dress and what they drink. If I had incorporated as much as five lines on the Exarchia anarchists or had a scene showing a demonstration, I would only be making a simplistic and quaint statement about a very serious matter,» she says. Voulgari is also against the stereotypical male or female role. «If you speak to people for more than five minutes, you will discover that there are no cliche female or male roles out there,» she says. Voulgari decided to narrow down her subject to a love story. «The characters in the film may behave in a destructive, adolescent way, but the difficulty in trusting somebody you are romantically involved with or in getting used to solitude is something that we all experience. The heroes in the film may wear combat boots and listen to post-punk music – this is what the reality that surrounds me is like – yet I am sure that the guy who is dressed in Dolce & Gabbana and spends 500 euros at a club every night has that void feeling as well,» she says. In the movie, contemporary Athens remains as a backdrop. Yet the film puts across a very clear sense of what living in this city at this period in time feels like. «There are many great ways to revel in your loneliness. Surfing the Internet is one of them. New ways that lead one into solitary existence are constantly being created but nothing that can break it. Buying clothes on eBay means you no longer have to visit the stores. There are innumerable examples that sustain a solitary life: birthday wishes through Facebook, takeout food, DVDs. Even when you go out to a bar there is nothing – from the lighting to the music – to encourage interaction. Parties are no longer held at home because the loud music disturbs the neighbors. It is our own society that has produced all of this,» she says. According to Voulgari, the situation we are now living either means that we are experiencing some great disaster – «We will not love like our parents did,» she says – or that we are in a transitional phase which will lead to something liberating. «The pressure that our society places on us is almost perverted. You are expected to be successful at a very young age. People who do not adapt themselves under this pressure are seen as outcasts. Maybe the problems faced by the characters in my film are psychological but what is certain is that society itself has placed them in that position,» she says. The characters in the film are introverted and have great difficulty opening up. «Reality has molded them to be that way, with low self-esteem and a fear that they will be betrayed, that nothing is forever. The lack of security, which actually prevails in all aspects of our life, makes it impossible to enjoy life. The only place in which you can derive pleasure is your own microcosm because that is the only place where you have total control. Making somebody else part of this microcosm entails a great risk. Instead of taking risks, one ends up choosing mediocrity. Why should we think that getting drunk as a skunk is normal if you are over 17? And getting a one-night stand after that is also normal? In the end, why is it that people cannot get into relationships?» she asks.