Film noir is a director’s paradise

A publisher falls madly in love with a blonde bombshell who works in a nightclub. A police officer, fan of detective novels, investigating a murder, falls victim to the same passion. The basic ingredients for film noir are there. Except Nikos Panayiotopoulos doesn’t stick to recipes, he wants «to stir the pot constantly in case something comes out.» So he has given his new film (his 10th) – which will be showing at cinemas from Friday – a title that at first sounds odd: «I’m Sick of Killing Your Lovers.» Don Jose sings this to Carmen, something that the publisher Theophilos (Nikos Arvanitis) does not do for the artiste Sia (Theophania Papathoma). Instead, he becomes her shadow, is jealous, gives himself over completely, is destroyed. Braque said that erotic love is whatever we love without any real reason, and Panayiotopoulos adopts this principle. Interpretation is thus done away with, and desire and emotions have the final (and only) say. The ephemeral takes on an unshakeable meaning. «The film is based on irony. It is film noir that does not transform the geography of the city – we recognize the center of Athens – the actors don’t wear gabardine and different kinds of clothes, the lights are not expressionist,» said the director in a recent interview with Kathimerini. Your film’s hero says, «Beauty is an enigma.» What do you mean by that? It’s a phrase that Myshkin says to Nastasya Filippovna (in Dostoevsky’s «Idiot»). I have plundered the universe and continue to plunder it. Just as I am against private property as an anarchist, I am against copyright. Except that your hero is talking to a beautiful woman, but not one that we would call enigmatic. The person who is in love becomes an enigma to his own self. But beauty itself escapes, you can’t control it. It is continuously escaping. Whatever someone wants is usually unapproachable. Does beauty dominate? It is a satellite for passion. Beauty, jealousy, madness? We are talking, of course, about a certain kind of beauty, a beautiful woman, who can change someone’s life. Does a person change when they fall in love? Of course. From the surface they plunge into the abyss. Does he or she become better? No. Because love is an illness. Passion can purify you, it can lift you. You attribute certain characteristics to beauty: blonde, provocative, singer. Why did you choose such a character? I wanted to make film noir. Noir is a world from which I create another one. Noir is a director’s paradise. Rainy streets, the dark of night, melancholic heroes, femme fatales, cigarettes, smoke, neon lights. My main concern in cinema is to serve a style, because deep down I have nothing to say. But because a work of art is not simply style, things appear from the person making it that might be of some interest. What interests me with film is whatever goes on beyond the film. I constantly stir the pot in case something comes out. What did you want to happen? A triumph, an explosion, something to change the misery of daily life. I like stirring things. For example, I made a detective film and gave it a comic title. I want to make shake whatever appears stable. Did you choose Theophania Papathoma because she has the characteristics of a femme fatale? Yes. She has a fantastic body; she is a femme fatale; she could ruin a man. Did you choose her as a man or as a director? I don’t make a distinction. I belong to the long tradition of cinema. The cinema has a litany of femmes fatales. And one reason why I became a filmmaker is to be part of this litany, to be around it. Fellini, Bergman, they had goddesses. Bergman would fall madly in love. Have you ever fallen madly in love while filming? I fall in love with my lead women, otherwise I couldn’t make the film. In order to film them I have to fall in love with them, and this is a pleasant process, like a game. It’s natural. I made a film just with men and it was a total failure. Cinema has seeped into the subconscious of the audience through the female characters. No one has been able to overshadow Rita Hayworth and Greta Garbo. Does our era leave room for great passions to blossom? No. Balzac said that passions are rare, like masterpieces. When they do happen, they turn ordinary people into exceptional, fictitious characters. And this is the charm. As a person’s sense of security grows, so his instincts decline. The need for happiness, despite the fact that it is a political demand, is not resolved through negotiations but with courage. I don’t believe that dialogue solves problems. Problems aren’t solved through dialogue but with courage. This is why great passions and masterpieces are rare. They require courage. There is no courage today. We have an unending regiment of happy people. Ultimately, who tastes passion? Those who are willing to destroy and be destroyed experience passion. The person who is ready to create terror, go to the edge, to kill a rival. The woman in your film, even though she is a stereotypical dizzy blonde, does something very courageous. Was it your choice to save the woman and the film? First of all, of course, I save the film. As a fan of the style, I save the film. Our mistake is that we have prejudices about everything. The cop behaves like this, the dizzy one like this, the publisher like that. And this is a problem in our culture: The professional mask dissipates the person underneath. The correct thing would be not to say Mr Panayiotopoulos the director, but Mr Panayiotopoulos is in love with his wife. People would learn more about me that way. I save the film, but I make a suggestion as to how to save the world. What is the main problem, in your opinion? The «rubbish.» Among the rubbish, however, you find diamonds. The rubbish might be prevalent today, but this is what should become cinema; this is what should become literature because this is the reality today. Among the rubbish you can find diamonds, and this is where the real adventure starts. We are not asking anything different from art than they asked centuries ago, and nothing will change unless our species is modified. A passionate man Is passion an old-fashioned emotion? No, it is rare. It has always been rare, and that’s why it has inspired so many novels. Public opinion looks down upon a man who makes a fool of himself over a woman. Yet, this wouldn’t be the case if he made a fool of himself over money or glory. How do you explain this? A man, for me, is someone who gets burnt and takes responsibility for it. Have you ever been burnt? I’ve been hot for my wife for 100 years! I fell madly in love with her when we met and didn’t take anything into account. Passion that takes things into account is an unethical passion. I left Paris, where I was working, where I had a wife, a child, a house, and didn’t take a single thing with me. And it wasn’t at all easy, I can tell you. I’m still paying for it. You never compromised your passions? Not even in cinema? I’m always on the brink of the extreme. I sometimes wonder how I didn’t end up living in the streets. I have been very lucky in that I have always been able to do what I want.