Letter from Thessaloniki

Really, we have quite a few winners today, haven’t we? First of all, there are those proclaimed as such last night at Thessaloniki’s International Film Festival. Then, there are the artists who are to be named today around noon at the Athens Concert Hall. It is a theatrical tradition and a meaningful way of acknowledging Greece’s best with the prizes of the Greek Theater and Music Critics Association. Later this evening at Thessaloniki’s flashy Concert Hall, the Greek film prizes will be announced. Further north, winners started to emerge from last weekend in Kosovo’s first election for a national assembly since the province came under international administration in 1999. Though victors are certainly not among the Serbs, who as a minority community there believe that these elections solely legitimized ethnic Albanian control. Yet, the greatest winners of them all were the Halkidiki Hotel-owners of Kallithea, a summer resort some 50 miles from Thessaloniki, understandably abandoned just 10 days ago. The Athos Palace and Pallini hotels – among others – were opened to handle nearly 2,000 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) polling supervisors who flew to Thessaloniki for four days of training sessions before proceeding on to Kosovo and Yugoslavia – which, in theory, is one undivided and sovereign state. This out-of-season maelstrom in abandoned Kallithea looked like a nightmare scene from some Fritz Lang movie, one of the supervisors from Britain remarked to me. As a matter of fact, there was a Fritz Lang film in Thessaloniki. Last Friday, Fritz Lang’s monumental Metropolis, a 1926 silent film relying on innovative visual imagery, unparalleled in scope until Kubrick’s 2001 – A Space Odyssey (1968), and well ahead of its time, was majestically shown at Salonica’s modern baroque-like Concert Hall, accompanied by the grand Bulgarian Radio National Symphony Orchestra playing 37-year-old Bernd Schultheis’s music. Schultheis’s work sounded like a master of multi-stylism, switching from sweetly romantic melodies, borrowed from composers long since dead, to the most appalling dissonance imaginable within seconds. One can summarize that the 42nd program of this forward-thinking film festival was quite successful. One of the special moments here was the special screening of David Lynch’s latest mockery of everything – not least its own disingenuousness. Be alert! Don’t miss Mulholland Drive when it comes to a theater near you. It is a continually surprising detective work close to the brink of self-parody. A great film – for me at least. Careening from one violent scene to the next, and equally never too far away from parody, is 42-year-old Milcho Manchevski’s Dust, from Skopje. Manchevski completed this, his second feature film, seven years after Before the Rain. (Shown a couple of years ago at this festival, a film which in its time received numerous awards, including Venice’s Golden Lion in 1994 and an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film). This Balkan western – or should one say eastern – particularly lingers on various forms of slaughter which begin on the American frontier and sweep in time and space until present-day violence in New York and in the Balkans. And was another highlight of this film festival. abstractions can exist in cinema, that is one of the powers of cinema. I personally loved – and hated – the abstract feel of certain Greek films shown here. Just to mention some: The extended mood opera To Tama (The Vow) by Andreas Pantzis; or the smashingly shot To Mono tis Zois tou Taxidion (The Only Journey of His Life) by Lakis Papastathis; not mention Alexandros and Aishe by Dimitris Kollatos, which seems to want to put an arty label on incoherence. Dekapendavgoustos (One Day in August) by Constantine Giannaris was another elaborate labyrinthine story that’s well worth your while. So is Eonios Fititis (Ghost of a Chance) by Vangelis Seitanidis which held younger generations amused for all of its loony and luscious 100 minutes. It has been measured that Thessaloniki residents average 2.3 films a year each, while Athenians only average 1.2 films. This is probably one of the reasons that most screenings at this festival were sold out. Congestion was the expected condition, and not only at the main cinema for screenings, the Olympion. Nevertheless, cinema fans proved to be, like most people these days, ardent media critics. The bad thing about this was that viewers often chattered away on their cell phones as if they were alone in their living rooms. Yet – as you so well know – if you try glaring with annoyance at someone who is talking on a cell phone in the dark, you simply do not exist for him. There were also some remarkable films where the preview audience laughed diversely and talked throughout the screening. In those cases, the exit comments were usually mean. People are often so unjust, whispered Thessalonian film-lover and aspiring architect Michalis Tsitotas on Saturday while walking out of Tirana Year Zero by Fatmir Koci. You know, you have to just let a film wash over you if you really want a cinematic feast for the senses. Now, I said to myself, that is exactly how one could recapitulate this year’s film festival: A cinematic feast for the senses!

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