Greece may be broke, but its film scene is rich

The country has birthed its own cinematic movement – ‘Greek Weird Wave’ – and is a breeding ground for statement-makers

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Attenberg
Still from “Attenberg”via emptykingdom.com

For all the alarmist headlines about defaults and debts these past weeks, it might be easy to think of the Greeks as helpless victims without freedom or autonomy. But that’s simply not true. Despite the economic and political woes they’ve been struck by, the country is still holding up its millennia-old tradition as a heartland of European culture. From Athens to the Aegean Sea, filmmakers from Greece are making movies that are vibrant, original and entertaining. Here we focus on some of the most daring Greek directors today.

DOGTOOTH (2009) – YORGOS LANTHIMOS

Yorgos Lanthimos is perhaps the figurehead of what has been coined the “Greek Weird Wave” – a movement defined by its proclivity for bizarre and shocking ideas. The Athens-born director burst onto the international stage with his feral 2010 film Dogtooth, about two parents who keep their children in a sealed off compound, using Fritzl-esque techniques and lies to shield them from the outside world. His latest feature, The Lobster (2015), premiered at Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and maintains the outlandish style – it’s about a hotel where people must find partners, or they’ll be turned into animals and released into the nearby forest.

ATTENBERG (2010) – ATHINA RACHEL TSANGARI

Although her career may have begun with a cameo in Richard Linklater’s era-defining classic Slacker (1991), Athina Rachel Tsangari is not nearly as straightlaced as her American colleague. Tsangari’s breakout film Attenberg (2010) is about a 23-year-old virgin who becomes obsessed with wildlife commentator Sir David Attenborough as her disillusioned socialist father is gradually dying of cancer. With films full of awkward moments, perplexing sex scenes and French cinema influences, it’s no wonder her next, Chevalier – due out later this year – is keenly anticipated.

WASTED YOUTH (2011) – ARGYRIS PAPADIMITROPOULOS

With its loose and airy atmosphere and a teen skateboarder as its central character, Argyris Papadimitropoulos 2011 film Wasted Youth earned him a reputation as Greece’s Larry Clark. There are echoes too of Harmony Korine with the coming-of-age sexual experimentation, and a generally apathetic outlook on society. Papadimitropoulos’ Athens is one that is disjointed and on the brink of social collapse.

XENIA (2014) – PANOS H. KOUTRAS

One way to depict deep-seated issues with Greek society is to take one of its cherished national dishes and make it into a deadly monster, as Panos H. Koutras did in 1999’s The Attack of the Giant Moussaka. In it, there are also a group of gay astronomers in hot-pink lab coats, giving a taste of Koutras’ role as a pioneer of queer cinema – he’s certainly no stranger to a chest-rug dream sequence. More recently, his Xenia (2014) was not only full of flamboyance and camp, it exposed the reality of xenophobia in modern day Greece, as the two half-Albanian protagonists search for their father.

MATRIARCHY (2014) – NIKOS KORNILIOS

Exploring contemporary female and feminist discourse in Greece, Nikos Kornilios regularly uses ensemble casts and improvisation. Straddling the line between documentary and fiction, 2014’s Matriarchy follows 60 women over a week-long period, as they speak candidly about issues such as body image and rape history. Shot in an industrial area of Athens, Kornilios is attempting to work against the “male imprint” of old Greek society.

THE ETERNAL RETURN OF ANTONIS PARASKEVAS (2013) – ELINA PSYKOU

As though an allegory of Greece’s newly-diminished sense of identity, Elina Psykou’s Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas (2013) follows a famous talk show host, who stages his own disappearance. But for once, Paraskevas is not the one keeping the nation up to date with events – he is a vulnerable onlooker. Although Psykou’s approaches with a darkly-comic and absurdist style, she is quick to deny being part of any wider “Greek cinema”.

MAN AT SEA (2011) – CONSTANTINOS GIANNARIS

“What I am trying to grapple with now is whether my sexuality has any relevance to the broader world,” declared director Constantinos Giannaris. “It’s taking on taboos, saying the unsayable – to me that’s what queerness is.” Born in Athens, Giannaris’s films, such as From the Edge of the City (1998), which is full of drugs and male prostitution, make queerness a key theme. Though he is also concerned with immigration, as 2011’s Man at Sea showed – it follows a group of adolescent refugees on a Greek oil tanker.

MISS VIOLENCE (2013) – ALEXANDROS AVRANAS

Alexandros Avranas’s 2013 drama Miss Violence begins on 11-year-old's birthday, as she intentionally jumps off a balcony and falls to her death – with a smile on her face. This disturbing act of violence once more is a filmmaker’s response to the claustrophobic grip of conservatism on Greece’s youth. Avranas’s perfectionist imagery and jarring soundtrack only add to the uncomfortable viewing experience.

NORWAY (2014) – YIANNIS VESLEMES

As an old, bespectacled gentleman says in Yiannis Veslemes’s extremely odd 2014 film Norway: “Are you a fucking vampire, or are you a poet?” The bloodsucking creatures have always been an emblem of societal parasitism – and in this stylised steampunk creation, Zano the vampire lives a life of excessive hedonism. Veslemes’s disco-beat debut is thinly-veiled critique of those who have carelessly played with the country’s future.

VENUS IN THE GARDEN (2011) – TELEMACHOS ALEXIOU

Making direct nods to ancient Greek theatre, the tragedies of modern Greece have certainly not be lost on Telemachos Alexiou. His 2011 movie Venus in the Garden is a dystopian tale about two call boys and their female pimp, while last year’s Queen Antigone follows the self-destruction stretched too far by the toils of life, much like the Sophocles epic. Alexiou’s cinematography is bold and inventive, however, breathing new life into these old tales.

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