THE NEW GREEK CINEMA
The advent of television in the mid-1960s coincided with a coup d'etat by Greek colonels on 21 April 1967. The increasingly mediocre fare being churned out by the studio system was not attractive enough to compete with the new medium, and the strict censorship of the junta kept any socially engaging films off Greek screens. The studio system imploded, and the only group left making films in Greece consisted of a handful of young writer-directors who desired to take Greek cinema in an entirely new direction. They loudly and even rudely rejected the populist art of the studio system with visions of an ultramodernist cinema driven by auteurs. Although this group began making films during the junta years, their movement blossomed in the ten years following the summer 1974 fall of the junta.
What became known as the New Greek Cinema was largely committed to a modernist aesthetic that disdained the star system, montage, the three-act narrative, and other Hollywood norms associated with popular cinema. Many of the new writer-directors also had a leftist political orientation and greatly admired Italian neorealism. A persistent problem for them was that their political positions impelled them to seek a mass audience while their aesthetics often drove that audience away. By far the most successful in resolving this contradiction of content and form were Pantelis Voulgaris (b. 1940) and Theo Angelopoulos. Voulgaris stayed closer to the neorealistic standard in what proved to be his most successful films, To Proxenio tis Annas ( The Engagement of Anna , 1972), Petronia Chronia ( Stone Years , 1985), and Ola Ina Dromos ( It's A Long Road , 1995). Angelopoulos, on the other hand, undertook one aesthetic experiment after another. He achieved both a massive popular audience in Greece and international critical acclaim with his The Traveling Players , afilm that rewrote Greek political history from a leftist perspective.
Greek social problems received an engaging expressionistic treatment in Nikos Papatakis's (b. 1918) I Voski ( Thanos and Despina , l968). Similar concerns were given surrealistic treatment in Nikos Panayotopoulos's I Tembelides tis Eforis Kiladas ( The Slothful Ones of the Fertile Valley , 1978). Yorgos (George) Katakouzinos's Angelos ( Angel , 1982) created a sensation with its explicit homosexual themes, and Timi tis Agapis ( The Price of Love , 1984) by Tonia Marketaki (b. 1942) set a new cinematic standard for Greek feminism with a historical romance set at the turn of the twentieth century. Generally speaking, however, as a group the filmmakers of the New Greek Cinema failed to achieve the consistent quality of Voulgaris and Angelopoulos.
b. Theodoros Angelopoulos, Athens, Greece, 27 April 1935
Theo Angelopoulos is the most important filmmaker in the history of Greek cinema. In contrast to both avant-gardists who disdain politics and leftists who appropriate popular genres, Angelopoulos has insisted that to have a revolutionary impact, both the form and content of a film must challenge convention. His signature trademarks are slow pacing and continuous shots that can last for many minutes. His four-hour long O Thiassos ( The Traveling Players 1975), which appears on most lists of the greatest films of the twentieth century, uses less than one hundred shots to explore the history of mid-century Greece. Angelopoulos is also fond of manipulating time, sometimes going chronologically backward and forward within a single shot. His films often include dead spots that invite the viewer to think about what has just transpired on the screen. Motionless tableaus and direct address to the camera by actors shedding their film identities are other favored techniques.
Angelopoulos received his film training in Paris, where he worked with Jean Rouch. Upon returning to Greece, he was a film critic for left-wing journals. His first feature film, Anaparastassi ( Reconstruction , 1968), examined a murder through multiple tellings in the manner of Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950). In Meres tou 36 ( Days of 36 , 1972), Oi Kynighoi ( The Hunters , 1977), and Megaleksandros ( Alexander the Great , 1980), he offered a history of Greece from an anti-authoritarian leftist perspective. In Taxidi sta Kithira ( Voyage to Cythera , 1984), OMelissokomos ( The Beekeeper , 1986), and Topio stin Omichli ( Landscape in the Mist , 1988), Angelopoulos weighed traditional Greek values against those of the emerging new Europe. To Meteoro Vima tou Pelargou ( The Suspended Step of the Stork , 1991), To Vlemma tou Odyssea ( Ulysses' Gaze , 1996) and Mia Aioniotita kai mia Mera ( Eternity and a Day , 1998) examined the problems of national borders and ethnic identity. Almost all of these films won prestigious international prizes, a pattern crowned by the Palme d'Or for Eternity and a Day .
With the onset of a new century, Angelopoulos announced the most ambitious project of his career—a trilogy that would comment on the history of Europe in the twentieth century through the prism of the experience of the Greek nation. He told reporters, "I breathe in epic terms. This is my fate." The first of the trilogy, To Livadi pou Dakryzei ( The Weeping Meadow , 2004), done in a manner that reflected the sweep of The Traveling Players but with more of the character development in films such as Eternity and a Day , deals with refugees from Asia Minor in Greece through the end of the Greek civil war in 1949. Part two of the trilogy will carry the story to the Soviet Union.
Anaparastassi ( Reconstruction , 1968), O Thiassos ( The Traveling Players , 1975), Megaleksandros ( Alexander the Great , 1980), Mia Aioniotita kai mia Mera ( Eternity and a Day , 1998), To Livadi pou Dakryzei ( The Weeping Meadow , 2004)
Fainaru, Dan, ed. Theo Angelopoulos: Interviews . Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.
Georgakas, Dan. "A Reconsideration of Theodoros Angelopoulos's Alexander the Great . " Journal of Modern Greek Studies 18, no. 1 (May 2000): 171–182.
Horton, Andrew. The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.
——, ed. The Last Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos . Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1997.
An important new force in Greek filmmaking appeared in 1981 when the government offered significant financial assistance with the establishment of the Greek
Film Centre in order to fund and promote Greek cinema. Ten years later, the annual national film festival held in Thessaloniki since 1960 became the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. While national production remained a major element in the festival, broader Greek film culture was nourished by the annual presentation of hundreds of foreign films and dozens of foreign film-makers. The festival saw its mission as the promotion of artistic rather than commercial cinema. Among its priorities was providing considerable space to Balkan film-makers, first-time directors, and various regional cinemas.
Although coproductions with other nations became common by the 1990s, the New Greek Cinema lost momentum. Directorial idiosyncrasies, eccentricities, and excesses were often passed off as style and individual vision. The national audience began to avoid Greek-language films. While American films usually drew more than 500,000 admissions and 85 percent of all screens, the majority of Greek films drew less than 10,000, and any Greek film that drew more than 100,000 was considered a success.
An unexpected development was that the old studio films being shown regularly on television proved very appealing to a generation that had not even been born when they were made. As the twentieth century came to an end, a new generation of filmmakers began to challenge the political economy of the Greek film world by aiming for popular audiences with independent productions that often employed new low-cost technology. No Budget Story (Renos Haralambidis, 1998) and O Orgasmos tis Ageladas ( The Cow's Orgasm , OlgaMalea, 1996), films dealing with the problems of the contemporary generation, captured the popular imagination with formats akin to the American independent cinema of the 1950s. I epitesi tou yiyantiaou mousaka ( The Attack of the Giant Moussaka , 2000), a send-up of science fiction films that combined criticism of Greek mass media with a hilarious gay subtext, reached beyond Greece to find an international cult audience. Even Angelopoulos became slightly more conventional by casting international stars and shortening the length of his films to more traditional running times. IEarini Synaxis ton Agrofylakon ( The Four Seasons of the Law , Dimos Avdeliodis, 1999) successfully revived some of the elements of studio comedies. The surprise pop hit of the 1990s, however, was Safe Sex (1999), a soft-core porn film that leaped to the top of the Greek charts with over one million admissions. Its drawing card was that it used actors from Greek television sitcoms in dicey sexual situations. While critics rightly denounced its vulgarity, Safe Sex brought mass audiences back to Greek-language films. Subsequently, an increasing number of Greek-language films began to pass the 100,000 admissions mark.
During the first years of the twenty-first century, Greek cinema often dealt with the cultural identity problems associated with the new Europe, especially the unprecedented influx of refugees fleeing collapsing states in the region. A hit of 2003 was Politiki Kouzina ( A Touch of Spice , Tassos Boulmetis, [b. 1957]), which dealt with the expulsion of Greeks from Istanbul in the 1950s. The following year Voulgaris released Nyfes ( Brides , 2004), a film about a group of picture brides who emigrated to America in 1922. Both films were box office sensations with more than one million admissions. Angelopoulos took up a related theme in a trilogy that sought to reflect the history of Europe throughout the twentieth century by focusing on the history of the Greeks. The first film of the trilogy, To Livadi pou Dakryzei ( The Weeping Meadows , 2004), begins with Greeks from the Black Sea fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution and continues through the end of Greek civil war in 1949.
One new element in twenty-first-century Greek film is a group of women who have raised feminist concerns
within an art form long dominated almost exclusively by male directors. Award-winning works include Alexandria (Mario Illioú, 2001), Tha to Metaniossis ( Think It Over , Katerina Evangelakou, 2002), Diskoli Apocheretismi: O Babas Mou ( Hard Goodbyes: My Father , Penny Panayotopoulou, 2002), and Close, So Close (Stella Theodoraki, 2002). Other women have reached the fore-front of the avant-garde scene and the documentary genre. Lucia Rikaki (b. 1961) offered a rare look at the deaf community in Greece with her Ta logia tis siopis ( Words of Silence , 2002) and Lydia Carras addressed ecological themes in Foni Aegeou ( The Voice of the Aegean , 2004).
Amid these dynamic trends, the old auteurist ideal has remained in place, maintaining considerable resistance to any thinking about film as a collaborative enterprise and to conventional narrative formats. Nevertheless, both established and emerging filmmakers continue to pursue and reach popular audiences at home and abroad, seeking formats that fuse the integrity and artistry of the auteurist ideal with the populist verve of the best studio-era productions.
Bacoyannopoulos, Yannis, and Andreas Tyros, eds. Cinemythology: A Retrospective of Greek Film . Athens: Greek Film Centre, 1993.
Constantinidiis, Stratos E., ed. Journal of Modern Greek Studies: Greek Film—A Special Issue 18, no. 1 (May 2000).
Georgakas, Dan, and Andrew Horton, eds. Film Criticism 27, no. 2 (Winter 2002–2003). (Special issue on Greek cinema.)
Koliodimos, Dimitris. The Greek Filmography: 1914 through 1946. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999.