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20th October by Margaret Wieringa
There are so many film festivals around that it is hard to keep track. Here’s some stuff you need to know about the 19th Greek Film Festival that is running from October 17 to November 4.
The festival is based at Palace Cinema Como in South Yarra, which is a short walk from South Yarra train station. There are over thirty films screening, ranging from fictional shorts and features, to documentaries and even animation.
Over the last few years, Greece has been in the news a lot due to the Global Financial Crisis. Things aren’t great in Greece. Germany has stepped in and, as part of the European Union, has set up a series of austerity measures in the country. There is high unemployment and a lot of financial struggle. This is quite clear through the selection of contemporary Greek films I have seen as part of the festival.
Common themes are desolation, desperation, guns, violence, unhappiness, dissatisfaction and hopelessness. Sound depressing? Well, yes. But important, and these are stories which, for the most part, are worth watching.
A teenage boy spends his days skating, avoiding his father, visiting his mother in hospital and hanging out with his mates. A policeman is dealing with problems at home in his family and issues in work, and is close to a nervous breakdown. When the two cross paths, tragedy ensues.
This film was inspired by the real-life shooting of Alexandros Grigoropoulos, and seems to be an attempt to look at what can occur when two unconnected lives cross.
What worked well was a portrayal of an average day in contemporary Greece, with ordinary people doing ordinary things in a time of high tension. What worked less well, however, was the end of the film. I found it to be quite a letdown – I felt that some of the investment that I had put in to some of the characters did not pay off. I also wanted more at the end; the final event took place and the film finished. I need to know how this changed things and what happened from here, but it was gone.
In bold black and white, Tungsten follows three storylines that play around each other on one day in a desolate and desperate city. There are two teenagers who wander from place to place looking to fill their lives; a man who is trying to apologise to the girlfriend he has assaulted; and a ticket inspector who is desperately trying to scrounge money to pay huge debts and keep his family together.
None of the characters are particularly likable, yet I really enjoyed this film. It had a sense of quiet desperation; of misplaced anger and frustration and of action being taken – in one way or another. Often, I find contemporary films in black and white have little reason to be so; it is just an empty attempt to be ‘arty’ or to be taken more seriously. In Tungsten, however, the black and white footage enhances the dilapidation and desolation of the city.
Tungsten was the big winner at last year’s Cyprus International Film Festival, taking away awards for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Editing.
Yorgos is a young man who lives alone in Athens. He is unemployed and starving – often only just surviving by eating a handful of his canary’s birdseed.
I found this a hard film to engage with because I didn’t feel much empathy for Yorgos, which I think may be unfair. I wanted him to get himself together, get a job and stop doing stupid things. The film is set in current times, with the austerity measures which Greece is facing making simply getting a job far less of a real option. Perhaps it was that the film focused so much on Yorgos and his life that I did not get a strong sense of the world around him, and of these difficulties.
Another thing that made the film hard to engage with is that there are a lot of things that I don’t need to see on film, and Boy Eating the Bird’s Food contains one from the top of that list. I could write about it, and I think a lot of reviewers would, but then you’d have that image in your head, and I don’t want to inflict that on you.
What I did like, at least in parts of the film, was the dance that was created between the actor and camera. There was a feeling of playful interaction and exploring that worked well in this close character study.
When a person dies, it obviously causes a great deal of grief to their family and friends. However, would this grief be alleviated if someone were able to step in and act in the place of that person to give the family a chance to come to terms with their loss and move on?
Alps explores with theme, where a small company provides this service to families. The actors take the place of the deceased for a couple of hours several times a week, playing out scenes from the life of the family. The families are given the chance to move on, but it has more serious connotations for at least one of the actors.
I mistakenly thought that this film would have a lot more dark comedy to it, although having seen the film, I’m not sure where it would be. Having said that, some of the inane conversations were almost surreal, especially when repeatedly discussing the use of coffee cups in the workplace. The cinematography was beautiful, but I was not totally engaged in the film. I think it was because there were not really any likable characters in the film. Still, it is a wonderful and interesting concept and is worth watching. Alps was also featured at MIFF.
In under two hours, Canadian filmmaker Tony Asimakapoulos takes the audience through many years of his life, with the main emphasis on his parents. Tony is an only child, and his youth was filled with their constant arguing, both with each other and with him. He went to college and studied filmmaking, with many of his films revolving around versions of his own family, and then became a drug addict. Now, years later, he is clean, in love with a wonderful woman, and taking his place in the world.
I’m usually not a fan of autobiographical documentaries. I wonder why it is that someone I’ve never heard of and have no interest thinks that a film of their life is worth my time. Sounds harsh and arrogant put in those terms, but it’s how I feel. Yet Fortunate Son really grabbed me, and I wanted to know more. It was delightful and interesting, frustrating and beautiful. I feel as though I know Tony and his family and I’d like to go round for dinner sometime.
I saw The Palace after a screening of Wish You Were Here earlier this year. I was surprised to have the opportunity to watch a short with a feature in this day-and-age (but would love this to be the norm once again), but was particularly curious as to why it would be filmed afterwards. After watching it, I understand why.
The Palace is harrowing. It is set in 1974 in Cyprus and covers an encounter of a young Turkish-Cypriot soldier when he comes across a Greek-Cypriot family in hiding. It is awful and emotional, but extremely well made. Personally, I wish I hadn’t seen it, as it is a film that haunts me. I think this shows what a fantastic film it is.
The Palace won two AACTA awards, and Best Australian Short Film at Flickerfest, MIFF and the Sydney Film Festival.
Four women, all in various stages of conception/pregnancy, living four very different lives in Athens. There is angst, deception, fear, danger, violence and even the hint of joy.
I didn’t connect with the characters in this film. There was so much shouting and anger that I had little interest in what happened to them, and when each story reached its climax, I found it really difficult to care. Even when each climax is actually extremely dramatic and exciting.
Three guys in their twenties became sick of Athens and made a pact to save for a year and move to Berlin. The year is up, and they are about to spend their last twelve hours in Athens before heading away. But with a series of unexpected revelations, decisions and events, their plans shift and change.
Jerks was fantastic, and I think it was because this is one of the few films that I’ve watched as part of this festival that had characters that I truly liked. I cared about what happened to them, even as they made mistakes and treated people like crap. As with many of these films, the desperation and frustration with a situation that is out of the character’s control is present, but here were characters that I thought might just beat it. They were attempting to take control of their life in a positive way.