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Thread: Kritias' Das Griechische Kinofilmkritiken

  1. #1
    Kritias's Avatar Petite bourgeois
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    Sep 2007

    Default Kritias' Das Griechische Kinofilmkritiken

    It always sounds somehow more refined when it’s in German, doesn’t it? Without further ado,

    The Greek Cinematography Critique

    Hello everyone! In this thread I am going to be presenting some of the most important films ever produced in the Greek republic including cinematographers such as Theo Angelopoulos, Costa Gavras, Giorgos Lanthinos, Pantelis Voulgaris and others. It’s going to be interesting to those who want to get a little extra in modern Greek studies, people generally interested in cultural exchange and people who are interested to see a critique complete with social background information and commentary. Wherever possible, the OST of the movies will also be discussed. The critiques accompany historical pictures and colorized pictures from the Past in Color project.

    The Movie

    Costas Ferris’ 1983 film Rembetiko relatively recently got a remastering (2004) so I will begin this thread by reviewing a movie based on the greek underworld of 1924-1960. This is a world full of migrants, drugs, crime, and songs. This movie is a hard to swallow critique of the greek society of the time, in the tradition of many greek movies, with some feminist undertones. It can hardly be categorized as a musical, or a feature film, which makes for a unique viewing. Rotten tomatoes give the movie an 89% positive review.

    It’s plot revolves around the fictionalized life of Marika, a Asia Minor migrant rebetiko singer who finds herself running away from home, abandoned by her first boyfriend, working her way up from hashish dens and tavernas during the 30’s and 40’s to nightclubs of the 50’s, when the rebetiko became more mainstream in greek society. In the ending of the film, as many rembetes, Marika attempts a trip to America where the ‘Greek Blues of the Underworld’ were making an entrance in the American music industry of the 50’s.

    The Social Context

    Rembetika is a form of greek urban music with heavy oriental influences, an homage to the Ottoman past of the rembetes. Tracing its origins from the 19th century onwards, the rembetiko exhibits a range of musical traditions influencing its development, from the demotic folk music of mainland Greece to Byzantine church music to late Ottoman café aman music. It was certainly the music of the outcasts for its greatest duration. The songs are about love, loneliness, despair, migration and the diaspora, jail, hashish and drugs, women, misfortune and misery, social injustice, current events, the Aegean and its waters, fishing, the landscape, poverty, death, daily life, violence, mangas culture, and so on. The usual instruments include the bouzouki, the sintari, and the violin.

    The rembetes themselves came from Asia Minor following the military defeat of Greece in Asia Minor, and the exchange of populations agreed on the Lausanne treaty (1923) that formalized the expulsion of millions of christian and muslim people from their homelands. Their integration to Greek society was difficult, and mostly undesirable from the native Greek population who exhibited great lengths of bigotry against them; many of the refugees, coming from a bourgeois background in the Ottoman empire, were debased and confined to an underclass that had limited rights.
    Those with bonds in banks like the Bank of the Orient were forced to swap these for a dime on the dollar; women were pushed to domestic work in order to acquire Greek papers; other women, unsuited for domestic work, were diverted to prostitution, a common theme in the songs; pawnshops were set close to the first settling of the migrants in places like Chios, Crete, and Piraeus where the migrants were instructed to sell their valuables (whatever they still had) for cash. The manges and rebetes tended to live in or around Piraeus; they frequented the tekedes (hashish dens); many spent time in jail, either simply for performing their music, or for engaging in other criminal behavior, such as smuggling, theft, or smoking hashish.

    Οι μπάτσοι μας μπλοκάρανε βρε Μάνθο, μας τη σκάσανε
    άντε μάγκες στη δουλειά σας μη χαλάτε την καρδιά σας

    The city of Athens itself seemed divided on the issue of the rembetes. Since 1880, the typical Greek music is based on the Italian melodrama that characterize the kantades and the Athenian songs of the era. The music cafes are also divided between the limited but more popular café aman and the more numerous café santan, further hinting towards the division between the working classes that enjoyed the oriental influences of the rembetiko and the bourgeois who maintained the western influences were more ‘moral’. Following 1923 and the exchange of populations, the rembetiko gains in popularity as the songs of migrants and workmen, with the piraiotic style gaining in overall popularity. It won’t be until 1936 and the fascist dictatorship of Metaxas that the songs will be completely banished as ‘impure to the third Greek civilization’ dreams of the right-wing in Greece. Of course, the rembetes survived the persecutions and their songs gained in political themes during the German occupation. During the fifties and the mainstreamization of the rembetiko, the Greek state cracked down on the outcast culture by arresting and shaving the mustache of the rembetes (a shame), and putting them to work in closely observed nightclubs.

    The review

    The music of the movie is exceptional –unless you are one of those people who think that oriental music is like listening to wailing cats, then you won’t like it – as is the research in the lyrics. Many of these songs survived today but their lyrics have been altered times over to eradicate political and social dabs; the movie provides the uncensored versions. If you’re interested in just the music, the album is uploaded to YouTube here.

    The societal woes of the asia minor migrants are also faithfully described in the film, as is the mangas culture that surrounded them. If I can offer a critique, the relation between the rembetes and the police is downplayed a lot, avoiding the constant raids that the songs hint to. There’s only a scene where policemen actually crack down on rembetes, but then it shows how rembetes were also linked to the workers movement.

    The acting of the film is what anyone would expect of a 1983 film yet there’s a little more emphasis on the drama for my tastes at points, since this movie also tries to bring a feminist critique of the rembetes man-oriented culture into focus. This is not necessarily bad, but I think a little on the nose and not entirely faithful to history.

    The mangissa, Rosa Eskenazi

    The story itself echoes the life of the Jewish mangissa, Rosa Eskenazi, a very important figure in rembetiko and a tough ass mofo. I was very happy to see that the protagonists refer to ‘Rosa’ in the film many times, particularly to hint at her success, but also her tragic death. Eskenazi allegedly died in a hospital and hastily buried in the village Stomio of Corinth with only a handful people in attendance. A decade after her death, some people crowdfunded to plant a marble slab on top of her grave signifying her name and her being an ‘artist’. Of course, her private life was deemed as shameful to fully disclose, involving the existence of a daughter Rosa might had abandoned in an orphanage when she travelled to America to record her songs with Columbia Records. Her distinctive style of dress also makes appearances in the movie.

    Overall, I will give this movie a 4/5 due to its strengths, namely the music and social depictions of the migrant life, yet I was a bit put off by some melodrama moments. But that’s just me.

    I hoped you liked this review!

    Next movie up will be Ulysses’s Gaze by Theo Angelopoulos.

    The OST for the movie can be found here.
    Under the valued patronage of Abdülmecid I

  2. #2
    Kritias's Avatar Petite bourgeois
    Join Date
    Sep 2007

    Default Re: Kritias' Das Griechische Kinofilmkritiken

    Ulysses' Gaze

    For those of you that haven’t seen a movie by Theo Angelopoulos before, there’s a running joke between Greek audiences. The story goes that once you’re on the theater and the movie starts, you can get up from your seat, go for a piss, stop to grab a cola and some popcorn, come back to your seat and still have a full minute of the same scene.

    Theo Angelopoulos himself laughed a lot with this joke. According to him, though, the point of the long takes was an unspoken commentary on Hollywood; most movies coming out have roughly 2,ooo to 2,5oo scenes in such a rapid succession that the audience is practically told what to think and what to feel throughout the movie. Angelopoulos’ movies had just a fraction of that number, drawn out to make the audience feel the movie as if they were right there with the protagonists. Eleni Karaindrou’s orchestral melodies and the photography of the natural beauty is more than enough to keep you mesmerized with the movie. Of course, many people will find this very uncomfortable to sit through; you’ve been warned.

    The plot

    The protagonist (Harvey Keitel) who remains unnamed throughout the movie begins a journey from Thessaloniki to the Balkans. His goal is to uncover three undocumented reels of the Manakis brothers, the first cinematographers in the Balkan area. The problems arise as soon as the protagonist leaves behind him the Greek borders; the other Balkan nations claim the Manakis brothers as their conationals and they treat his quest with suspicion. In time, the protagonist will claim that despite being sent by the Athens Cinema Repository, he doesn’t care to prove a point of nationality. In fact, the idea of nationality is being challenged time and again during the protagonist’s journey from Thessalonike, to Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria and lastly, the war-torn Yugoslavia.

    The social background and review
    This movie came out during the turbulent mid-nineties, posing very daring questions about the formation of national identity, especially during the erupting squabble with the then seceding Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (F.Y.R.O.M). The movie starts with the protagonist, a Greek director, going back to his village of Florina (a common place in Angelopoulos’ movies) after years of living in America for one of his movies’ screenings. Tongue in cheek, Angelopoulos right out of the bat stages a counter-protest for his protagonist’s screening and the first few moments we are shown the minimal efforts and the disavowing from public officials and the support from the director’s friends and admirers. In actual fact, Angelopoulos may be showing here some disappointment towards the passive reception reserved from the Greek audience for his earlier trilogy, the so-called “Trilogy of History”. Instead of the aggressive opposition to movies such as Days of 1936 (upcoming review) an anti-dictatorship movie shot brazenly during the military junta of 1967-1974, Angelopoulos received reviews of ‘interminable boredom caused by the film’ and ‘non-stop yawning on the cinemas’. His disappointment culminated when Ulysses’ Gaze was awarded just a minor award in Cannes, causing him to comment on his receiving the prize that ‘if that’s all you have to give me, I have nothing more to say’. Other history-based movies of Angelopoulos like the Travelling Players, which is considered one of Angelopoulos’ masterpieces, despite grossing well on theaters were also shunned by the non-reactive Greek audience and the intervention of the government not to allow the director to submit it for awards due to dangerously left leanings.

    The trip to Albania offers another important commentary by the director. During his taxi drive up the borders (another common theme of Angelopoulos’ movies), the protagonist is confronted by an old woman who begs him to take her in Albania. Her sister, she says, lives there since the civil war but the guards won’t let her through. At the same time a police van drops dozens of Albanians at the borders, visibly deporting them. ‘Am I leaving?’ the protagonist considers as we see the cab cross the border patrol.

    The cab ride offers its own experiences for the protagonist and the first view of micro-culture. The cab driver gives a glass and some retsina to the protagonist and says that in his village men become friends if they have drunk from the same cup. Perhaps the most important part is the cab’s monologue right before he drops the protagonist over the borders to Macedonia – Greece, he says, is dying. We’re dying as people. We’ve come full circle. I don’t know how many thousand years among broken stones and statues – and we’re dying. But if Greece is to die then she better do it quickly; because the agony lasts too long and makes too much noise.

    Through its core the movie explores the idea of moving yet staying in place. Throughout the travel similarities are shown and underscored again and again and the viewer can’t end up but feeling that this is just a travel on a single country. An identifiable Balkan sound encompasses the entire film, too familiar and too strange at the same time.

    Other important topics feature in the film that can be drawn into the social context of Greece. These are still the years of PASOK (The Panhellenic Socialist Movement) and the height of the effort to bridge the differences between two very different views on Greece. On the one hand the right, supporters of the junta and now the opposition, the bourgeois. On the other, the former suppressed left and its returning people from exile after PASOK’s pardon. This conflict of identity is covered throughout the film through some flashbacks of the protagonist, especially from his childhood in Bulgaria – and the expulsion of his family to Greece by the communist party there.

    The scene with Lenin’s statue ferried down the river in Bulgaria is also indicative of the director’s view of conflict of identity, this time of political variety. Dozens of people are filmed walking to the edge of the river, some clapping, some crying, most looking on somber.

    ‘Is this Sarajevo?’ the protagonist asks people running away breathless from the bombs and the hail of bullets as the movie draws to a close. The fact that the protagonist asks that in the middle of a warzone and the obvious surroundings of the besieged city speaks volumes. The question why the protagonist would risk so much for three canisters of film should also trouble us. Unfortunately we couldn't ever ask Angelopoulos himself if he were still alive because he went to that real time warzone to film his movie.

    What’s left to say for this amazing movie? It touches subjects so important to understand the Balkan powder keg that makes at least a viewing necessary for whomever is interested to understand the area. The issue of nationality of the film makers, and their film Weavers that features in the movie, is so spot on commentary about the casual squabbling between the Balkaners over who was who that seems timeless. Yet the message couldn’t be stated more clearly. The historical arguments, the involuntary memory of a shared past, the formation of national identity comes to the fore. And the only question left: Are we different? Are we leaving? 5/5

    Thank you for reading! I’m going to mix and match here and review The Stone Years by Pantelis Voulgaris next. Stay tuned!

    The amazing OST for the movie can be found here.
    Under the valued patronage of Abdülmecid I

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