Palace Electric is once again hosting the Canberra leg of this national festival for organisers Molonglo Group and Hellenic Club of Canberra. This year’s event features five films over three days, beginning on Friday October 16 and ending on Sunday October 18. This year’s Greek Film Festival may best be described as a bit of a sandwich, opening and closing with movies that are a little like white bread–and not technically Greek–but with a filling inside that is meaty, bloody, gritty and intriguing.
THE WHITE BREAD
The opener is Alex & Eve, an Australian rom-com screen adaptation of a relatively successful community theatre production of the same name that made its debut in 2006 in Sydney’s inner west and eventually toured Melbourne and Adelaide, finding audiences amongst mostly Greek and occasionally Lebanese communities.
Yes, there a few Aussie Greek talents in this film, including rising star Andrea Demetriades playing the Lebanese girl, and if the play is anything to go by, the Greek theme won’t let up; but I struggle to totally get why this Australian film is headlining in a festival that is supposed to showcase Greek cinema. Alex & Eve is a lightweight Australian comedy about multiculturalism and to be honest, the main characters could be any ethnicity for the premise to work.
That said, I don’t doubt it will fill the theatre, but I expect it will rely on a mostly Aussie Greek community to do it. I don’t doubt it will get laughs, but it will rely on caricatures and clichés to do it. Will the boy get the girl in the end? You probably already know. Enough said.
My advice is to make sure you get to this one, if not for the film itself, then certainly for what promises to be a cracking launch party at Hotel Hotel on the night–expect good music and great Greek inspired nibbles from Monster chef Sean McConnell.
Festival launch Fri 16 October, 6.00pm
at Hotel Hotel Grand Stair
followed by screening
Closing night wheels out that old classic Zorba the Greek. A decade or so ago, this movie–remastered at the time–was the closing night film for Canberra’s first GFF, so it is surprising that it is on the list again. Considering the upheavals and economic woes in Greece in recent times, the portrayal of the lusty and haphazard Greek and the measured but cold Anglo in a beautiful country shackled by tradition may not be too far off the mark, even if it is mostly irrelevant today.
Nonetheless, this is a masterpiece of twentieth century cinema, and if you haven’t seen it on the big screen, you really should. In his 1964 review for the New York Times, critic Bosley Crowther had this to say:
“Mr. Quinn presents us with a picture of man as he might be had the world and civilisation not forced us into molds… He is Adam in the Garden of Eden, Odysseus on the windy plains of Troy. He is a little bit of Nijinsky and a good bit of Tom Jones. Love for all kindly fellow mortals surges in his breast. Hate and contempt for the mean ones flame in him like a roaring fire. Lust seizes him without resistance. Pathos moves him to tears. When the pressures pile up too much within him—either of joy or of sorrow—he must dance.”
Screening Sun 18 Oct, 5.30pm
Okay, lift the bread off the sandwich and have a look inside. Here is the stuff you ordered. Refugees, debts, loan sharks, mafia, vampires, gore, sex, drugs… Darkness dominates here. At last. And what else would we expect from the collective creative minds of a country in pain? It has been said that the most creative times in a nation’s history are times of crisis, so I say give the fluffy white bread a miss and check out one of these instead.
We start with Norway, a kooky gothic tale about vampires, disco dancing and drugs, set in 1984. I’m not sure if the year is a reference to anything Orwellian or just a coincidental point in time. The people that made Dogtooth (GFF ‘09) are back to causing an absurdist shit-storm with this ghoulish, off the wall vampire flick that according to the press blurb, tells the story of a ‘footloose creature of the night who boogies his way through a psychedelic version of Athens of the 1980s.’
Lead character Zano is a morally conscious and happy go lucky vampire who must dance to keep his heart beating. He arrives in Greece to meet a friend and finds himself at a disco called Zardoz – a hive of scum and villainy – where he meets a prostitute and a Norwegian drug dealer. The trio traverses mountains and descends into the core of the earth; all the while accompanied by a soundtrack that dares you not to move your body.
Screening Sat 17 October, 9.00pm
Take a dive into the Athenian underworld and organised crime machinations with Wednesday 04:45, a distinctly mesmeric noir nail-biter. Lead character Stelios’ dream of running a jazz club is crumbling as Greece’s economic slowdown takes its toll. Owing a fortune to a local standover man, the hulking ‘Romanian’ who is also feeling the financial pinch, Stelios is on the brink of financial ruin. The Romanian decides it is time to call in what is owed. In full. With less than 48 hours to save his club and his family, Stelios has until 04:45 on Wednesday morning to come up with the money.
Punctuated by a ‘60s Greek pop music soundtrack and visually striking pools of light and colour, filmmaker Alexis Alexiou has created a John-Woo-meets-Michael Mann full-throttle thriller exploring the lengths good men will go in their most desperate hours. I’m not sure if Athens can totally pull off Hong Kong by night, but this film gives it a good shot. More importantly, underneath the shoot-em-up aesthetic, there is a real and present anxiety that permeates this movie that most Greeks and observers can’t miss. Our hero has over borrowed thinking that the good times will never end, and now the gangsters (bankers?) want their money back.
Screening Sat 17 Oct, 6.30pm
In Riverbanks, a river acts as the border between Greece and Turkey but – more pointedly – as a deadly minefield. One sapper, Yannis holds a reputation for rooting out mines in a way machines cannot replicate. He is a lone kamikaze with no loved ones to hold him back. Chryssa (Elena Mavridou) is a single mother, also caring for a father and brother, who helps the children of illegal immigrants cross the river, sometimes successfully. In Yannis, she finds a kindred spirit – challenging death – and, for him, he gains an instant family. But is theirs a world doomed to destruction when Chryssa’s thug boss, also the father of her child, tries to track the couple on the run?
In Riverbanks, actor Andreas Constantinou consolidates his position as one of Greece’s most exciting new stars. His chemistry with Mavridou ensures the screen sizzles, aided and abetted by a plot that builds momentum in a riveting slow burn.
Screening Sun 18 October, 3.40pm
Followed by panel discussion and Q&A on refugee crisis in Europe