ISSN: 2241-6692

BLOG - Greek Cinema

In an era of inane blockbusters and superfluous digital effects, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest film comes to restore confidence to the continuing significance of cinema in the contemporary world of spectacular capitalism. The Lobster (2015) seems like a film from another era, despite the fact that it comes out of the panics, phobias and dead ends of our time. It employs a cinematic language that challenges expectations and predispositions, while simultaneously providing a novel visualization of plot-structure. In reality, it transforms, or indeed re-imagines, the well-established codes of telling a story cinematically, into a new open-ended plot structure which for the time being frustrates and puzzles.

The Lobster is Yorgos Lanthimos’ fourth movie; through all his previous films, the anxiety of storytelling cinematically can be detected from the deconstructive Kinetta (2005), through the post-linguistic Dogtooth (2009) to the cryptic Alps (2012). In all his films Lanthimos visualizes a main plot which is impacted by countless hidden subplots, which never enter the field of its visuality. What is not depicted is probably what is more significant for the structure of his films; if contemporary films suffer of excessive visual rhetorics, what distinguishes his work is the minimalistic ellipsis in story line, acting style, dialogue, and settings. As his work is still evolving, it is obvious that the Lobster will have the same impact on cinematic debates as Lars von Trier’s The Idiots (1998) had in the recent past. ... More


The second Contemporary Greek Film Cultures (CGFC) International Conference took place at the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, on the 8th and 9th May 2015, following on the success of the first conference (CGFC 2013, London, 5-6 July), which opened up a space for regular meetings of Greek film scholars from around the world. CGFC 2015 was the first Greek cinema conference in the USA, an important milestone for expanding and strengthening the establishment of the field of Greek Film Studies across the Atlantic, where the study of Greek cinema takes place within the broader framework of Modern Greek Studies or Hellenic Studies programmes.

The Hellenic Studies department within the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies hosted this year’s conference in a bid to strengthen the reach and visibility of Hellenic Studies programmes and research within the institution, nationally and internationally; in addition, this was an attempt to broaden the scope of research activities beyond the established, more traditional, areas of enquiry within the Modern Greek or Hellenic Studies domain to include Greek cinema. The organisers, Dr. Taso Lagos and Dr. Nektaria Klapaki, worked tirelessly throughout the process – from a successful bid to host the conference to the successful delivery of the event – in collaboration with the academic committee[1] chaired by Assoc Prof Vangelis Calotychos (Brown University). ... More


Xenia is a deceptively simple film which needs a detailed analysis and exploration. Recently, it received a number of prestigious awards by the Greek Film Academy and many positive, albeit mixed, reviews in the international circuit of film festivals. Guy Lodge in Variety talked about the film as “brashly uneven and wildly overlong” in need of more “disciplined editing.”[i] Boyd van Hoeij pointed out that “though the story [i]s finally too predictable and a little too thin to captivate for the film’s entire two-hours-plus running time, the characters, their chemistry and their plight are compelling.” [ii] Fabien Lemercier was more positive in his assessment: “Very much at ease with tragicomedy and not one to shy away from any combination of genres – from fables to hyperrealism, or from focusing on a single human relationship to a vast portrait of society, via euphoric moments of musical comedy and amazing forays into dream worlds and fantasy – the filmmaker allows himself to take every possible liberty in Xenia”. Lemercier emphasises that “the film is above all a very successful portrait of brotherhood.” [iii] ... More


During the 38th Göteborg International Film Festival, which took place in the second largest city of Sweden between 23 January and 2 February 2015, we saw things that one does not see every day. This blog post is a brief report from the leading film festival in the Nordic countries: The first section is dedicated to some of this year’s highlights, whereas the sections that follow focus on more specific aspects of the event, including the special focus on European Cinema, the presence of films from Greece and films related to Greece, as well a mention of this year’s award winners.

The Festival’s highlights

One of this year’s festival’s highlights undoubtedly was the presence of legendary Swedish filmmaker and actress Liv Ullmann. Ullmann attended this year’s event and received the Nordic Honorary Dragon Award, while she also held a Master Class where she discussed her relationship with the art of filmmaking and her 2014 film Miss Julie. ... More


Recently, a spate of publications on the relation between cinema and religion reignited a conversation that seemed forgotten, after the grand Hollywood biblical epics of the 1950s and early 1960s. The conversation had started with Parker Tyler’s book Magic and Myth of the Movies (1947) and the psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, and was later continued with Siegfried Kracauer’s Theory of Film bearing the indicative subtitle The Redemption of Physical Reality (1960); ultimately it found its more astute articulation in Paul Schrader’s Transcendental Style in Film (1972).

Although religion as the ultimate urgrund of signification, especially through the Neo-Thomist aesthetical views on speculum mentis, underpins the theories of a staunch realist like Andrè Bazin, no systematic discussion was ever undertaken about this complex issue. Yet even in the most atheistic period of the Soviet state, Sergei Eisenstein managed to infuse his Ivan the Terrible (1944), especially the second part (1958), with Christian iconography, as he abandoned the epic cinema of his early experiments and tried to develop his central character and his psychology over time. Religious semantics found always their way into the symbolic universe of many films, even if these films totally rejected the religious tradition that had formed them. ... More


Financially leaner than during the previous post-crisis years, the 55th Thessaloniki International Film Festival continued to successfully serve its key aim of offering a varied, challenging and engaging programme of independent films from around the world to audiences in Greece’s second-largest city.i It also presented the most expansive programme of Greek films for years, celebrating the centenary of Greek cinema by screening a total of 36 features, of which 20 were voted online from a selection of 200 films from the past. Aside from marking the appearance of the first Greek feature-length film Golfo in 1914, the Greek programme also reflected the dynamism and international recognition of Greek cinema in the last five years. This renewed emphasis on the projection of national production foregrounds questions about the primary role of the festival: is it predominantly a space for nurturing and promoting Greek talent, or rather a Greece-based site for international discoveries? One also wonders whether the behind-the-scenes, but widely reported, tensions among the festival’s artistic director, Dimitris Eipides (whose term in office was extended by another three years in September) and the president of its board of governors, film director Yannis Smaragdis, have in any way been connected to this shift in emphasis, and whether the increased presence of Greek cinema will remain a more permanent feature of future festival editions.ii ... More


Reading the book World Film Locations: Athens – part of Intellect Books’ World Film Locations series that includes, among others, New York, Paris, and London – feels like riding a hop-on hop-off bus through time and, of course, space. The editors write: “A kind of urban nostalgia, a constant comparison between the present and the past of the city can be traced in many of the texts that comment on the films and in the photos of the locations in their contemporary state, attesting to an aesthetic and political re-evaluation of cinematic urban forms of the past and present”.

This constant comparison is evident in everyday life, still and always: A friend walking his dog in front of the Acropolis museum was approached by a family of Russian tourists. He was asked for directions towards the “Old Athens”. He tried to define what type of “old” they were looking for. Ancient old – meaning ruins and marbles and the Parthenon – or the Old City like Plaka and Monastiraki? Alas, as much as my friend tried, the Russians’ command of the English language was quite poor so that the communication ended up fruitless. Yet the city of Athens is truly old. It can afford to be divided into periods of ancient, post-revolutionary, pre-modern, quasi-modern, and what-have-you. Cinema on the other hand is – in comparison and as the cliché has it – pretty much like a baby. That does not mean, however, that it does not have a past of its own, not that it is any less intriguing. Together, they make for an exhilarating combination. ... More


(Editor’s note: The following text is the Editorial of the new Journal of Greek Media and Culture, which will appear later in September both in print and online version)

At a time of increasing global interconnectivity, the launch of a new journal with an area demarcation at its title may seem anachronistic. Why would we need a journal dedicated to Greek media and culture? Yet, it is precisely the ever-expanding and increasingly faster exchange of information and ideas enabled by new technologies of communication that intensifies the need for such a platform of scholarly debates. For Greek media and culture is not, and should not be seen as, a set of insular practices relevant only to those living within the geographical boundaries of the Greek nation state, or accessible only to those who speak the Greek language. The main aim of this interdisciplinary journal is to enable productive dialogue on and about Greek media and culture at an international scale. The gradually increasing publication in English on topics related to Greek media and culture shows that such dialogue has already begun; however, the dispersed nature of the sites of publication, and the difficulties in reaching relevant readership, intensified the need for a periodic platform that would act as a hub for such exchanges. The Journal of Greek Media and Culture aims to fill that gap. ... More


There are many ways that an individual can experience a film festival. The following lines document my experience from the 37th Göteborg International Film Festival (24 January – 3 February 2014) as a new follower and new resident of the city. Instead of an exhaustive report on the participants, the awards and the surrounding activities, I chose to focus on some aspects of the event that I found particularly interesting during my first encounter with the largest film festival in Scandinavia. These include the festival as a forum for the discussion of contemporary socio-political issues; the festival as an occasion for a creative dialogue between practitioners and academics; and last, but not least, the festival as an accommodator for the discussion of problems and developments taking place in other media, such as television. Some highlights of the festival, as well as a brief comment on the presence and the reception of Greek films, conclude this report.

Before going into more details regarding the themes mentioned above, I would like to refer you to the welcoming message on behalf of the festival's artistic director, Marit Kapla, included in the event's accompanying publication. In her preface to the Programme, Kapla describes the experience of films as "moments of rediscovery"; instances when the individual finds the time for concentration and contemplation and manages to escape the plethora of information provided thanks to digital communication and technologies. Within this context, films are described as spaces in time where the human mind temporarily blocks out the fatigue caused by the continuous flow of information and images, and becomes re-sensitized to the visual stimuli and experiences by means of the cinematic form. ... More


Source: ΧΡΟΝΟΣ online magazine

Vangelis Calotychos’s new book is a study of the negotiations and metamorphoses of images of the Self and the Other in the changing post-1989 contexts of Europe and the Balkans. Read against the background of Greece’s position in the immediate Balkan vicinity as well as within the broader European project, Calotychos analyses how semantics of sameness and difference and their corresponding “gazes” of recognition and distance were generated in Greek society in the late 1980s propelled as much by the shifting contours of the regional and geopolitical contexts as well as by the inflow of mass immigration from neighboring countries. The book’s analytical standpoint is rooted in the tradition of postcolonial studies dealing with the colonization of the imaginary and a strand of research inquiring into the historical contingencies against which the colonization of the mind took place. Taking the year 1989 as a watershed, Calotychos’s central argument claims that the fundamental negotiations in Greek society concerning issues such as modernization and Europeanization were made through and by reference to Balkan themes and contexts of signification, a point that is convincingly argued throughout the whole book. Indebted to cultural studies, Calotychos’ includes in his analysis political and popular discourses, literature and film. His take demonstrates an interdisciplinary engagement and includes next to cultural theory and comparative literature, the social sciences and anthropology, history, politics and psychoanalysis. ... More


(Editor’s note: The following text is excerpted from the introduction of Masculinity and Gender in Greek Cinema by Achilleas Hadjikyriacou. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury Publishing, © 2013).

Between the end of the civil war (1949) and the Colonels’ military coup (1967), Greece went through tremendous political, economic and social transformations which inevitably influenced gender identities and relations. During the same period, Greece also witnessed an unparalleled bloom in cinema productions. Based on the recently established paradigm that cinema and popular culture viewed as social institutions can inform a historical project, this book explores the relationship between Greek cinema and the society within which it was created and viewed with an emphasis on gender issues. This exploration focuses on the ways in which a specific social context informed popular cinema productions and vice versa. The investigation of the interaction between social and filmic worlds aims to provide insights into how masculinity and gender relations as social, cultural and visual products were negotiated and transformed. As far as masculinity is concerned, there is a particular focus on the analysis of the processes through which a state of a crisis may ensue. Such a crisis could be defined as a state in which the definition of masculinity becomes obscured, uncertain and problematic, causing men to feel uncertainty and anxiety about what constitutes their gender identity.

More precisely, this book explores firstly how Greek popular films of the time represented masculinity and gender relations within a context of negotiation between tradition and modernity. It also addresses how class and locality were represented in relation to gender identities. Additionally, throughout this exploration, the ways in which cultural transfers impacted cinematic images are under scrutiny. Importantly, the question of how masculinity is represented in films is paired with an investigation into how these representations relate to their historical context.
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The 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival (1-10 November 2013) will undoubtedly be remembered as “the festival of Jim Jarmusch”. Not only because the very name and the films of Jarmusch are benchmarks of independent cinema worldwide, but also because the rest of the Festival developed in a quite moderate way in terms of films, filmmakers and events. Despite the crowds that were gathered outside the festival’s ticket glass cubes, the viewers’ enthusiasm during the screenings (most of which were sold out) and the overall cinephilic mood of the public, especially among young people who packed the venues in large numbers (more than 90%), the Festival programme was rather predictable, with no particular surprise regarding films, emerging national cinemas or groundbreaking film trends.

Jim Jarmusch and Dimitris Eipides

Jim Jarmusch, the legendary “prince of independent cinema”, was the undisputed protagonist of Thessaloniki, where he was invited to attend the Festival as an honored guest, a fact that enhanced the overall cinephilic atmosphere. Jim Jarmusch’s new film Only Lovers Left Alive premiered in Thessaloniki, opening the Festival at the Olympion Theatre. After an eventful parade of public officials, who annoyed viewers with their impersonal speeches about the future of cinema, Jarmusch managed to calm the spirits and to bring the Festival back to its familiar, mystical rhythms of the viewing experience.
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