A conversation with the filmmaker Dimitris Athanitis
The cinema of Dimitri Athanitis may be identified with a personal vision of Athens. In his films the city is never named but is revealed as a source of multiple histories. The heroes of his films are in many respects expressions of this city. Moreover, Athanitis’s heroes give the impression to the viewer that they are “thrown” in the city -in accordance to the heideggerian “thrown-in-the world”- with their sole goal to seek salvation in it. His heroes are captured in a city that at times may be presented as a prison, as is the case in the sci-fi version of Athens in No Sympathy for the Devil (Athanitis, 1997) or in Three Days of Happiness (Athanitis, 2011). The representation of the city, in its correlation to the world of the dead, may also be a gigantic metaphor for modern life as it happens in Invisible (Athanitis, 2015). This is why Athanitis’s cinema may be described as dark, and sometimes as dystopian. ... More
On January 11, 2016, while the planet flooded social media with expressions of grief following the death of David Bowie, Greek audiences were struck by the loss of one of their own, native “starmen.” Nikos Panayotopoulos, one of the most original filmmakers who radically transformed the history of Greek cinema after the regime change in the 1970s, did die in Athens, ironically self-fulfilling the chronicle of the death foretold that is condensed in the title of one of his films; but then, of course, subtle irony, playful melancholy, and this glorious sense of unbearable lightness was the most distinctive feature of his cinematic gaze. In lieu of a conventional obituary, Athena Kartalou’s article “Nikos Panayotopoulos’s Athens: From Relic of Antiquity to Hipster Urban Refuge” (first appeared in World Film Locations: Athens, published in 2014 by Intellect Books, edited by Anna Poupou, Afroditi Nikolaidou, and Eirini Sifaki) attempts to shed new light on the director's legacy.
Nikos Panayotopoulos [was] one of the most prolific directors in Greek cinema: he has produced fifteen films in 39 years, starting in 1974, an emblematic year both for the state affairs in Greece – the fall of the dictatorship – and for Greek cinema itself – the end of the studio era. Over these years, Panayotopoulos has created his own, unique cinematic universe, which carries the seal of an auteur veritable: somehow and obliquely a step away from the others, nevertheless ironic, and, almost always, unconventional and unpredictable.
His strongest and most recognizable auteur characteristic, however, is the creation of a self-reflective cinema under the influence – but not a strictly imitative one – of the French nouvelle vague. Even when, in the late 90s, he began observing a “normalized,” non-arbitrary narrative flow, that was only the pretext for developing further a personal cinematic apparatus consisting of genre exploitation and pastiche, ironic glances both at his surrounding reality and cinema itself, and a dominative set of high production values with an emphasis on the visual through art direction and cinematography. ... 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