Greek Cinema 1965-1971: How gender relations are reflected at the food table
Music, dance and seduction in the tavern table
Being synonym for the tavern, the table in the Old Greek Cinema allows us to explore gender identities in mid-1960s. The table does not only decorate the tavern film set nor is it just the place for the food and drinks to be served; it also becomes a prop for the leading roles. The protagonists dance with the use of it or on it while the viewers/tavern customers sit at their tables and watch them like as if they are judges in a show. The way people act and behave around the table reveals important information about social relationships in Greece, as it will be explained in the following film analyses.
Diplopenies/ Dancing the Sirtaki
In Skalenakis’s musical Diplopenies (1966), three bouzouki players overhear construction worker Grigoris (Dimitris Papamichael) signing. Amazed by his voice, they offer him a job at the local tavern. His wife, Marina (Aliki Vougiouklaki), also starts working at the tavern as a dancer and singer. Immediately after that, Grigoris gets jealous and the couple starts fighting. At the end, the couple gets back together, Marina gets pregnant and never works at the tavern again, while Grigoris continues signing to raise money for his family. Director George Skalenakis, music composer Stavros Ksarhakos, and film set designer Petros Capouralis have created an atmosphere where happiness and sadness depends on how Marina and Grigoris behave at the tavern, and specifically on how they behave around the table. Diplopenies is a film where the table appears as many times as the protagonists and its appearance defines the story, gender characteristics, national traits and Greek music culture in the mid-1960s.
Femininity, masculinity, gender relationships, as well as Romeic and Hellenic national identities are the main dishes served on the table of Diplopenies. Skalenakis delivers a wide shot that shows Marina sitting at an empty table at the tavern, watching her husband singing and flirting with a rich woman. The shot with the empty table and the empty tavern represents Marina’s inner world. From the day Grigoris started working there, Marina sits at the table at the back with her sad eyes mirroring her agony. The empty table functions as a shield that protects Marina from her enemy, the rich woman who desires her husband.
The next day, Marina takes revenge using the very table: furious Marina hits her hand on the table and then sings and dances provocatively on the table, while the low angle shot makes her look as if she is superior to all the other women in the tavern. Her performance peaks when she pushes down the table underlining her authority. ‘Wouldn’t you be annoyed if you saw your wife dancing on the table?’, Grigoris asks his friend admitting his jealousy. This is the first time that Marina looks confident and Grigoris cannot handle it.
As the days at the tavern pass, Marina becomes more confident, wears sexier clothes and starts flirting with other men in front of Grigoris. At some point, Marina wears a sexy black bodysuit and sits on the table to attract the attention of the male customers. Although she looks confident and fearless, it becomes obvious that her ultimate goal is to catch Grigoris’s eyes. Her transformation and her changed behavior around and on the table had the intention to seduce Grigoris in order for him to fall in love with her again. ‘I don’t want a woman who dances “tsifteteli”  on the table’, Grigoris assures her after a fight. At the end, Marina quits her job at the tavern, does not dance ‘tsifteteli’ again, gets pregnant eight times and returns to the back table watching Grigoris singing and playing bouzouki. As long as Marina obeys Grigoris, the couple is happy.
The couple gets jealous, fights, expresses their feelings, loves and hates and this is reflected on how they use the tavern tables. It could possibly be argued that Grigoris and Marina embody Romeic and Hellenic  traits respectively as these were considered to be during the mid-1960s: Grigoris plays the bouzouki, sings Rebetika songs, believes in God and desires a traditional big family, while Marina wears bodysuits and sits on the customers’ tables, and she incarnates the traditional housewife who gets punished when she adopts Hellenic modern characteristics.
Mia Kiria Sta Bouzoukia/ A Lady in Sirtaki Dance
Mia Kiria Sta Bouzoukia (Yannis Dalianidis, 1967) is a romantic comedy shot almost entirely in a tavern. Rich Elena (Mary Hronopoulou) meets dockworker Yorgos (Fedon Georgitsis) at ‘bouzoukia’ – a tavern with bouzouki players. They fall in love with each other, but poor Annoula (Zoi Laskari) also desires Yorgos. The film hit a box office record with 615.483 tickets,  while the songs of music composer Mimis Plessas, made the film a classic. The table in this film has three functions: the place to eat, to seduce, and to admire.
The table is a fundamental piece of bouzoukia. It is the place where everyone sits, eats and drinks. When Elena visits bouzoukia to have a drink with a friend, Yorgos and Annoula eat and drink at a long table with their friends. It is notable to say that in the most Greek films during the 1960s rich people sit in small tables on their own but poor people sit at long tables surrounded by people. Here, Elena sits with her friend drinking whisky, whereas local people have ordered many traditional dishes such as bread with cheese, Greek salad, meatballs, etc., while drinking red wine.
Apart from being the surface where food and drink are served, the table in this film is used for seduction. To give a specific example, Elena gets up from the table to dance with the aim to enchant Yorgos in front of Annoula’s eyes. She moves her body gracefully intending to flirt and attract attention. Perching on the table with her hips, Elena looks steadily at Yorgos and sings a song about a woman who is in love with a man’s eyes. Here comes the third role of the table: the place to admire. Annoula and the other customers look at her as if she were God. Feelings of admiration overwhelm the tavern customers. They do not have the courage or the audacity to participate in Elena’s performance; they just sit and watch as passive spectators, followers of God. What separates the customers from Elena is a piece of furniture: the table.
Elena sitting graciously on the table is the epitome of scopophilia. As Laura Mulvey (2009) states ‘‘scopophilia is the pleasure in looking, as well as the pleasure in being looked at’’. Scopophilia here is achieved by the use of the table. Elena offers but also receives pleasure. Elena is a subject that becomes an object of pleasure, while the table is an object that becomes a subject as it comes to life by supporting and enhancing Elena’s show. Without the table, Elena’s performance would lose its magnitude. Without Elena, the table would lose its role as a tool of seduction.
At the end of the film, Annoula marries Yorgos, and Elena becomes the best woman. Dalianidis delivers a shot that reminds me of Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting that features Jesus’s last meal with his twelve apostles before his crucifixion. Elena takes the place of Jesus as she sits in the middle of the wedding table and the camera sheds light on her. Elena sacrificed herself and accomplished to bring together the two couples who eventually got married. As in the painting, in this scene bread and wine are the fundamental elements on the long table. However, in this case, no one intends to betray Elena as Judas betrayed Jesus, but this table represents a holy communion where everyone lives happily ever after.
In Alexis Damianos’s drama Evdokia (1971), Sergeant Yorgos Baskos (Yorgos Koutouzis) falls in love with prostitute Evdokia (Maria Vassiliou) in a small village in Greece. The couple gets married but Greek preconceptions about sex workers surpass their true love and eventually ruin their relationship. The film won ‘Best Leading Actress’ award in Thessaloniki Film Festival, and gained international acclaim for Manos Loizos’s music, Yorgos’s zeibekiko dance and the iconic scene with the table. In this film, there is one scene where the table plays a significant role. Specifically, the tavern table boosts Yorgos’s confidence in front of village people who mock him for getting married to a prostitute and question his authority and masculinity. Yorgos grabs the table with his teeth and dances with it for 35 seconds while clapping his fingers and muttering the lyrics of Loizos’s song. From that moment on, everyone is looking at him with respect and awe. Most of them do not even have the courage to look him in the eye. This table dance was enough to restore his reputation and express his anger about conventions and social standards. The table gave him the opportunity to re-establish himself and gain acceptance.
It is a common belief that zeibekiko dance is exclusively a male dance. Males have the privilege to show their frustrations, express their concerns whereas women are not allowed to participate: they can only watch passively. In the film, table zeibekiko is the ultimate display of male power, patriarchy and dominance over women and men as well. The one who dances table zeibekiko becomes the leader, and in this case, Yorgos is the leader. If Yorgos can carry the weight of a table with his own teeth, he can deal with any misfortune happening in his life and any criticism by the village people.
The tavern tables in the three films analysed here perform the common role of lust. In Diplopenies, Marina dances sensually on the table to make her husband jealous but at the end she gets punished - In Mia Kiria Sta Bouzoukia the table functions as a toy of scopophilia for Elena who desires Yorgos. The passiveness of Annoula behind the table highlights the different social backgrounds of the two women and what they are allowed (or not) to do. Last but not least, in Evdokia, table Zeibekiko is the best way for Yorgos to restore his masculinity that has been destroyed by urban stereotypes because he married a rebellious prostitute. It becomes clear that tavern tables define gender behaviors in regards to social status.
Tradition vs Modernity and the table in the middle
In the films that follow, the table underlines the pole traditions versus modernity. Old and modern lifestyles are negotiated on the table. A table that in some cases is wooden, in others, is made of glass or even absent. The table here, is modernized in regards to its material, its meaning and its subtext.
Prosopo Me Prosopo/ Face to Face
In Prosopo Me Prosopo (Roviros Manthoulis, 1966), an English teacher, Dimitris, (Costas Messaris) is hired by a wealthy Greek family to tutor their young daughter, Varvara (Eleni Stavropoulou) so as for her to marry an English businessman. Varvara seduces the tutor who eventually falls in love with her. After the arrival of the English businessman, the English tutor starts a love affair with Varvara’s mother (Theano Ioannidou). Lacking money to travel to Australia, Dimitris is hemmed in this modern house and an unconventional lifestyle that drives him crazy. The film was released in 1966 a few months before the colonel’s military coup in Athens. According to Achilleas Hadjikyriacou (2013: 166), the new regime banned the film from being screened in Greece and Roviros Manthoulis stayed in France as self-exiled. Even so, Prosopo Me Prosopo gained international attention as it won ‘Special Award’ in Locarno film festival in 1967 and was screened in Moscow and Switzerland film festivals the same year. The foreign press praised the film’s ‘outstanding montage, direction, photography, performances but above all, content’ (ibid: 172). Most particularly, French newspapers applauded the film’s fight against authoritarianism (ibid: 175).
The stress of living in modernized Athens peaks masterfully during two separate dinner tables. In the first case, the family – without the teacher - sits at the table for dinner, while the help of the house serves chicken and potatoes. It is a moment that signifies the anxiety provoked by modernization, capitalism, materialism and the pursuit of money. No one seems to enjoy quality family time. While eating, the characters’ thoughts indicate what everyone is worried about: the father is concerned about his wages; the mother criticizes the glasses on the table; the son thinks of airplanes and turbines; Varvara of the teacher. It becomes clear that modern lifestyle has created many worries to the wealthy family. On top of that, their unconventional way of thinking and living has alienated the family members. They talk to themselves and not to each other. Later on in the film, the family organizes a party and the second significant table scene takes place. The scene is serene; it does not include dialogue or voice over, simply the sound of rebetiko music composed by Nicos Mamagakis. The menu includes a variety of appetizers such as ham, cheese, chips and olives combined with aperitif. The guests eat while standing and the shots are interrupted by footage of expensive jewelry and someone’s hysterical laughter. It seems that the guests devour capitalism, while someone makes fun of them. In other words, the film looks at modernity face to face (prosopo me prosopo in Greek). Roviros satirizes modern lifestyle and relationships of upper class families. At the end, the teacher manages to escape American hegemony and follows a traditional way of life away from anxieties and troubles.
Mia Italida Apo Tin Kipseli/ An Italian from Kipseli
In romantic comedy Mia Italida Apo Tin Kipseli (Dinos Dimopoulos, 1968) Antonis (Alekos Aleksandrakis) introduces his wife Bianca (Maro Kontou) to his family, pretending she is Italian, because Antonis’s older sister, Toula, does not approve Greek women, as she is obsessed with Western ideas and mentality. The couple lives in Toula’s modern house and targets her fortune. Bold Bianca speaks Italian fluently, dances sexually in front of everyone in the family, spends a lot of money, wears short and tight conspicuous clothes with bright colors as well as kisses and flirts with other men with Antonis’s approval to indicate that Western people are open-minded. At the beginning, Toula admires the allegedly Italian temperament. At the end, she disapproves of Bianca and finally, is pleased and relieved when she learns that Antonis’s wife is truly Greek. Aside from the plot, film set design, operated by Marcos Zervas, gives emphasis to modernization and consumerism.
Among other ornaments and the overall decoration of Toula’s enormous and luxurious house, the dinner table - and most particularly the absence of it - illustrates the adopted Western lifestyle. Throughout the film, there is no shot of any dinner table inside the house. It seems that Western people - and their admirers - do not gather to eat together. For them, food table does not merely sound traditional, it sounds obsolete and completely unnecessary. Not to mention, every other table (side table, decorative table) in the film is very small or made of marble or glass. There is only one scene where Antonis and Bianca are sitting at the table, and even in this case, their behavior is unprecedented for Greek standards inside and beyond cinematic world, as will be seen next.
Antonis and Bianca behave as what is considered to be a Western couple. They are open-minded, they consume, they have both lived in Italy for a couple of years, while they ignore social norms and gender bias. The way they act around the tavern table in a scene about to be discussed corresponds to modern Greek female and male representation. Antonis and Bianca sit at the table when all of a sudden, a man who sits next to Bianca offends her for the way she behaves inside the male-dominated tavern. Bianca immediately confronts the man and his friends by herself. Meanwhile, Antonis hides under the table in an effort to avoid conflict and injuries. Antonis does not care about what people say about him and whether they will question his masculinity. Moreover, Toula only accepts Antonis’s wife the moment she learns that Bianca is Greek. In other words, Bianca is not a true Italian woman, but she incorporates the characteristics of a modern independent woman dealing with the prejudices of a Greek society that is struggling to accept Europeanisation.
Oi Thalassies oi Hantres/ The Blue Beads from Greece
In Yannis Dalianidis’s romantic comedy Oi Thalassies oi Hantres (1967), rich Mary (Zoi Laskari) changes the norms in a traditional neighborhood in Athens as she opens a modern club, plays electric guitar and sings rock ‘n’ roll songs in English with her female band. Right across the road, bouzouki player Fotis (Fedon Georgitsis) works in a tavern and falls in love with her, but their cultural and social differences in the conservative Greek region make things difficult. Mary – known as Jenny Blond to her fans – plays a modern woman, well-educated, who ignores local customs and follows a luxurious European lifestyle. Per contra, Fotis incarnates a traditional man, who denies his national traits and his beliefs so as to attract Mary’s attention. Yannis Dalianidis, once again, is aware of table’s contribution to a better understanding of Mary’s and Fotis’s distinct worlds.
The table’s absence in Mary’s life and the table’s omnipresence in Fotis’s life play a compelling role. For instance, Fotis works at bouzoukia and the table there is the place where the visitors enjoy traditional Greek food and drink red wine while admiring Fotis’s great music talent. By contrast, Mary works in a modern club where there are no tables. People visit Jenny’s place to dance, flirt and avoid folklore music as well as old-fashioned way of living. It becomes evident that what separates a tavern from a club is the tables. In the same spirit, what separates Fotis and Mary, is what the table represents: sitting versus standing, watching versus dancing, bouzouki versus electric guitar, men versus women, modernity versus traditions, locality versus foreignness, neighborhood versus abroad, ‘Greekness’ versus Americanism. Once again, the absence of the table carries the same gratitude as the presence of it.
The highlight of dinner table’s absence and its subtext become clearer later in the film. The two families meet at Mary’s stylish parental house to get to know each other and dine together. At first, all family members feel uncomfortable but when the food is served, traditional identity penetrates modern identity and vice versa. Fotis’s friends run to buffet to take as much food as possible, while Mary’s family wait patiently. With the absence of dinner table, the guests eat while standing or being cramped at coffee tables, corner tables, even side tables around vases for flowers, candlesticks and expensive silverware. Fotis’s friends and relatives do a favor to Mary’s family and eat without a table but they cannot handle eating with forks and knifes so they end up eating with bare hands. Mary’s friends and relatives get jealous and start eating with bare hands as well. The point is that modernity and traditions compromise: Fotis’s guests compromise with the absence of the table (but not with the use of cutlery), and Mary’s family compromise by eating with their hands. Both families take a step backwards, an act for moving forward. Through food manners and the film’s trick about the presence and absence of the dining table, traditions come closer to modern ideas, while modernity appreciates old customs.
The tables in these three films draw attention to modernized Greece. Prosopo Me Prosopo uses table time to stress the anxiety created by American imperialism. In two separate dining tables, the members of the family are presented distant from each other and blinded by consumerism and new fashions. Similarly, in Mia Italida Apo Tin Kipseli, the scene where Antonis hides himself below the table while Bianca confronts the men in the tavern, points out the change in gender roles. In modern Athens, the table protects the ‘weak’ sex (in this case Antonis), while the ‘strong’ sex (in this case Bianca) handles the men who offended her by herself. Last but not least, in Oi Thalassies Oi Hantres, the omnipresence of table in low class families but at the same time, the complete absence of table in upper class families, suggest that the table belongs to a traditional society.
In conclusion, as far as the films examined in this last section are concerned, there is a constant battle between tradition and modernization. In Prosopo Me Prosopo the teacher denied modernization while the wealthy family accepted it. In Mia Italida Apo Tin Kipseli, Westernization resulted in the redefinition of gender roles, a change that some people embraced and others disapproved it. In Oi Thalassies Oi Hantres, a harmonious compromise between the two social classes is achieved with the two families enjoying their dinner together in an alloy of modern and traditional elements.
‘Evdokia’, IMDB, Available at https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067068/ . Accessed 29 August 2019.
Hadjikyriacou, A. (2013), Masculinity and Gender In Greek Cinema 1949-1967, UK: Bloomsbury.
Mulvey, L. (2009), Visual And Other Pleasures, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
‘Mia Kiria Sta Bouzoukia’/ ‘A Lady in Sirtaki Dance’, Finos Film. Available at http://finosfilm.com/movies/view/107 . Accessed 01 September 2019.
Stavrinides, C. (2011), ‘National Identity In Greek Cinema: Gender Representation And Rebetiko’, PhD Thesis, Music Department, University of Sheffield. Available at http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/14994/1/544171.pdf . Accessed 19 February 2020.
 A Turkish dance which is popular in the Balkan region.
 For a better understanding of Romeic and Hellenic identities see Stavrinides, C. (2011), ‘National Identity In Greek Cinema: Gender Representation And Rebetiko’, PhD Thesis, Music Department, University of Sheffield, http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/14994/1/544171.pdf .
 However, one could also argue that Zeibekiko becomes a victim of Greek film industry’s addiction to tourist attraction. Zeibekiko can be considered a ‘Greek’ tourist exhibit instead of a respectful act of physical and mental suffering.