ISSN: 2241-6692


Metareferential Greek Cinema: The appearance of the cinematic medium in No Budget Story (1997) and Afstiros Katallilo (2008)

Both Renos Haralampidis (No Budget Story) and the directorial duo Reppas/Papathanasiou (Afstiros Katallilo) have a controversial reputation as filmmakers. They have created films that have been considered cult works—for example, Haralampidis’s Fthina Tsigara/Cheap Smokes (2000) or Reppas/Papathanasiou’s To Klama Vgike apo ton Paradeiso/Crying Silicon Tears (2001)—and have gained their fair share of fame. Their works can be perceived as self-aware postmodern films, as well as “cheap” entertainment. Despite having directed only a few films, Haralampidis has established a recognizable artistic identity, mostly because his films have gained the attention of a specific devoted audience and therefore have been considered cult. On the other hand, Reppas/Papathanasiou are the creators of numerous successful comedies in film and on television, like the commercial hit Safe Sex (1999) or the popular TV series Oi Treis Harites (1990-1992). Moreover, they have made the specific choice of focusing on the cinematic medium itself in the two films I am going to examine. The similarities between No Budget Storyand Afstiros Katallilo, however, do not only concern resemblances in relation to the plot. What primarily connects the two films is their conscious choice of referring to the medium of cinema in a variety of ways, and using those references as key elements with which to construct the plot. Both works contain numerous comments that are related to the film industry and filmmaking in general, while reflecting in a simple way on what connects them to mass culture.

Ex porn producer in No Budget Story (1998) and the porn producer in Afstiros Katallilo (2008)

Self-reference, intertextuality and metareference

The act of self-reference emerges from a conscious or unconscious need to reflect on oneself. It is a phenomenon that we can easily assume runs through every aspect of artistic creation (Nöth & Bishara 2007: 305). In a world in which many claim that everything has been said, art tends to engage with the very concept of artistic creation: “Art is now about art” (ibid: 3). In the postmodern world—the world of no innovations—self-reference in art has become a crucial concept (ibid:3). The need for art to reflect upon itself can either be seen as an aimless act following from the fact that everything has been already said or as a vigorous attempt at better understanding. As far as cinema is concerned, there are a lot of ways of being self-reflexive. Comments on the procedure of filmmaking, references to specific scenes of older movies or the appearance of a movie star that signals another film or a television program are some of them. Other ways listed by Jean-Marc Limoges (2009: 393) include:

[E]xposing the presence of the camera or the microphone; allowing characters to address the audience; forwarding, rewinding, burning or cracking the celluloid; revealing the set, technicians or special effects; introducing the actors, or even the directors, as themselves within the diegesis.

However, there is a more specific kind of self-reflection in cinema that has to do with films in which the whole plotline is based on the construction of a movie. Movies about making movies are a very common practice. There are numerous movies referring to the film industry or to the filmic medium in general, but it is different when a film is entirely about the manufacture of another. In the two movies I am going to examine, their self-referential properties are essential to the plot. In No Budget Story a young ambitious director is in a futile search for finance for his upcoming film. In Afstiros Katallilo, two directors are also doing what they can to ensure the financial support they need for their project. Thus, it can be argued that both films use a very specific form of self-reflexivity called metareference, which refers to the appearance of the respective medium, in this case the cinematic medium:

Metareferentiality can be said to denote all kinds of references to, or comments on, aspects of a medial artefact, a medium or the media in general that issue from a logically higher ‘meta-level’ within a given artefact and elicits corresponding self-referential reflections in the recipient. (Wolf, Bantleon & Thoss, J.2009: v)

What that means for a movie is that references are being made concerning the very medium of cinema. According to Jean-Marc Limoges, “self-reflexivity is given in any device that intentionally reveals (by showing or hinting at) the enunciative apparatus of the film itself” (Limoges 2009: 392). He explains that this does not necessarily mean that the actual devices used for the shooting of the film are going to be exposed, but a procedure that is otherwise being hidden from the audience will be revealed. This is exactly the case of the two examined films. Fractions of the hidden reality of moviemaking are being incorporated in the film’s plot on the one hand (No Budget Story) or are the entire subject of the film on the other (Afstiros Katallilo). This definition of self-reflexivity is what Limoges considers to be included in Wolf’s concept of metareference (2009: 392-395).

One of numerous single-shot repetitions in Afstiros Katallilo (2008)

Another important factor under examination is whether we can assume that any embodiment of the cinematic equipment in a film’s narrative can be characterized as metareferential. In this case, Limoges draws attention to the intention of the artists and whether the cinematic equipment is exposed intentionally or accidentally (2009: 395). Since in both films the subject of the plot is about film directors trying to create a movie, we can assume that any appearance of the cinematic medium is intentional. A film could be self-referential without being metareferential. For example, a filmmaker could create a movie that refers to his or her personal life events with some parts of the plot being inspired by the experiences of real people working on the manufacture of the film. In metareference, references should clearly suggest the existence of pre-production, shooting, post-production or the troubles of filmmaking in ways that highlight the artificiality of the cinematic experience. Although one might think that metareferentiality would be more easily encountered in pieces of art of “higher levels”, it has now clearly become part of mass and commercial culture (Wolf, Bantleon & Thoss, J.2009: 11).

It is well established that postmodern art usually breaks the boundaries between what is considered low and high culture (Jameson 1998, Mazierka 2011, Nöth & Bishara 2007). It is exactly this hybrid character of postmodern art that we come across in the two films. They both address a wide audience, which would make us consider them as pieces of mass culture, yet they incorporate narrative techniques that have metalevels of interpretation. The reason that we should treat these films as metareferential and not only as self-referential is that they do not only reflect upon themselves through using cinematic references, but they also look at the procedure of filmmaking, as well as its history. All these cinematic references force the viewer not only to mull over the specific films being watched, but over every film, thus exposing the internal workings of the cinematic medium.

Moreover, it is worth focusing on a specific aspect of intertextuality in film, the kind which, through referring to other pieces, also exposes the cinematic medium itself. Like self-referentiality, intertextuality is also a prominent feature of postmodern art (Graham 2000: 181). Intertextuality in film has been commonly encountered in the field of adaptation (Mazierka 2011: 16). Regardless of the debate concerning whether intertextuality “denotes a radical liberation of signification” (Graham 2000:183) or adds to the “insensible colonization of the present by the nostalgia mode” (Mazierka 2011: 19), through the intertextual reference to other films and the history of cinema, the filmic medium is being exposed and the viewers become aware that they are watching a movie. Thus, these kinds of intertextual reflections add to the metareferential properties of the two films under inspection.

Afstiros Katallilo (2008)

After two directors—the protagonists of the film—approach a porn producer, the latter and his work associate, who is also his ex-wife, discuss the scam they want to perform on the two directors. Since the Greek porn film industry is on a downward spiral, they plan to shoot a blockbuster film by using the set-up, plot line and costumes of The End of Passion, the artistic film of the protagonists. So, while in the morning the production is shooting The End of Passion, every night they shoot a porn film with the same leading actress. The actress is presented as extra-feminine and, as usual in sexist narratives, stupid. The one director falls in love with her, placing him and the actress in a position where they experience a paradoxical love affair.

The directorial duo Giannis and Stamatis refer to the creators of Afstiros Katallilo, Michalis Reppas and Thanasis Papathanasiou (2008)

The film is highly self-conscious: Afstiros Katallilo narrates the story of a directorial duo that works together through the entire course of a film’s creation. From this we can assume that we are faced by a reference to Reppas/Papathanasiou themselves and their long-lasting collaboration as screenwriters and film directors, supposing thus that the film draws on their real-life experience. The appearance of the director of a movie within a movie is a common tool which self-referential films use to address the audience. In Afstiros Katallilo, this choice is not only self-reflexive, but, since the film is contemporary, can be interpreted as a comment on all the films that have used this technique before. This reference to other films and/or other directors highlights the intertextual aspect of the movie but also refers to the history of cinema and makes the audience aware of perceiving a filmic construction.

The film begins in a highly self-reflexive manner with a voice-over recounting exactly what is about to happen. The voice of the one of the two directors describes the opening shot and the film’s titles, which implies that he is describing his artistic vision to his work associate, but in reality, he is describing the beginning of Afstiros Katallilo. The fact that the film begins in such a self-referential way implies its course. In their first meetings, the porn producers and directorial duo have a conversation about the directors’ vision and art cinema in general. In that moment, a storm of cinematic references begins. The producers change the decoration of their office from porn film posters to highly respected feature film posters like Blow-Up (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1966), Cinema Paradiso (Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988), 8 ½ (Federico Fellini, 1963) and others, with Aleka, one of the producers, stating how much they love quality cinema. As the directors start to pitch their script there is a comic dialogue with the producers pretending to understand what the artists are saying, and the artists ridiculously stating their artistic manifesto. The references to the medium of cinema and its artistic history are endless. Afstiros Katallilo is certainly a pastiche of random cinematic information.

Afstiros Katallilo: The porn producers in their newly cinema-themed decorated office in front of the poster of Fellini’s 8 ½ (1963)

When later the deal is sealed, the narrative moves to the space where most of the scenes are shot, the set of The End of Passion. This environment is exactly like a cinematic studio, with all the equipment and a working crew. Filled with cameras and technicians, this film set, central to Afstiros Katallilo, is highly metareferential. Not only is the equipment shown, but we witness the procedure of shooting. A specific sequence of the movie can be seen as one of the most metareferential moments in the film. While the directors are trying to guide the lead actress, she continually forgets her lines and as a result the crew is forced to do numerous takes. This is a moment of intense metareferentiality since through this repetitive procedure the “aesthetic illusion” (Limoges 2009: 402) is broken. Limoges states that the aesthetic illusion is maintained when the appearance of the medium, or of the procedure in general, is part of the diegesis (2009: 402), and in our case, it is. Be that as it may, however, this repetitive situation, with its “cut’ and “retake”, contributes to the deconstruction of the aesthetic illusion and forces the viewer to be aware of the filmmaking process.

No Budget Story (1997)

In No Budget Story,a young filmmaker, who is dedicated to the importance and elegance of cinema, is in desperate search of financial support in order to properly shoot one of his many scripts. While he wants to refer to himself as a script writer and director, he is forced to do work below his level, like acting in a commercial about hair-loss products, ridiculing himself. A producer approaches him through an ad in a newspaper which the director’s mother publishes. After that their collaboration begins, with the director trying to maintain his high standards and the producer trying to persuade him to film a more commercial movie. Later on, it is revealed that the producer was involved in the creation of pornography in the 1970’s. They try to sell the porn film that was shot in the 1970’s at a video shop by pitching it as an innovative and more artistic project in order to gain money for the production of their movie, but they fail.

The director and actor Renos Haralabidis as Irinaios, the young aspiring director of No Budget Story

As an introduction to the enormous amount of self-referentiality that we are about to experience, the film begins on the set of an amateur effort to shoot one of Irinaios’s (the director’s) films. The microphone falls and enters the shot, something that happens all the time in film shooting in real life. This is a humorous reference to the procedure of filmmaking and an actual appearance of filmic equipment. We observe the first encounter with the cinematic medium from the very beginning of the film. This can be characterized as a metareferential moment since the “enunciative apparatus is intentionally revealed” (Limoges 2009: 396). In this case the equipment is not only revealed but commented on, since it appears not as the equipment used to shoot the movie we watch, but as the equipment used to shoot the movie that is being shot inside the movie we watch. Thus, the limits of what is the movie we watch and what is the movie being shot, or which has to be shot, in the film’s narrative are blurred.

This scene is followed by one of the numerous voice-overs of the director. In this voice-over, one that is repeated later in the movie, we hear Irinaios stating that “there is no business like showbusiness”, a statement that refers to the world of cinema and television. He continues by saying that if he tries to be patient as an artist, at some point he is going to be recognized for his talent. We can assume that these statements also represent the thoughts and agony of Haralabidis himself as a filmmaker. Since the director is also the lead actor, his voice-over can be read not only as the voice of the film’s hero but also as the voice of the actual director Haralabidis . This element is highly self-reflexive and blurs the boundaries between real life and fiction. His existence in his own film adds to the breaking of the aesthetic illusion that the film is supposed to create (ibid: 397), although, in order for the aesthetic illusion to be broken, the appearance of the medium must be somehow “gratuitous” (ibid: 402). In our case the medium in being “diegetically, symbolically or even dramatically motivated” (ibid: 402), something that is slowly being perceived as the reality of the film and the aesthetic illusion is restored.

No Budget Story: A dance sequence in the producer’s place while Irinaios is filming the fun they are having with his camera

As in postmodernity there is no space for “grand narratives” (Lyotard 1984) Haralabidis’s film challenges the concept of creative originality in film-making as it is actually an adaptation of another work of art, the film by Alexandre Rockwell called In the Soup (1992), in which an artist also tries to find finance for his film and ends up collaborating with a gangster who promises to help him. The two films could be characterized as almost identical, concerning not only the similar plot, but their stylistic choices as well, such as the deliberate use of black-and-white images, or the narrative choices, like the voice-overs. This is an intertextual element that, when noticed, compels the viewer to reflect upon other films and exposes the cinematic medium. Such a choice stands in contradistinction to the concept of uniqueness and originality, something that postmodern art usually does [Hutcheon 1988: 11, 57, 77]. The existence of another almost identical American film suggests that the director defied the concept of unique creation and deliberately produced a derivative piece of art.

Irinaios (No Budget Story) and Aldolpho (In the Soup) with their cameras


As we have seen a film could be self-referential without being metareferential. For example, a filmmaker could make a movie that refers to her or his actual experiences, with some parts of the plot being inspired by the lives of real people working in filmmaking. In metareference, the emphasis is placed on the very practices of shooting, pre-production, post-production or on the difficulties of filmmaking. Moreover, although one might think that metareferentiality is more often encountered in pieces of high art, it has now reached mass and commercial culture (Wolf & Bantleon & Thoss, J. 2009: 11). With all this in mind, it can be argued that the two examined films are not simply self-reflexive, but that they belong to the category of metareferentiality. After all, the widespread discussion of the metareferential turn in media (Wolf 2011) suggests that in contemporary self-referential art the concept of metareferentiality is becoming more and more prominent and omnipresent. It is of some importance to distinguish these two forms of referring to oneself not to separate but to be precise, and in this case, we are dealing with two of perhaps many Greek metareferential films.


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