14 Jul 2015 15:44 IST

It’s all Greek to me

A look at films from the land that gave us the ‘Greek Weird Wave’

As Greece writes yet another chapter in its long and turbulent history, it couldn’t be a more appropriate, or inappropriate, time to look at some of the Greek films that have enriched the world. I was exposed to Greek cinema at an unfashionably young age and had already watched classics like Zorba the Greek (1964), Never on Sunday (1960) and Stella (1955) far too early for me to process them properly, thanks to an elderly mentor whose nationalised bank job gave him far too much time to devote to the movies. During my years in Singapore, another elderly mentor pointed out that my life was incomplete until I had watched Costa-Gavras’ Z (1969), and so I did, off a laser disc. The tense political thriller, based on Vassilis Vassilikos’ eponymous novel, was unlike anything I had ever watched before and I lost no time in acquiring my own laserdisc, watching it over and over.

A rudimentary understanding of the Greek language arrived when I was up in Scotland doing a Masters and all my flatmates were Greeks and a Cypriot who took great pains to inform me that Halloumi cheese is from Cyprus and not Greece. As one does, I quickly picked up swear phrases in Greek and I can assure you that compared to that colourful vocabulary, our Indian phrases are pretty tame. Without going into too much detail, I can safely inform you that the nastiest of them, taught to me by a venerable PhD candidate, involves creative uses of a sanitary pad. But I digress. Around that time, apart from the works of Theo Angelopoulos, Greek cinema wasn’t that great.

However, contemporary Greek cinema has been witnessing a resurgence. Yorgos Lanthimos is the Godfather of what some critics have dubbed the Greek Weird Wave. Lanthimos’ second feature Kinetta (2005) is an oddity dealing with men and women photographing fights with each other. Lanthimos arrived with Dogtooth (2009), about a couple who keep their children cloistered, which won numerous awards, including at Cannes. His next film Alps (2011) scores high on the weirdness quotient, as it is about a group of friends who start a company to impersonate dead people in order to help their relatives with their grief. Lanthimos’ first foray into the English language, The Lobster (2015), deals with people who must find their soulmates within 45 days or else be turned into animals and roam the jungles. Lanthimos also produced Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg (2010) which is about a young girl’s sexual awakening as her father battles a terminal illness.

The Greek film that is most relevant today, made presciently in 1998 by Vassilis Mazomenos, is Money, A Mythology of Darkness , a 3D animation feature set in a doomsday scenario that visualises the devastating effect of money on mankind. The Greek Ministry of Culture duly gave it a National Cinema Award. It should be made required viewing for all comptrollers. I mean, where else can you watch Jesus Christ making his final speech — at the stock exchange.

(By special arrangement with The Hindu Cinema Plus)

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