A must-see movie: Diorthosi/ Correction

August 20, 2008 at 5:26 pm (Acting, Culture, Movies) (, , , , , , )

Harsh Elegy
To Athens, with love – that howls

There are some films that offer their point of view with all the delicacy of a steamroller.
Diorthosi is not one of these films.
With the utmost subtlety, it strikes a blow at the collective Greek gut, addressing the practically taboo theme of xenophobia. The camera is a detached observer, never wagging a finger at us, and filmed so naturally as to seem almost documentary-like.
However, the poetry emanating from the shots of a cheering soccer stadium framed to seem like a holy temple, a passing Good Friday procession of the bier, or illegal immigrants fleeing the police with their wares on their backs belie their simplicity.
Nothing here is what is seems. The hero, Giorgos Simeoforidis – a clever wordplay on the actor’s actual name of Symeonidis, and the Greek word “simeoforos” (flag-bearer) – utters no more than 30 words throughout the film. His impassive Buster Keaton mask, and matter-of-fact movements manage to portray more despair and determination than any wordy monologue, yet we are at a loss to understand exactly who he is, and what he is trying to correct. That information is fed to us with all the speed of an IV drip, yet the suspense is nerve-wracking.
We walk the streets of Athens with him, streets that many of us rarely stroll down, and perhaps never have: the alleys behind the Panathinaikos Stadium, Menandrou Street, Sophocleous Street; roads that have become the mainstay of Chinese, Nigerian, Albanian, and Pakistani immigrants. He lurks, stalker-like, around a single mother and her young daughter and is himself stalked by dangerous former associates. The final scenes are harrowing, more so because in the end we do not feel catharsis. Is it being withheld purposely, or are we being told that some things can never be cleansed from our soul?
An hour to midnight, Monday night. Five people and myself watch perhaps the most important Greek movie released in the past few years, inspired by true events that occurred after a Greece-Albania soccer match. Albania emerged as the victor; a few hours later, an Albanian ended up murdered. Will Diorthosi continue to be shown so sparsely, one movie theater at a time, doomed to be as ignored as its subject?

Diorthosi [Correction]
DRAMA, 2007, 87’

Directed by Thanos Anastopoulos, starring Giorgos Symeonidis, Ornela Kapetani, Savina, Alimani, Nikos Georgakis and Buyar Alimani. (In Greek)

Won Best Screenplay, Best Actor awards at 2007 Thessaloniki Film Festival.

(I copy/ paste my review, because i am pretty sure if it makes it into the paper, it won’ t be in this form….)

Let me just add, that I put this flick in the same category as Theo Angelopoulos’s Traveling Players (O Thiasos), and that I have never, ever felt so proud at having been taught by someone than when I witnessed Giorgos Symeonidis’s indescribable performance. He is an incredible teacher, a fabulously versatile actor, and a wonderful, humble person. (I’m not pandering, here, I mean it.)

Thanos Anastopoulos is a gifted director, even the extas are amazing, every actor, every scene, just overwhelmed me with the obvious love that went into making this movie.

Also, the subject of this movie is one that really gets to me, interests me, I want to help, vre paidaki mu, and change the racism Greeks feel which breaks my heart; I have been derided for my obstinate defense of any and all immigrants, and my happiness at belonging to a multi-cultural society. To me, Athens is like London in the 1950s, or New York in the 1880s, where there was this flood of new people and cultures that took a while to assimilate, a painful while. That is the stage Athens is at.

A few years ago, an Albanian kid that went to Greek public school (i.e. his parents came here, and he was born and bred in Greece) and got the best grades among his fellow pupils. The best student in a class is the one that has the (dubious) honor of holding the (heavy) Greek flag at the Independence Day parade. You can imagine the outcry that occurred, for Greeks are not ashamed about their racism; it was a nationalist thing, how dare a foreigner (filthy or not) hold the sacred symbol of Kolokotronis? Did the heroes of the revolution die for the Albanians? And so on. And many “normal” people agreed that he should not be allowed to carry the flag.

Ah, they cleverness of the Americans! To make one love both America and their country of origin, be proud of both…I think there’s even a holiday called Heritage Day – or maybe my third grade teacher made it up.

But I am confident that in twenty years things will be so much better; That it will be normal to have mixed-race couples, and not to just see them at the yearly counter-culture Anti-Racism Festivals. This year, I worked a little bit with kindergarden kids, and they all played together happily, all the while their teachers were griping about the flux of foreign, non-Greek-speaking kids that had been unceremoniously dumped in their care by this oh-so-efficient government.

Change is blowing in the wind. Fluttering. A butterfly just flapped its wings in Tokyo. It’ll take a while, but change will come.

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Valse Oedipalle

August 16, 2008 at 1:01 pm (Acting, Culture, Film, Movies, Theater) (, , , , , , , , , )

Obviously, I am no state to be watching art these days.  How else to explain the nervous giggles, acute boredom, and disbelief I have experienced in the last two shows I’ve attended? Two creations that have as much in common as Dubya and ingenuity? Either my id is acting up as a result of quitting theater and my I’d-rather-be-in-Gori-nursing-shrapnel-wounds-rather-than-auditioning attitude, or I truly did witness a double violation of the thespian craft.

Perpetrator number one was definitely more painful than the second.  A Greek dream team of actors took part in Roula Pateraki’s double Oedipus, including my second-favorite director ever, in whose theater I had just rehearsed.  I was ecstatic at finally going to Epidaurus, as for most of June and July I could only listen wistfully (OK, I was pea-green with envy) to the raves regarding the performances in this year’s Athens Festival. For me, being part of it was not enough. I don’t think I will get over missing Fiona Shaw playing Happy Days in Epidaurus; my taste of the Wooster Group’s exquisite Hamlet had only whetted my appetite for cerebral, avant-garde theater. Being a working actor means you never get to actually watch any performances other than your own, and even then, not properly. (The last show I was in, people kept telling me how much they loved the lighting design; I had no idea what the lighting looked like, and thanked them with cluelessness painted all over my face.)

But there I was, finally perched on the holy hill, grinning happily and squirming on the still-warm rock. We were sure that the performance would be exceptional; our only worry was that our sweet Marmarinos might not have the acting and vocal prowess to properly portray both Oedipus Rex and At Colonus.  We traded insider gossip, as only the most jaded, theater-going, know-it-alls do. We worried about his mouth surgery.

We needn’t have.

Marmarinos and the guy who played Creon as a baddie in some Zorro movie (circa 1940) were the only two people having a ball in this excruciatingly bad production. Four hours later, with a third of the theater gone and feeling like we had been beaten up, our only questions began with Why? Why? Why? We just couldn’t understand – anything at all.  As my shitlist of bad productions was given a new numbering system, we wondered:

Why pretend to use (i.e. light, and place a few benches on) the entire forest backdrop? I am all for treating actors and extras with the gentleness they deserve, but this duped us into thinking that it had some dramatic purpose.  Nope.  It was only for the guys who made the pretty patterns with silver dust in the orchestra to hang out on, until they had to go back and remake the pretty maze that the actors had the bad taste to spoil by stepping all over it. (We felt intellectually stumped as we debated the reasons.  The characters ignored the restraints of the maze of life, thus provoking the Gods’ wrath? The characters try to change the paths that Fate has laid out and fail?)

Why was everybody dressed Neanderthal-style, but the extras making the Silver Maze dressed like exterminators? Why could we see them? Why did they give up on the maze on the second part of the performance? Why did Antigone become an extra all throughout the second part? This brings us to:

Why on earth was Oedipus at Colonus performed first? I won’t begin to recount all the reasons we thought of; suffice to say, I stand by our last.  It simply was much better than Oedipus Rex, and they were aware that people would leave in droves.  When, a few days later, I found out the “truth” – all this was supposed to be Antigone’s recollection of her dad’s misfortune, and that was why she remained onstage throughout – I was aghast. I am sure there were a few simple things that could have been done (or even explained in the program – they weren’t) so that I would not have had to hunt throughout the acting community to find out.

Was this what the director had been dreaming of throughout her much-documented quest for the perfect production of Oedipus?  This was the summation of a year’s work? A leaden, academic reading of the two plays? With a few misguided directorial flourishes? Let’s not even get into the scratchy-voiced, shuffling, paper-clutching, half-monk, half-Star Wars extras that was the chorus.  The less said, the better about the emasculation of the most important part of any ancient Greek play.

Why was Kariofilia Karabeti as Antigone so unrecognizably bad? An Epidaurus veteran and with the sexiest voice in Greek theater, she normally has a knack for looking good even in bad productions; this time she bounded around like she was auditioning for Xena; the shrieking Ismene was her Gabriella, and they excelled at motion-stop-motion-speak/screech-start-motion-again acting. Amateur? Amazingly so.

Why did everybody wave their hands around, emphasing Ev-er-y syllable, in the most unnatural manner, and then stay stuck with their hands in the air for an indeterminable amount of time? Why? What was the purpose? Even our Press Secretary speaks with more feeling.

Why was the audience treated to a most kindergarten-like THERE WILL ONLY BE A 7 MINUTE BREAK (to a four-hour show) warning, and then forced to watch the most artless scene-shifting in history? (Lefteri, your Prince of Homburg was pure poetry; where are you in our hour of need?) The intermission occurred 4 minutes before the end of Oedipus at Colonus, provoking another Why? At this point, the only thing we were sure of was that there was not to be any experimental theater going on; so why don’t you just make a nice, classic production of it? Why?

The anti-intellectuals in theater may have a point, after all. (Dear Teacher, all is forgiven.)

My fit of giggles occurred during the lowest point of the performance.  Jocasta (played by Mania Papadimitriou, another revered actress) was dressed as Peter Pan, posing as a two-armed Kali and held aloft by two men on a white saucer (come on, National Theater! Where did all the budget go? On Ismene’s “horse”?) She admonished the quarreling Creon and Oedipus in such a funny, you-silly-silly-boys way that I keeled over with laughter.  Taking deep breaths, i watched, shocked, as she soon hopped off her palanquin, started screeching like a savaged pig, “KAKOTYXE!!” and crawled through the palace “gate” moaning – and only then did they guys holding her realize she wasn’t on her white saucer anymore, and they rushed after her a full 5 minutes after she had begun having contrived hysterics.

These people are all professional actors and directors of quality.  They have acted in and/or directed incredible performances.  Let’s not nitpick anymore.  Therefore, my final query is, Did you know what you were performing in?

What was left of the audience clapped madly, and I even read a blog that actually raved about the show.  Is it me? Us? We bowed our heads and rushed out to drink mass qualities of ouzo, averting our eyes when the performers walked by.  Only a few hours before I had fantasized about introducing myself, and now I couldn’t leave fast enough.

On to perp number 2.

I decide to go to my favorite open-air cinema, drink a Carib and watch the latest in Greek nepotism.  I had heard positive things about Kostantina Voulgari’s Valse Sentimentale, and I have a soft spot for the “alternative” lifestyle of my youth, so I figured in I was in for a pleasant evening.

The whole movie was set in my beloved Exarchia district of Athens, and I cooed at seeing pigtails, Doc Martens, Chartes cafe, Club Decadence, the steps of Kallidromiou Street (fondly, I recalled drinking cheap beer and singing on those steps); I began guessing (correctly) at the other locales that would be used in this ode to the anarchic neighborhood.

The game soon wore off.  If this had been a short, 15 minutes max, it could been a masterpiece.  At two hours, it was almost painful.  Let’s ignore the fact that the camera was held by an epileptic, the acting mediocre, and the lighting non-existent.  (No “wow, what a cool shot!!” here, you were lucky to see anything at all.) We’ll just assume Ms. Voulgari is of the make-your-audience-uncomfortable mentality.  So far, OK, live and let live.  But.

My basic disagreement with this “love story about nothing” is that Stamatis, the love interest, was so obviously an immature, unattractive, self-involved, verging-on-mental-retardation twat.

I don’t think I would have fallen for his line (by line, i mean his mumbling incomplete sentences) had I been 14 and he even remotely appealing.  To see the cute little punk-metal chick aching over this jerk was excruciating to the extreme.  Their conversations were infantile, plebian, and boring. Yet, there was even a gorgeous former girlfriend who practically had a fit when the git left her birthday party.

In a nutshell? This movie is forgivable only if the director’s age is not yet 18. (She’s pushing 30.)   I argued that her own sentimentality was to blame for this movie that had so obviously been in her drawer since junior high.  But, when you consider that her father is a respected, successful director, you realize she could have made this no-budget flick back then.

So, again, we are back to why? Why was this movie made? What was it trying to say?  That there are some women whose self-esteem is so low that they will pin all their hopes on an ugly fucker with the IQ of a cucumber?  That awkwardness and bad sex are cool?  That its ok – nay, nice – to put up with a disturbed “artist” (reaching for my barf bucket here) who can’t sleep in the same bed with you, and sends you on your way after the aforementioned bad sex? (“But I thought we were good,” she snuffles when he dumps her. Why, honey? Why? Are you retarded, too?)  When she picks up the used hanky he has thrown disdainfully on the floor and blows her nose, I wanted to shake her.

Valse Sentimentale is not a love story about nothing, because there was no love involved. Let me rephrase that, if that is love, I hope I never get it.  But that’s the thing.  I have gotten it and I know what its like; in its worst, most suicide-inducing moments it is not like this.

And then, for some reason, they hug and the credits finally roll. And I get Total Recall: The screeching Ismene and our pathetic movie heroine? One and the same.  Loukia Michalopoulou, unlucky girl, make better career decisions or else people will actually come to believe you’re a bad actress.

Fucking Karma.  I must have done something bad again. This must mean something.  I have to figure it out before next Friday’s excursion to Epidaurus; i don’t think I can handle 3 crappy shows in a row.

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Late Night Malarkey: Musings upon a Counterfeit Coin

February 27, 2008 at 4:24 pm (Movies, Travel, Uncategorized) (, , )

How is it that some movies, no matter how cheesy they are, reduce you to a sniveling wreck?

I mean, the I Love You portrait?? Please!! It doesn’t get any cheesier than that. So, after realizing I may be the only person on the planet to have disliked Sweeney Todd, (and feeling rather self-righteous about it… ready to go out naked with a sandwich board and and a bell if that’s what it takes…WAKE UP!! -ding-dong, ding dong- THE END IS NIGH!!) I found myself feeling rather weepy watching The Counterfeit Coin (H Kalpiki Lira, 1955, Greece).

Four simple stories, a few classic characters (the starving painter, the sweet orphan, the stingy rich landlord, etc.) and ta-da!! I felt guilty for every time that I haven’t given the thousands of beggar children their coin; felt like a total witch, in fact, for every time that I turned on my windshield wipers after firmly saying, “No, no, thank you, NO.”

Sniff. (sip.)

How can I be so cruel? And how can I laugh at Elli Labeti’s fluttering, “Sagapw,” while at the same being incredibly, unreasonably moved? (down.)

Perhaps it’s because the movie is in black and white.

Ah. Nostalgia. Ain’t nothing like it.

You may have had no friends in elementary school, been teased mercilessly about your name and reading habits, but thinking about it now?? Such a lovely, unspoilt childhood I had, you say. So pretty. Wish I could go back. Flutter your eyelids.

Knowing you can’t go back just makes it all the more painfully beautiful.

Even better than the nostalgia you feel for your own memories, is the nostalgia you feel for an era that you never experienced in the first place. Gone with the Wind made a fortune out of that. As did the Swinging Sixties and Roaring Twenties. Were they even close to our “memories” of them? Probably not. But just an inkling that they may have been so, seeing a sign of their existence gives you a gripping physical sensation.

Sitting in Groppi’s Cafe in Cairo made me want to swoon. And for what? A few small tables, ripped chairs, and a general musty decadence (not the fun kind) all around. No famous ice cream in sight. But there I was. Sipping my asir lamoun where countless pashas, dames and People of Importance have sat and plotted. Yet, in the incredibly dirty sand surrounding the Pyramids – arguably, a far more magical and historical place – all I wanted to do was take a pot shot with an AK-47.

All those tourists (as if I wasn’t one of them) just ruined the atmosphere. Let alone the outrageous prices at the Cataract Hotel in Aswan. Let me live out my Agatha Christie fantasy in peace, damn it! (By the way, Abu Simbel?? Much more impressive in the movie, she says, fleeing the stones being wielded by rabid archaeologists, and directed at her curly head. What can I say? The prayer mark on our guide’s forehead fascinated me much more than the umpteenth Ramses statue before me.)

Where was I? (slurp.)

Nostalgia is a personal thing. Too fragile to be placed out in the open. It works best at 2am when you’re all alone on the couch drinking homemade liquer, watching a black and white movie and snuffling like a snufflupagus.

And the Counterfeit Coin? Film it now, and be laughed out of the theater. Try and revamp it? Somehow, the little orphan girl selling pirated CDs just doesn’t do the same thing to me. If it isn’t far removed from your own reality you don’t even notice it. Booooooooring! But a few years down the line, we’ll wistfully recall a time where Africans fresh off the boat peddled CDs (What are seedeez, auntie? Oh, honey, i forget how young you are! In my day….) and DVDs in every cafe in the city. We’ll sigh with the same nostalgia that we do when gazing at the unrecognizable city of 1955, whose inhabitants never gave a second glance. Who can blame them? It was just there. It still is, isn’t it??

Here’s to cheezy old movies! (chug.) And to cherished moments that were never really special until they disappeared!! And to humankind’s ability to mull over lost time for centuries, ignoring the current time that they are currently losing, and losing even more time in the process!!

At this crucial point in my non-existent argument the bottle has been emptied of its contents.

So I must bid you adieu. To you, and you, and you in the back.

Au revoir.

P.S. in 50 years will I be singing along, deep in the throes of nostalgia, I’ll fiiiiiiiiiiind you Jooooooaaaaaaaaaannaaa in a gravelly smoking old lady’s voice?!

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Utter Lack of Genius: “Sweeney Todd” Butchered

February 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm (Movies)

Is there a point in fame that, once reached, you can never fall from again?

I watched Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd last night, with the sweet anticipation I have whenever he releases a movie; I have been an avid fan since I was eight and saw Beetlejuice. At the time, I believed it was the best movie ever ever made. It had everything. Love in the Afterlife!! Color!! Deathwishes!! Humor!! Surrealism!! Incredible Music!!

And damn if it still isn’t his best. Ok, it’s in the holy triptych along with Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands. (And Batman is the best Hollywood blockbuster ever.)

Well.

Sweeney Todd? His worst movie ever.

No way, you think. She’s probably some bitter actress who screwed up her Burton audition, you’re thinking. It’s gotten rave reviews, right?? Awards n’ stuff, no?? So, it’s got to be great!! Everybody says so, after all.
Not since Big Fish have I been so disappointed with Burton. I nearly left in the middle. Where was the quirkiness?? The seamless mixing of dark humor and childlike fantasy? Most importantly, where was the ART? Was anybody actually looking through the camera?? There seemed to be no direction whatsoever, and all the actors walked through what they know how to do in their sleep. Alan Rickman (who normally I melt into a puddle for) was a complete nonentity; I think he was too bored to even try to make a character for himself. I am certain that more thought went into how he spits out the word “Potter!” than the entirety of his scenes in Sweeney Todd.

And, truth be told, I can’t blame him. He had nothing to do. No one did. The characters were as one-sided as cardboard cut-outs.  Honestly, it was one of the most boring movies I’ve ever seen. Oh, Depp tried to glare as blackly as he could to show his dark desire for vengeance; but for two hours? And he gets accolades for this? The effort of glaring so much stuck to his face, poor boy, and he couldn’t get it unstuck for the ending to show remorse for accidentally killing his wife.

Sadly, Burton’s relationship with Helena Bonham Carter has been an artistic disaster for both. Where’s the mysterious girl that played Ophelia? In Room with a View you can’t take your eyes off her. But in practically every movie they’ve done together she is a study in mediocrity, emptily sneering at the camera. And this time, her emptiness has permeated throughout the entire movie.  When you yawn when when somebody is pushed into a burning furnace, you know there’s something wrong.

In short, it’s a complete hack job. We do what we know how, give ’em Johnny in his Kabuki make-up, and let’s not sweat it too much because we know that know we are now considered geniuses; just you try ‘Enry ‘Iggins, to say anything bad about us!

I feel cheated.  I love Tim Burton movies. I would like more than anything to go for cotton candy and ride the ferris wheel with him on Coney Island. So what the fuck happened??? How on earth could he lose his humor?? Where did it go??

Let’s get one thing straight: I love splatter movies as much as the next person. It’s Pavlovian; the bigger the geyser of blood, the harder I laugh.  But in Sweeney Todd, it was empty laughter.

The simple fact is, this movie is a spoof. But the director didn’t get it. They should have given it to Mel Brooks. The entire theater would have been crying with laughter. The characters are meant to be one-sided nutters.  I see a girl sewing in a window?? OMG, I’m just gonna grab her and live happily ever after!!! But Burton decided to ignore that and make yet another gothic fantasy.

But a gothic fantasy needs a good story with twists and turns and capital D drama. Sweeney Todd has no suspense, no twists and turns; If it was a twenty minute short that would be fine. But it’s a farce!!! Sweet and Benny Hill-simple.

A farce, and with the worst, most repetitive and unimaginative music to ever grace a Tim Burton film. So strange for someone who actually seems to have an ear for catchy tunes, to watch straight-faced the horrendous “I’ll fiiiiiind you, Joooooaaaaaaanaaaaa,” and not leave it on the cutting room floor.

The biggest farce of all?

That this is “Tim Burton at his Best!!” “Johnny’s Best Acting Ever!!!” 5 stars!! 4.7 stars!!

No, it isn’t. By far. So just admit it.

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