By James Karas
The first Greek International Film Festival of Toronto (GIFFT) took place between October 1 and 4, 2021. It featured full-length films and shorts at the Canada Square Theatre at Yonge and Eglinton and streamed many of them. It had some glitches but the fact that it happened at all deserves a tip of the hat.
I saw three films in the theatre and streamed one to my television set. The results ranged from the exceptional to the incomprehensible. Here are my observations.
MY NAME IS EFTIHIA
Eftihia is a superb film directed by Angelos Frantzis about the life of lyricist Eftihia Papagianopoulou. She led a dramatic and tragic life (1893-1972) writing the lyrics for some of the best-known Greek songs but she has remained largely unknown. She provided some of the most famous composers with lyrics including Vassilis Tsitsanis, Manos Hadzidakis, Apostolos Kaldaras and Manolis Chiotis. Most Greeks recognise Ta kavourakia, Dyo portes ehei i zoi, Eimai aetos horis ftera and Perasmenes mou agapes without knowing that Papagianopoulou wrote the lyrics for them.
She scribbled lyrics on small pieces of paper and sold them to the composers for a few hundred drachmas and took no steps to protect her copyright. It is unknown how many songs she wrote but one partial listing of her lyrics lists 220.
Frantzis’ film covers Eftihia’s life from 1922 and the chaotic escape from Smyrna during the Asia Minor Catastrophe to the end of her eventful life. He uses two fine actors to represent her as a young woman (Katia Goulioni) and in her old age (Karyofyllia Karabeti). They do masterly portrayals of the gutsy, humorous, chain-smoking and humane Eftihia who can write lyrics but cannot manage money.
That is putting it mildly because Eftihia was a compulsive and addicted gambler who lost most of what she made playing cards and at one point was climbing down a ladder at night to join gambling groups. She was chased by loan sharks, thrown out by landlords and even sold her policeman husband’s uniform to feed her addiction.
Notable performances are given by Pigmalion Dadakaridis as her second husband Giorgos, Dina Michailidou as her mother, Thanos Tokakis as a homosexual friend who is both sympathetic and hilarious.
Frantzis directs a large cast brilliantly and my only note is that there is not enough information about location. I want to see where the action takes place with greater detail than Frantzis provides. But that is a minor matter in an otherwise superb film.
On a dark and stormy night someone lurks around and enters a large mansion situated on the top of a mountain. Anne (Tess Spentzos), a beautiful blonde woman in a sexy nightgown, is terrified by the presence of a masked stranger in her house (Aris Athan). He finds her, brutally rapes her and ties her with ropes. The stranger proceeds to open the safe and grab a big stash of cash. She manages to free herself from the ropes and smashes the intruder with a golf club. Now we have many questions to to unravel.
Her cool, psychiatrist husband (Peter Gerald) comes home and he tells her that nothing really happened. She is mentally ill and did not take her pills that morning and imagined everything. The intruder is still in the house.
The plot proceeds with many twists and turns and acts of violence. The audience at the Canada Square Cinema (fewer than 100 because of Covid-19 restrictions) is not enthralled and they start leaving the theatre in noticeable numbers. No, they are not going to the bathroom because no one returns.
Lurk was written and directed by Vassilis Katsikis and released in 2015 at the Horrorant Film Festival 'Fright Nights' in Greece. There may not have been too many horror film aficionados in the Canada Square Theatre and the happenings on that dark and stormy night were not appreciated.
God’s Fans is a 2016 film written, directed and produced by George Bakolas starring Roula Antonopoulou, George Iosifidis and Dafni Kafetzi. The storyline given on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website is as follows: The art of desiring what you can't live instead of doing the opposite. A film about people who fight to become someone else. I guess it means you should not desire what you can’t live by (why would you?) and you may fight to become someone else. Not like someone but someone else.
There may be a profound or logical meaning to the storyline but it escapes me. What’s more, I have no idea if it has any connection to the film.
The film has a series of scenes involving an actor played by Roula Antonopoulou who is expecting a premiere of a play in the evening. But someone is preparing a rehearsal in the same place. These events are mentioned a number of times as the film moves through scenes that are confusing or meaningless or both. I tried to glean something, anything, from the movie but failed.
No doubt Bakolas had something in mind when he wrote and directed the film and there are people who understood what he was after but I confess that I am not one of them.
There were streaks of light across the screen frequently and the edges showed different coloration. I doubt that it was intentional and it seems that whatever the film was stored in it has begun to deteriorate.
I could not find any reference to the film being ever being released.
BACK TO SPARTA
Ten years ago, the incomparable Angelo Tsarouchas went to Athens, Greece to perform his comedy routines before a Greek audience. He had done that in venues around the world and returning to his ancestral “home” would seem like a cinch. But there were a couple nerve-wracking problems. Angelo does not speak Greek. Yes, he can carry on a simple conversation and understand a good deal of the language but perform his famous comedy routines in Greek?
The other problem was even more severe. Stand-up comedy has no foundation in Greece. A comic may perform for a few minutes but he is quickly supplanted by what the audience came for: bouzouki and singing.
He found that many Greeks, especially the young, speak English and the full house at the Michael Cacoyannis Institute in Athens not only understood what he said but roared with laughter. A good comedian can keep Greeks entertained in English and lack of stand-up comedy tradition be damned.
Tsarouchas’s performance was recorded and released in 2014 as A Night in Athens, directed by George Tsioutsioulas.
After that Tsioutsioulas decided to produce a wide-ranging documentary about Tsarouchas and the result was Back to Sparta which was shown on the last night of the GIFFT. The documentary was released in 2015 and provides some biographical information about Tsarouchas and gives an idea of his comedy as well as details of the preparation for the performance in Athens.
Tsarouchas has found humour in himself, his family and rich Greek cultural traditions that he manipulates into uproarious comedy. A Greek wedding, his parents, driving home with a lit candle after the midnight Easter liturgy, his weight, Greek sayings and much more have all proven fertile fields for comedy that crosses all social and ethnic boundaries. For example, his doctor tells him to lose 130 (out of his 350) pounds. He goes home and tells his girlfriend to get out but that does not solve the whole problem - he still has ten pounds to go. He is simply hilarious.
Back to Sparta includes a visit to Tsarouchas’s ancestral home in the village of Dafni. It is moving and funny. Most immigrants have a special attachment to their place of origin which almost invariably becomes dilapidated but going there is a sentimental journey that leaves one in tears.
The documentary is informative, perceptive and entertaining but I had difficulty with one aspect of it. Most of the show is taken up with the angst and preparation for the performance in the Cacoyannis Institute. Tsarouchas has a lot to be nervous about. Will anyone come? How many will understand me? Will they get the jokes?
The show was a success but we did not get to see even a single minute of it. Even though the performance was shown in A Night in Athens, a few minutes of the comedy should have been shown. It was like listening to someone tell a joke that he stops before delivering the punch line. I went home after seeing the documentary and turned on YouTube to see several segments of the performance.
The above-noted films were streamed or shown at the Famous Players Canada Square Theatre, 2190 Yonge Street (Yonge & Eglinton), Toronto from October 1 to 4, 2021 as part of the Greek International Film Festival of Toronto (GIFFT). www.gifft.ca
James Karas is the Senior Editor – Culture of The Greek Press. This review appeared first in the newspaper.