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Digital thrills: A guide to Greek Film Festival 2021

The best of contemporary Greek cinema is back in Berlin. Here’s our film editor’s guide to this year’s digital edition.

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Once again, Greece’s best contemporary cinema is coming to Berlin. Here’s our film editor’s guide to this year’s digital edition. Photo: Apples

Year in year out, Berlin’s Greek Film Festival showcases the best of current Greek cinema. This year is no exception, even if the ongoing pandemic restrictions have meant that indoor cinemas have yet to reopen their doors, thereby making the festival’s loyal venue, Babylon, unavailable for screenings. Undeterred by this and the noticeable absence of the audience exchanges and – excuse us – infectious atmosphere that make the IRL Greek Film Festival such a joy, the festival is pushing ahead by going digital.

This year’s fantastic lineup will be available digitally across Germany from June 2 – 6 on both the festival’s website and Festival Scope’s platform. So, before the outdoor Berlinale kicks off next week, make sure to check out the thrilling Greek Film Festival lineup – advance sales have already started and the ticket price per film is €3.50, an absolute bargain considering the high quality.

The festival opens on June 2 with Eftyhia by Angelos Frantzis. Inspired by the life of the prolific Greek female poet and lyricist Eftichia Papagianopoulos, who is considered as one of the greatest Greek songwriters, Frantzis’ approach is a touching one that captivates from beginning to end.

The festival’s Emerging Greeks Competition section – which gives a platform for the debut and sophomore films by young directors, who are competing for a cash prize from the Greek Film Center – is of great interest, with the Berlin premiere of Zacharias Mavroeidis’ family drama Defunct and the German premiere of Giorgos Georgopoulos’ Not To Be Unpleasant But We Need To Have A Serious Talk. The latter follows serial womanizer Aris, who finds out he is a carrier of a sexually transmitted virus that’s lethal only for women. Typical. Having been told that the only hope for a curing vaccine is to find the sexual partner who had the first viral strain, he sets out to meet his ex-girlfriends of the past four years, and face the consequences of his actions.

This unusual and bone-dry comedy won the J. F. Costopoulos Foundation Award at 2019’s Thessaloniki Film Festival and nabbed last year’s Raindance Award. It’s debatable whether it satisfyingly grapples with the female perspective regarding the STD from hell, there’s plenty of layered commentary about the ills of patriarchal values through the attitude of the emotionally stunted main protagonist.

Elsewhere, two Special Screenings have caught our eye: Asteris Koutoulas’ 2013 film Recycling Medea, a hybrid gem based on Euripides’ tragedy which merges music, ballet, documentary recordings and astute contemporary political commentary to create a stunning essay film, and Digger, the debut film from Georgis Grigorakis. Digger premiered in the Panorama section at the 70th Berlinale, where it received the CICAE Award, and follows Nikitas, who has been battling with an expanding industrial company that threatens his property at the heart of a mountain forest in Northern Greece. The arrival of his son, Johnny, shakes things up further: after a 20-year absence, he seeks to claim his share of the family’s land, a demand which will pit the two men against each other. It’s a sensitively crafted and deeply resonant exploration of father-son dynamics that doubles up as a rain-drenched Western about resistance.

However, our main highlight of this year’s programme is the closing film, Mila (Apples). Christos Nikou’s film premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year and was selected as the official Greek proposal for the Oscar’s Best International Feature Film. Set amidst a worldwide pandemic that causes sudden amnesia, we see Aris (Aris Servetalis) enrol himself in a state-sponsored recovery program designed to help those who can’t be identified by loved ones. There, “unclaimed” people like himself are tasked to build a new identity through photography and new social experiences.

Despite the fact both were filmed pre-pandemic, Apples shares a certain pandemic resonance with the aforementioned Not To Be Unpleasant But We Need To Have A Serious Talk – as well as the fact that both films’ central protagonists are named Aris. However, the timeliness of the virus-centric films doesn’t hinder enjoyment – far from it. Apples is a stylish, thoughtful and quietly powerful masterstroke that tenderly delivers on its intriguing premise and that feels like a topical balm in these challenging times. Its sluggish pace won’t be for everyone, but Nikou’s penchant for the absurd (which at times recalls the work of Yorgos Lanthimos, with whom he served as second-unit director and script supervisor on Dogtooth) is a definite draw for this story about human connection and the role of memory in the way we shape our identity. Apples’ charms and themes will stick with you long after the end credits have rolled, and on the evidence of his first feature, Nikou stands as one of the most exciting Greek directorial voices to emerge in recent years.

Keep an eye out for the promising selection of short films, with three shorts programmes this year that are a veritable treasure trove of talent. Two standouts (and Berlin premieres) are Konstantina Kotzamani’s wonderfully evocative experimental gem Electric Swan (Short Films Block 1) and the brilliant short Bella, by Thelyia Petraki (Short Films Block 3); set shortly before the fall of state socialism, it depicts a changing country through the lens of a fever dream where fiction and documentary intertwine.

The Greek Film Festival | June 02-06 / Digital only | All films screened in Greek with English subs, except Recycling Medea, which screens in German.