By MICHELE LEVIEUX*, French film critic and journalist in french daily “l’Humanité” and FIPRESCI member
ABOUT COSTAS ZAPAS, A GREEK FILM DIRECTOR.
A GREEK EXCEPTION
« Family, I hate you! »
The first shock took place in Thessaloniki, at the end of November, 2004, when on advice of Michel Demopoulos, I went to see Uncut Family. It was the first film of Costas Zapas, young Greek film director of whom I had never heard before, if it is not by a mail sent very much professionally, some days earlier, by his producer, Grigoris Athanassiou, to all foreign journalists attended at the festival. Among them me too. On the other hand, this film was part of a very special program, elaborated with a very personal touch in the same time playing and in this case with a visionary feeling by Michel Demopoulos himself, in which the film of Zapas was introduced between The Weeping Meadow, the last film of Theo Angelopoulos, the Greek film-maker most known in the world (Golden Palm in Cannes in 1998 with Eternity and A day) and Delivery, the last opus of Nikos Panayotopoulos, the most popular filmmakers of Greece. Two directors for whom I organized, as a correspondent retrospectives in the Festival of Moscow in June, 2000 as regards Theo Angelopoulos, with his participation, since he had accepted my proposal to be the president of the International Jury and in June 2001 for my friend of more than twenty-five years, Nikos Panayotopoulos.
To have viewed and have programmed a great number of films of “cinema different”, during my long professional life, from everywhere, let’s say, since the seventies, (such of those Maria Klonaris and Katerina Thomadakis, two Greek filmmakers in exile), “my gaze” is today rather difficult to be excited. But I must confess that the involvement of Costas Zapas, in his film, Uncut Family, was so exceptional that we had to notice it. The story, as that of all great films, is very simple: a young boy taken in the trap of his family is literally crushed between his mother and his father. This theme is very appreciated by the French literature of the XXth century, especially critical facing the cruelty practiced by the bourgeois class, then predominant, towards their children. The way this class is able to assassinate its descendants moved me always specially. There is so much suffering in the film of Zapas… that you have a physical reaction. Uncut Family is a film of somebody who is an écorché vif in the manner of Francis Bacon, who turns the knife into the open wound and adds a drop of acid when the skin began to cure. There is an idea of torture in his cinema. But Uncut Family belongs to art brut and of course I was waiting, and that is rare, with such excitation for the second opus of Costas Zapas. It was one day of December 2005 that his producer, Grigoris Athanassiou, brought me in Paris a just edited DVD of The Last Porn Movie.
It was a second shock. I remember that we looked at the film together, in a complete silence. I was moved by the refinement of the frames, the work on light, accentuating the shabby atmosphere which reigns within this vampiric family, who devours and rejects everything, even their own children. Everything is cold in this perfect measured story; in this script constructed with a precision of a watch mechanism. The Last Porn Movie asks the question of the relation between family and pornography, between pornography and vulgarity, and criminality, and finally, tragedy.
La Quinzaine des Réalisateurs of Cannes judged the film of Costas Zapas “too avant-garde” to be in its selection … But, the Montreal Word Film Festival selected the film and it is in the new world that the movie had its world premiere. Then the festival of Athens decided to program it, followed by a presentation in Kiev as part of the Molodist Film Festival and in Chennai International Film Festival in India. It is rare that a film of a young Greek film director experiences such international itinerary.
Things took back their write place. But only on international level, and nothing happens in this way on the national level. Some time before the festival of Thessaloniki (17-26 of November 2006) which historically his ex-director, Michel Demopoulos, – firstly alone, then supported by his ex-president Theo Angelopoulos -, developed at the side of a national festival an international festival, the film of Costas Zapas which has an exclusively Greek financing, was excluded from the presentation of national production. Everybody knows that according to internal law, only the participation at this sidebar allows to receive a certain amount of support and en plus every production financed by the Greek Centre of the Cinema and/or by a Greek producer, to participate in a competition with a possibility to receive some price with money attached. It is especially iniquitous to exclude any directors and any film from this concourse. The work of Costas Zapas became in this circumstance more and more stronger. We don’t have any interest to kill our children. Even when they are turbulent and rebel. Especially when they are turbulent and rebel.
And of course I am even more angry when reading regularly the site of the organization, in which, as journalist and cinema critic, I belong for a long time, FIPRESCI (International Federation of the Cinematographic Press), I discover the report in a bitter tone of the local member of the Jury FIPRESCI of Thessaloniki, who depicts a Greek cinema without hope, without making the slightest reference to the film of Costas Zapas.
How can the world press be informed, if a national journalist in an international frame shows such missing of professionalism, participating to a national collective assassination? What a tragedy!
Something is wrong in the kingdom of the Greek cinema … If at the time of my cinematographic education, in the sixties, the opportunity had not been given to me to discover the films of Michael Cacoyannis, lightened by Walter Lassaly, which still impresses me, but also those of Costas Sfikas or Stavros Tornes, how would I have been able to understand and appreciate those of Theo Angelopoulos and the first films of Nikos Panayotopoulos?
Professionals of Greek cinema don’t miss that it participates of the originality of your cinema, which I would call, as it has a French exception in the way to defend authors’ films in France, a Greek exception.
As Jean-Luc Godard said in a right way: «The page cannot exist without the margin». It is the margin which allows to write notes about that it’s written in the page, in a dominant way, and allows to the work to become a masterpiece. The Greek cinema can be a great cinema, feed by a culture admired by all since millenniums. And it is for that it doesn’t merit in any case, to be so much despised.
* MICHELE LEVIEUX
She was born in 1946, in Paris, France, and worked as a journalist and film critic writing theoretical reviews then her work started to appear in the French daily, l’Humanité in the 1980s. She specialized in interviewing filmmakers such as Wim Wenders, Emir Kusturica, Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, Fernando Solanas, Walter Salles, Sembene Ousmane, Youssef Chahine, Theo Angelopoulos, Abbas Kiarostami, Aleksandr Sakourov and Manoël de Oliveira.
As a photographer, she had exhibitions in Germany, Austria and ex-Yugoslavia, Soviet Union then Russia and Japan.
She programmed experimental cinema, films for children, retrospectives of Arthur Lamothe, Douglas Sirk, Marguerite Duras, Henri Alekan, Sacha Vierny, Pierre Richard, Jiang Wen, Theo Angelopoulos, Aleksandr Sakourov, Kiju Yoshida, Abbas Kiarostami and Annie Girardot, in Italy, Austria and ex-Yugoslavia, Soviet Union then Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Brazil.
She also programmed and participated in the organization of festivals such as Moscow, Sao Paulo, the Serbian Film Festival in Paris and To love cinema, which is a manifestation specialized in the pre-revolutionary Russian cinema in Moscow, with retrospectives of unknown authors works in Russia: Louis Feuillade, Georges Méliès, Serge Sandberg and Pathé, Ladislas Starewitch and Emile Cohl.
She was a jury member in several FIPRESCI and international competition committees around the world. She published writings on Douglas Sirk and Sacha Vierny and translated Mohsen Makhmalbaf book, In Afghanistan: Buddhas were not destroyed, but fell shamefully, illustrated by Samira Makhmalbaf photography. This book was published in France then in Brazil and Greece.