'A journey through Greece in a time of crisis’: Narrating a nation's agony

Nourhan Tewfik , Friday 27 Nov 2015

The 8th Panorama of the European Film brings a selection of seven short films centred on the country’s five-year old debt crisis

Greek shorts

This year, the Balkan Focus section by the 8th Panorama of the European Film screens a subcategory titled ‘A journey through Greece in a time of crisis,’ a selection of seven short films centred on the country’s five-year old economic crisis.

The screened films include 45 Degrees, Casus Belli, Generator, The Greek Crisis Explained, Jesus Stopped at Gyzi, Running Dry, and Something Will Turn Up.

The Greek Crisis Explained, 45 Degrees, Generator, Jesus Stopped at Gyzi, and Something Will Turn Up share very similar themes, and aim to portray the impact of the crisis on the country's social fabric.

‘A journey through Greece in a time of crisis’ was screened on Friday 27 November at art house cinema Zawya, and will screen again on Saturday 28 November at Cinema Karim.

Contextualising the economic crisis

Directed by Nomint Motion Design, The Greek Crisis Explained is a two-minute motion picture that simplifies and contextualises the Greek economic crisis by employing humourous storytelling.

The film won the Gold If Award (Moving Images Category), the IF Communication Design Award, 2011 Merit (Animation-Motion Graphics Category) as well as the Greek Design and Illustration Awards 2011
Money & Me Competition – BITFILM Festival 2010.

45 Degrees
Still from 45 Degrees. (Photo: Zawya)

Greece is portrayed as a young spoiled girl stricken by a huge debt. Her lenders refuse to come to her rescue, until the European Union “comes in to save the day,  albeit indirectly, through an International Monetary Fund (IMF) deal, which "reintroduces hope."

The picture describes the process of saving Greece as a medical operation that takes place as Greeks “protest the cruelty of the operation” and refuse to “pay the medical bill [mounting debt] for a surgery that could last a long time.”

Although it was produced in 2010, this brilliant picture poses a question so timely and still as relevant today, that is “will Greece ever be happy again?”

A full fridge, please?

The question lingers as we move to the other four shorts, each chronicling the impact of the economic crisis on individuals and families. In 45 Degrees (or 45 Vathmi), an unemployed Greek Thanasis (Stellios Xanthoudakis) and his brother-in-law, taxi driver (Griannis Tsortekis) roam the streets of a Greece stricken with crisis.

Thanasis, set in Athens in the summer of 2012, observes the vacant shops, the word ‘sale’ occupying facades and politically-infused graffiti.

Still from Generator. (Photo: Zawya)

To make matters worse, a blazing hot summer has arrived. Helpless, Thanasis’ sense of anger is capitalised by his surroundings, and also by an empty fridge. Claudio Boliver’s cinematography engages the surroundings into the pic, as aggravators of and reactions to Thanasis’ rage: the solid sunrays, a buzzing housefly, cell phone vibrations, water droplets in the shower. Thanasis, like his city, is approaching an ugly breakdown. 

The film emphasises the timeless human struggle between maintaining an ethical foundation on the one hand, and fighting for survival on the other hand. Georgis Grigorakis, the film’s director, screenwriter and producer, tackles this struggle with profound sensitivity, and a smart integration of surroundings.

“Our love was a wound”

As we move to Generator (or Gennitria-2013), which received the Special Distinction for Best Screenplay and the 
Media Award at Tirana IFF 2013, the manifestations of the economic crisis on Greeks, particularly the working class, become more poignant. A brilliant microscopic study of a human’s vulnerability in the face of chaos, and his desperation to reclaim control over life is in place.  

The camera moves along a portfolio of photos, one shows a young Savas standing next to his father in front of their paints and ironware shop with the sign ‘Kapalidis and Son’ adorning the background.

In another photo, Savas, now a young man, gets down to business. A third photo shows him carrying his only daughter, Maria. It is a one-minute tableau of a Greek man’s life before the economic crisis. As such, the moment we see a 50-year old grief-stricken Savas, his agony is immediately translatable, and understandable.

 Jesus Stopped at Gyzi
Still from Jesus Stopped at Gyzi. (Photo: Zawya)

It is 2013 Greece, and Savas, like many other shop owners, is risking the end of life as he knows it. Battling debt, the threat of shop confiscation, and thus an inability to continue financing his daughter’s studies, Savas is smothered by helplessness. Dark lensing, and the fact that the whole film unfolds inside Savas’ miniature shop, reflect this state.

Within this confining mood of the film, Savas hails as an onlooker at his crumbling city from within his shop. Savas’ story is that of a whole generation, who as the opening song suggests, might have been wounded by their love of their vocations, and countries.

Dreamers amidst the chaos 

But in Amerissa Basta’ Jesus Stopped at Gyzi (2013), which was nominated for Best Short Film – Drama Short FF 2013, something different is at work. While the film remains loyal to chronicling the impact of Greek’s economic crisis on society, it ventures to do so through the eyes of a young girl.

Back in school after the summer holidays with no happy memories to share, the little girl proceeds to contextualise her gloomy summer by narrating the events that took place prior to a distressing event.

At this point, the film is set in playback mode, as the little girl does the voice-over: the family’s inability to afford rent, selling their bookstore, moving into their maternal grandmother’s house, the piercing hunger, the mother having to stand in queues at the church for food. All in addition to a father unable to secure a job and save his family, and who, as a result, succumbs to depression as he immerses himself in Carlo Levi’s ‘Jesus Stopped at Empoli’, which inspired the film’s title.

Something Will Turn Up
Still from Something Will Turn Up. (Photo: Zawya)

The script, co-written by Dimitris Nakos and Lefteris Panousis’, is sensitive to the fact that the main protagonist and narrator is a young girl, whether through the simplicity of language, innocent observations, raw compassion, and more importantly the way the girl struggles to remain hopeful.

As such, the film’s gloomy undertones and observations of a family ripped apart by the crisis are juxtaposed with a tinge of optimism and an inspiring will for life.

This will for life is as powerful in Thanos Psichogios’
 Something Will Turn Up (2012), which is based on a book by Christos Economou, and which won the 2011 Greek State Award for Short Story, and was nominated for the Grand Prize at Cork IFF in 2013.

Nicky and her husband are a working-class couple battling the Greek economic crisis. But while the husband seems crippled by the chaos, and lies in bed throughout the film, in what can be seen as a clear abandonment of life, Nicky, a hospital cleaner, tries to reassure him that “something will turn up”, and that “banks do not evict people that easily.”

Adamant to fight through the crisis, Nicky spends her nights sipping coffee as she observes the chaos reported on TV, but wakes up in the morning and makes it to work nonetheless.

The Greek Crisis Explained
Still from The Greek Crisis Explained.

But as much as Nicky holds onto hope, she is anything but willing to sacrifice her dignity, or sell their story as a couple infected by the crisis to TV channels.

In that way, Something Will Turn Up echoes the struggle that lies at the heart of 45 Degrees: how to preserve one’s morality on one hand and fight for survival on the other hand. Except that in Something Will Turn Up, this struggle is less intense, and it exists against the backdrop of hope.


Saturday 28 November, 1pm

Cinema Karim, 15 Emad El Din St., Downtown 

Check Panorama's prohramme here and Ahram Online recommendations here.

Ahram Online is the main media sponsor of The Panorama of the European Film and of Zawya.

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