Unusually warm weather brightened the mood at the 54th Thessaloniki International Film Festival, now operating like a scrappy independent film production, due to crippling austerity in Greece. From Nov. 1-10, a program of 150 films from 54 countries distracted audiences from the debt riddled state outside theater walls, in the northern port city, a cosmopolitan hub second to Athens.
Opening and closing selections hailed from the US, but each had a connection to Greece. Vampire romance "Only Lovers Left Alive," by Jim Jarmusch, was produced by Christos V. Konstantakopoulos, and closing family road trip "Nebraska," starring Bruce Dern, was directed by Alexander Payne, who is Greek-American.
In addition to excitement around the presence of Jarmusch and Payne, there was significant interest in the work from Greece. Despite or because of the country's deprivations, new Greek cinema is flourishing, and receiving accolades from around the globe. Still, the concept of a Greek New Wave was a topic for debate. An artistic inquiry threaded its way throughout the 10-day event: Are film movements and classifications a good thing or are they limiting?
"The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas" by Elina Psykou already had a pedigree when it screened at the festival, with a top works-in-progress prize from Karlovy Vary and other international honors. It follows an aging TV anchorman who stages his own kidnapping in a desperate attempt to salvage his career with a ratings-boosting comeback. Pyskou's fresh take makes her a director to watch along with Alexandros Avranas, who was the talk of the town with "Miss Violence," a squirm inducing story of incest. Avranas won the best director Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival for the ersatz horror film, in which a family of victims passively accept their fate.
Both films have been called part of the Greek Weird Wave, a tongue-in-cheek alternative to the term Greek New Wave, but also, a label for a small group of odd films.
"Dogtooth" by Yorgos Lanthimos spurred the Greek Weird Wave when it won a prize in Cannes in 2009 and received worldwide recognition. "Alps," the follow up by Lanthimos, along with Athina Rachel Tsangari's "Attenberg," cemented the unconventional style. These engineered films draw from a pool of characteristics such as formal rigor, strict composition, designed physicality, tidy environments, and flat dialogue. There are insular, patriarchal families with unique rules, peculiar psychology, bizarre sexual practices, and game-like situations. Odd or surreal stories give the films a quality of experimental theater. The topsy-turvy world depicted may be a metaphor for Greece in a state of crisis.
Shoestring budgets are a given. Costs are kept low by hiring friends and sharing or interchanging casts and crews. These collaborations would explain similarities in the work. Or, perhaps, the filmmakers are all drinking from the same well. Other films associated with the movement are "L,""Unfair World," and "Boy Eating the Bird's Food," but the list expands with alternate criteria.
Avranas, Lanthimos, and Tsangari vocally oppose categorization. People don't like being classified, and filmmakers are no different when it comes to being placed in a group or movement. They see themselves as unique and don't want to be judged together, especially in a category that they didn't organize themselves. "I reject those labels on the back of the success of 2.5 films. Enough with the labels!" said Avranas at a press conference for his film.