Take the opening one: It starts with a middle-aged matriarch new office director who was shaking and shaping up the public bureaucracy. She is bringing in new levels of service and accountability. No going home early. No long smoke breaks. There will be inspectors that pass through. Employees will be ranked according to productivity.
Kiria Maria, the elderly woman on staff, is taken aback by the new directives slumps in a chair and overwhelmed by the prospect of losing her job has a heart attack and dies. The other employees would have called a doctor but the geeky official with glasses reminds them of law 775/34 that passed legislature in 1987 that only the manager can call a doctor. She is un-slouched and touched up by wearing dark glasses at her post. They decide to wait after the day’s work to deal with the situation. Under this watch the state inspectors speaking in German come. The end of the short has the office manager awarding “Best Employee of the Month” to Kiria Maria. In an obvious sarcastic Kafkasque but also comical tone, the poor woman who has died of exhaustion and worry sits on a chair decorated with balloons and a birthday hat.
Symposium features a couple talking about love at a bus stop while downing beers concealed in handkerchiefs in NYC . It is a spin on the old story of the Symposium by Plato where different philosophers ponder on the nature of love. The young man define love as a shared traumatic experience. The young woman, more a philosopher, defines it as, “When you are ready to give up a piece of yourself.” She is breaking up with her lover whom she met in India at the Peter Pan statue in Central Park. “You shouldn’t give up so fast if falling in love was so awesome,” the man tells her. And the short end with the bus whisking her away.
Act ii features the girl with her lover exchanging love letters about to break up. While in a lover’s spat, a mugger masked takes her away. He turns out to be the bus symposium conversant who stages this drama so that it will reunite the lovers. He gets beat up by Ellie’s paramour in a show of bravado. He was overcome and confesses his love for her. A Leonard Cohen song lingers in the background with a still shots of their love letter in two pikes by the Peter pan statue.
Narcissa is a post-modern retelling of the Narcissus myth (the theme of last week’s Onassis Festival). Narcissus is reincarnated in a self-obsessed supermodel who is constantly taking selfies of herself on a couch. A laconic make up artist appears with ominous music in background. He is silent except for the repetition of the ends of her sentences. The model is displeased with makeup job. She obnoxiously metes out makeup commands. “Dumb, I need lipliner,” she chides. “Do you know who I am? I’ve been featured in Vogue Paris 12 times I know what I need. Listen to me just do what I want.” The myth becomes ominous when she appears on set with a large bloody slash on her right hand. She goes back into the dressing room to meet with what symbolically becomes a fragmented mirror that will no doubt slash her even more. So cool!
The fourth short focuses on a closeup moving portrait of mother and child. The short is evocatively ominous because of the lack of dialogue and music. After bathing her daughter giving her watered down milk to drink, the mother embarks on a long journey to somewhere, not really clear. But the audience can sense the mother is on a mission to deliver the girl somewhere. There is an intense scene when the mother pitifully and painfully gives into the little girl’s request for ice cream at the “periptero” or kiosk. It costs 1.75 euro and through the subtle non-verbal cues of the mother, we know it is painfully too much for her. The careful attention the camera pays to the minute routine actions creates anticipation of tragedy. And it does. Under the alibi of going to the bathroom, the mother walks out of the building and resumes her job at an ice cream parlor. The short ends with her in a reverie over the broom as she cleans up at her pittance post at the ice cream shop.
A more light-hearted segment opens with a protagonist looking for five ways to die. He is surfing the web looking for funeral coffins. He gets fitted for a dark funeral suit. He walks into a pharmacy and asks for two bottles of a knock out medicine. He lacks the prescription so he goes to an overpass. As he is about to jump, he is stopped by two children as onlookers. Next he connects a pipe to transfer the carbon monoxide from his exhaust into the front of his car. He gags and that ends that attempt. He returns home to his wife, already suspecting there is something wrong, intrigued by the new black suit, “It’s so formal she says. I bought it on a whim he says I promise it will come in handy one of these days. He drops the hair dryer into the bath causing a general short in the house. So the film progresses in this way until the very end. The camera was all a deception because the one who winds of dying is his cheating, no-good wife. He had been planning her death all along, not his.
My favorite short film, however, was titled “Oriste” or “Behold” in English. It features a vegetable peddler who drives a van with a loudspeaker broadcasting “Tomates,” “Bamgies,” “Kolokithia” (this is a very common way to sell in Greece). His name is Diogenes the Cynic and is transformed into the modern-day philosopher cum roving vegetable vendor who belts out maxims during his rounds of the depressed small town in the Greek backwater. Two women are speaking about the pros and cons of living in the village as opposed to the city measure their respective lives. One is the optimist counting her blessings and the other Maria pessimistically recounts her ills . “What the fuck is it all about? It’s the same day as yesterday,” the voice of the cynic rebounds through their conversation. “Insist on your free will with tomato sauce.” In this smartly delightful sketch, the ending scene pictures Diogenes the Cynic riding his vegetable truck over a hill and disappearing on the other side.
The ever-immortal Olympia Dukakis packs a powerful performance as Marie, an elderly Greek American woman who shares an intimate friendship with Irene. While one is widowed and the other married to an ailing husband, their sense of loneliness is beat back in their shared Orthodox faith (the majority of the film is set in St. Demetrios Cathedral in Astoria) but mostly in their friendship. The film is an ode to friendship in the light of impending old age, illness and death. Very moving, Irene and Marie, even for a youthful audience.
Lastly, Tihos or Wall acts as visual allegory of crisis and makes an obvious artistic statement about the recent capital controls on the Greek economy. A line of people cue to withdraw funds from Lifebank. The street cleaner offers cynical, often non-sensical comments and acts like a single-woman chorus, “I have eaten the mathematics but the equation has escaped me. A list explaining nothing. Expertise is the enemy of the imagination.”
When the ATM runs out of funds, the line of customers waiting to make a withdrawal becomes distraught.
“Is this all my money,” a man shouts. No way. Until further notice no cash withdrawals allowed. The crowd plasters itself across the doors of “Lifebank” desperately waiting to get in.
Flash to the inside of the bank. It is a casino with high-stakes players crowding around a roulette and poker table. The hard breathing of those waiting outside the glass doors is heard. Two women try to devise a contraption to break down the doors of the bank but a recorded woman’s voice comes over the speakers overlooking the bank square advising customers to keep an orderly cue. “A catastrophe is meat you eat to know,” the street cleaner muses. Of course there are no reserves to withdraw. They are getting used as chips in the giant crap shoot in a private casino.
One thing for sure, the Greek Film Festival is not in the throes of crisis.
For more info and schedule times go to www.greekfilmfestival.com.