A warmhearted hooker and a quixotic drifter are the colorful characters most strongly associated with Greek films in the U.S.
Jules Dassin’s “Never On Sunday” (1960) and Michael Cacoyannis’ “Zorba The Greek” (1964) both had rousing soundtracks and larger-than-life leads, Melina Mercouri as the spirited streetwalker and Anthony Quinn as Zorba.
Decades later, the next Greek film to crack the American market is Theo Angelopoulos’ “Landscape In The Mist,” a haunting tale of two youngsters who set out across the Greek countryside to find the father they have never met.
A very different type of film from its earthy predecessors, “Landscape” is a poetic movie with sparse dialog, misty rainy landscapes and a moody string score not likely to inspire anybody to shout “Opa!” Yet, it attracted rave reviews and strong word of mouth.
“Landscape” was screened as part of the Angelopoulos retro of nine features at the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year and was released in arthouses across the U.S. in a subtitled version.
(“Zorba The Greek” has an English soundtrack and “Never On Sunday” is mostly in English.)
Beth De Voe, sales manager of New Yorker Films which handled “Landscape,” said, “California, Seattle and Boston are great markets for subtitled films, while the Midwestern audiences have a real resistance to them.”
The 54-year-old Angelopoulos is Greece’s foremost director. He says he has no intention of altering his style to widen his audience appeal. “I create audiences for my films,” he insists, “not films for audiences.”
He says “Landscape,” though, is “the least allegorical of my films, one with real flesh-and-blood characters.”
He also has made some concessions to popular tastes over the years by limiting the use of fixed longshots and shortening the length of his films. His biggest hit “The Traveling Players” and “Megalexandros” were both almost four hours while those of the trilogy “Journey To Cythera,” “The Beekeeper” and “Landscape” clock in at about two hours each.
Topnotch lenser George Arvanitis has collaborated with Angelopoulos since his first black-and-white feature, “Reconstruction,” made in 1970. Over the years he has developed techniques that impart the proper moody psychological framework. Eleni Karaindrou’s scores for the trilogy have added to the effect.
Angelopoulos’ latest film, “The Suspended Step Of The Stork” toplining Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni, will screen in the Cannes festival, if editing is completed on time.
The shoot in the northern Greek town of Florina encountered resistance from the local clergy. The topic of the superficiality of borders raised the hackles of a local bishop in an area which has undergone great turbulence due to shifts of borders and conflicts between ethnic factions.
The bishop went through the ceremony to excommunicate Angelopoulos and all those connected with the production.
Angelopoulos has denied that he stirred up the brouhaha to create publicity for the film.
“We lost a tremendous amount of money because of the delays.” He explains, “We had to shoot some segments without simultaneous sound due to the chanting of demonstrators and the constant pealing of the bells done to disrupt the production.” Funding for the film came from the Greek, Swiss and French film centers, Vega Films and Eurimage.