It’s a Long Road

The Archeologist Dimitris Katalifos

The Archeologist Dimitris Katalifos

The Game Warden Thanassis Vengos

The Factory Owner Giorgos Armenis

Since the 1960s, Pantelis Voulgaris has been making thoughtful, insightful pics about the Greek character, and though he has never found a wide international audience, he has a significant following at home. His latest is a modest, tasty three-parter in which a trio of middle-aged men face emotional and personal crossroads in their lives. Festival programmers should take a look at this elegant item, with Eurotube exposure also indicated.

First story, which runs a little over 40 minutes, is titled “A Silver Coin on the Lips.” An archeologist (Dimitris Katalifos) in Macedonia discovers the remains of what was once a soldier, with a silver coin placed on his lips as payment for Charon, the legendary boatman who ferried the dead to another world. The discovery triggers painful memories of the archeologist’s son, who also died a soldier, but in very different circumstances. His father decides to go to the border outpost where his son died, something he has hitherto avoided.

It’s a simply told, but quite affecting story of a man who has immersed himself in his work and who now tries to come to terms with his grief.

Second (and, at 34 minutes, the shortest) seg is titled “The Last of the Lesser Whites.” A group of ornithologists, including a Norwegian woman, arrives at a spectacular wilderness area in Thrace where they meet with the game warden (Thanassis Vengos) who oversees a large area that is home to thousands of birds of different species. The Norwegian has been tracking rare geese from Bergen; the only survivor is known to be in the area. But before the bird can be found, it’s shot by a poacher, an act that forces the warden to make a decision that will affect the rest of his life.

This is the strongest of the three stories, which, after a leisurely, lyrical start, builds to a powerful climax. Giorgos Frentzos’ cinematography of the ruggedly beautiful bird sanctuary is particularly outstanding.

Third tale, “Vietnam,” again about 40 minutes, is about a wealthy factory owner (Giorgos Armenis) driven to the point of madness by the departure of his wife after many years of marriage. He goes to a bar (the Vietnam) where he gets hopelessly drunk and then, following Greek tradition, starts smashing plates. He winds up purchasing, then deliberately wrecking, the entire establishment.

This is the least accessible part of the film for non-Greek audiences, who may find the behavior of the protagonist bizarre to the point of incomprehension. But there’s no denying the vivid handling of the material, and the excellent use Voulgaris makes of the claustrophobic setting, especially when contrasted with the open-air vistas of the previous segments.

Voulgaris is working in a minor key this time around, but his intimate portraits of three tormented characters are filled with compassion and affection. As always with Voulgaris, tech credits are impeccable in every department.

It was announced at the Berlin fest, where “Vietnam” world-preemed, that the filmmaker’s next project will have the backing of Martin Scorsese.

It's a Long Road

(DRAMA -- GREEK)

Production: An Alco Film/Greek Film Centre production, in association with Greek Television. (International sales: Greek Film Centre, Athens.) Produced by Panos Papadopoulos, Anna Comninou. Directed by Pantelis Voulgaris. Screenplay, Voulgaris, Giorgos Skabardonis.

Crew: Camera (color), Giorgos Frentzos; editor, Dinos Katsouridis; music, Stamatis Spanoudakis; production/costume designer, Julia Stavridou; sound (Dolby stereo), Antonis Samaras. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 19, 1998. Running time: 118 MIN.

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