Beautifully shot and acted, the true story–based “Vassiliki” suffers from a major problem in its sexual politics that will turn off many viewers outside Greece. Referencing the tragic Greek civil war of late ’40s, its portrait of a handsome couple brought together from opposite camps starts with the heroine savagely raped by a fascist soldier and then immediately falling for him. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and affects the rest of this overlong film. But elegant cutting, crisp visuals and fine performances compensate to some degree.
The beautiful Vassiliki (Tamilla Koulieva-Karantinaki), who helps communists in the forest, is raped by Loufakos (Paschalis Tsarouchas) and rejects her soldier husband, who may or may not be dead, to run off with the virile fascist soldier. But social constraints begin to dent their union: The women in her native village spit at her, and his military superiors chide him for going further with an enemy woman than just raping her (which is OK in their book).
Truly in love with Vassiliki, Loufakos quits the service and tries several business ventures — sheep selling, gold prospecting — but is burned at least twice. Vassiliki finds work in a tobacco factory, but must suffer the humiliation of her younger sister, Smaragda (Vivian Kontomari), being raped by the factory’s greedy owner, Chryssonglou (Vassilis Papanikas), who’s also metaphorically screwing Loufakos on a business deal.
Story basks in the classic look of romantic war epics from the ’40s. Low, repetitive music adds a haunting feel. But the enterprise lacks edge and, at 135 minutes, needs at least a half-hour trim. As in “Dharma Blue Bums,” Koulieva-Karantinaki proves herself both beautiful and a remarkable actress.