A nostalgic reminiscence that deals with that period in recent Greek history — the late 1960s — when a military junta forced many intellectuals and left-wingers into exile, “Lilly’s Story” is a discursive but deeply-felt reminder of the way things were then. Centering around the preparation for a film that will never be made, and exploring the personal memories of writer-director Robert Manthoulis, the handsomely made film will be of strong appeal to members of the Greek community worldwide but will be less accessible to others.
In 1967 Paris, an unnamed Greek filmmaker, referred to, somewhat pretentiously, in the cast list as “The Narrator” (Bruno Putzulu) is living in exile, his films banned by the regime. He is preparing to make a new film about an Athenian woman called Lilly, arrested and tortured by the authorities for being amember of the resistance against the dictatorship. The filmmaker has secured the services of one of the country’s most famous actresses, known only as Melina (but obviously meant to be Melina Mercouri) to play the role of Lilly. Melina’s husband, Jules, alias Jules Dassin (Alan Wenger), will produce.
As he commences his research into the project, the film director seeks the input of various friends and colleagues. The stories he hears are illustrated in the film. There’s the exile who lives in Budapest but who can’t travel through Yugoslavia without a visa. Another member of the Greek diaspora disappears in Slovenia, while his friends frantically try to trace him. Another friend dies in exile, asking that his ashes be partly sprinkled in Paris and partly in Sparta, which results in all manner of complications for his friends.
While work on the screenplay progresses with input from these and other stories, the Narrator becomes involved in a passionate affair with a journalist (Juliette Andrea) who seems unusually interested in what he’s doing. And there are also frustrating meetings with co-producers, including an American who feels the film isn’t sufficiently anti-American to appeal to sophisticated audiences during this period of radicalism.
Ultimately, plans to use Romanian locations for the film are sabotaged when President Ceaucescu vetoes the project because he doesn’t want to offend the Greek military regime.
“Lilly’s Story” covers a lot of ground in a leisurely manner, but it lacks a sense of urgency or elements that could make it of interest to a wider international audience. The superior location photography of Nikos Kavoukidis uses locations filmed in a variety of Euro countries. A film clip from the Costa-Gavras movie “The Sleeping Car Murders” emphasizes the current pic’s tribute to Greek filmmakers in exile during that difficult period.