×

Greek Helmer Kotzamani Explores Class Structure in Venice Drama ‘Electric Swan’

A high-rise in Buenos Aires mysteriously begins to move, afflicting its inhabitants with a strange nausea. The building’s insides are corroded, the cracks in its walls threatening to grow. While the residents on the highest floors live in constant fear of falling, those who live below are afraid to drown — a magical realism-infused allegory for a city riven by class divisions.

Electric Swan” is the latest from Konstantina Kotzamani, a Greek filmmaker whose hypnotic, fable-like short films have screened in Cannes (“Limbo”), Locarno (“Yellow Fieber”) and Berlin (“Washingtonia”). A co-production between Ecce Films (France), Homemade Films (Greece) and UN PUMA (Argentina), the film had its world premiere with a special screening out-of-competition at the Venice Film Festival.

Kotzamani drew inspiration for “Electric Swan” from an experience on her first day in Buenos Aires, where she spent two years as a fellow for the Onassis Foundation. While enjoying the afternoon in a city park, she encountered a family of Chinese tourists who asked if the swan floating in the nearby lake was like the battery-powered creatures that inhabited the parks in their hometown.

“This question echoed inside me and made me think how someone can interpret what they are seeing through their own reality, emotions and cultural associations,” she said. “As a newcomer in Buenos Aires, every time I was coming across something that stimulated me or made me wonder, I asked myself the same question, if the swan is electric or not — meaning how do I perceive the new, how can I get a deeper understanding of a culture I didn’t grow up in?”

From that encounter, Kotzamani began to create a mental sketch of a city whose past was embedded in its very blueprint. “Buenos Aires is a huge colonial city. Coming from Greece, with a totally different background, I was really impressed by how the class pyramid is reflected in the architectural structure,” she said. In “Electric Swan,” class anxiety interrupts the reveries of the building’s residents in unexpected ways. “Magic realism finds cracks on the walls and intrudes in everyday life, connecting different floors and different people,” said Kotzamani.

The surreal, dreamlike quality of “Electric Swan” is something the director has returned to throughout her career. “Dreams are full of hypnotic misunderstandings,” she said, “misinterpretations that we are called to decode in order to get answers, in order to be healed.”

Another influence for the film was “Swan Lake,” a ballet that enraptured Kotzamani during her childhood.

“Even as a child, I was enchanted and repelled at the same time by [the white swan],” she said. “Princess Odette was condemned and imprisoned in a foreign body. She wanted to escape the spell. She wanted to become free. Somehow I feel that this is the core area within which the film moves. Is there any space for human freedom where beauty and ugliness reign together? Where wealth and poverty occupy the same building?”

Kotzamani is currently developing “Titanic Ocean,” a coming-of-age story about a professional mermaid school, real-life examples of which exist in Japan, where the film will be shot. It follows a group of teenage girls pursuing their dreams of becoming professional mermaids, centering on the hopes, loves and struggles that define their relationships. Co-production partners in Europe and Japan are already attached to the project, while Kotzamani searches for further co-production and distribution partners.

“‘Titanic Ocean’ is a blend of harsh realism and magical surrealism,” she said. “A coming-of-age story that crosses human boundaries. A tender and dark film about girl power.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • 'David Foster: Off the Record' Review:

    Toronto Film Review: 'David Foster: Off the Record'

    By the early 1970s, as the counterculture was dissolving and reconfiguring, there were new pop-star archetypes on the horizon that we still tend to think of — the glam rocker, the sensitive singer-songwriter, the hair-band metal strutter, the prog-rock wizard, the belting pop chanteuse, the punk rocker. But there was another figure of the era [...]

  • Bob IgerSimon Weisenthal Gala honoring Bob

    Bob Iger Would Have Combined Disney With Apple if Steve Jobs Were Still Alive

    Disney and Apple are both launching their own streaming services come November, but Disney CEO Bob Iger says the two companies weren’t always on competing paths. In an excerpt from his autobiography published Wednesday in “Vanity Fair,” Iger revealed that Disney and Apple likely would have merged if Steve Jobs hadn’t died in 2011. “I [...]

  • Aaron Janus Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Hires 'A Quiet Place' Producer Aaron Janus as Senior VP of Production

    Lionsgate has hired Aaron Janus as its new senior vice president of production and promoted Meredith Wieck to the post of vice president of production.  Prior to Lionsgate, Janus served as Platinum Dunes’ head of development, where he oversaw filmmakers Brad Fuller, Andrew Form and Michael Bane. There, he brought in “A Quiet Place,” on [...]

  • Ang Lee Reveals First Look at

    Ang Lee on 'Gemini Man' and De-Aging Will Smith

    On paper, Ang Lee’s “Gemini Man” is a standard-issue, shoot ’em up with Will Smith playing a deadly assassin who must battle a younger clone of himself. The explosions and gun battles aren’t what drew Lee to the project, even if they’re the reason that most people will show up at theaters when it opens [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Sean Clarke Aardman Staff Photography Bristol.Pic

    Aardman Appoints Sean Clarke as New Managing Director

    Aardman, the Oscar-winning animation studio behind “Chicken Run” and “Early Man,” has appointed Sean Clarke as its new managing director, replacing co-founder David Sproxton, who is stepping down after 43 years. Clarke has worked at the British studio for more than 20 years, including heading the international rights and marketing department for over a decade. [...]

  • The Antenna

    Toronto Film Review: 'The Antenna'

    Jump scares, creepy noises and the tease of hidden-from-view dangers are all fine. But a truly frightening horror film unsettles with more than its crafts, but instead through the vulnerability of defenseless people stuck with bad options only. First-time writer-director Orçun Behram’s highly stylized and mildly disturbing “The Antenna,” a metaphor on Turkey’s current ruling [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content