A History of Greek Cinema

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See first the introduction to the Balkans


Independence

Ancient Greece extended from Sicily to Anatolia, but modern Greece is limited to the European peninsula between the Aegean Sea and the Ionian Sea. That land was under Ottoman/Turkish control between 1460 and 1830. Greeks fought for their independence starting in 1814. There were masscres on both sides: Turks killing scores of Greeks and Greeks killing Turks and Jews (1821-22). The British poet Byron died fighting for Greek independence in 1824. In 1827 France, Britain and Russia supported another Greek uprising against the Ottomans (when the famous battle of Navarino took place). Ioannis Kapodistrias, who had become a famous diplomat all over Europe, even serving the Russian czar as foreign minister, was invited to start a Greek government in 1828 and he began modernization reforms, but was assassinated in 1831, an event that foreshadowed the political violence of the future. Note that Greece had not been independent since Roman emperor Augustus conquered it in 31 BC: for almost two thousand years Greece had been a region of someone else's empire (Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman). In 1832 Greece's independence was officially recognized, although most Greeks still lived outside independent Greece, still inside the Ottoman Empire. In return for independence, the powers forced Greece to accept the 17-year old Otto I of Bavaria as its king. Otto was not only a German ruling over a Greek people, but even a Catholic Christian ruling over Orthodox Christians. A military coup in 1843 forced Otto to promulgate the 1844 parliamentary constitution, although parliament had little or no effective power. The new prime minister, Ioannis Kolettis, had the ambition to restore the old Byzantine Empire and unite all the Greek-speaking peoples of Europe and Anatolia (including Istanbul itself, the old Byzantium/ Constantinople), a vision later known as "Megali Idea". The Greek army finally deposed him in 1862 (after he had fired his prime minister, the highly respected former admiral Konstantinos Kanaris) and replaced him with a Danish prince suggested by Britain, who became Georgios I. Britain also donated to Greece the Ionian islands that had never been under Ottoman rule. He married a Russian duchess and one of his sisters married a future czar of Russia. Another sister married a future king of Great Britain. Georgios I granted a more democratic constitution in 1864 which included universal male suffrage. Georgios I reigned for five decades and since 1875 he promised to delegate more power to the prime minister chosen by parliament. Greece was struggling to lift itself from poverty and in 1893 faced national bankruptcy. Two towering figures alternated themselves as prime ministers: Charilaos Trikoupis, who wanted to modernize and westernize Greece, and the conservatives Theodoros Deligiannis. However, the governments kept busy with other issues. First and foremost was the "Megali Idea". During Georgios I's reign Greece acquired Thessalia (1881), Crete (1913) and southern Macedonia (1913) from the Ottomans, doubling in size, while Cyprus (mostly a Greek-speaking island) was taken from the Ottomans by the British (1878). The Greek public was particularly sensitive to the fate of Crete, which remained under Ottoman rule for 80 years after the creation of the Greek state. The Cretan Revolt of 1866–69 caused waves of nationalism. In 1897 the Deligiannis government started a war against the Ottomans over Crete but was defeated. Finally in 1908 the young Eleutherios Venizelos led the people of Crete to get rid of the Turks while a revolution was raging in Istanbul (the "Young Turk Revolution") and then unilaterally declared a union with Greece. Venizelos became such a household name that the military officers (ironically inspired by the "Young Turks") who staged the 1909 coup demanding modernizing reforms asked him to come to Greece and lead the new government, which he did in 1910. Venizelos not only ended the old political system (although he was basically the political heir of Charilaos Trikoupis) but also embarked on reforms that changed Greece. The king tolerated all of this. In 1913 at the end of the first Balkan War that opposed the Christian Balkan states (Greece, Bulgaria, Montenegro and Serbia) to the Muslim Ottoman Empire, Crete's union with Greece was certified by the powers. Southern Macedonia was conquered after Bulgaria attacked Greece and Serbia in the brief second Balkan War (1913). There was also a diatribe over the Greek language that almost caused a revolution: in 1901 a newspaper published a translation of the Bible into Demotic, the Greek dialect spoken by ordinary people, following a translation into Katharevousa, the language of the political, clerical and aristocratic elite. University students started rioting in protest and the government fell (an event later known as "Ta Evangeliaka").

The king was assassinated by a madman in 1913 and was succeeded by his son Konstantinos I, who had been the general of the Greek army during the two wars of 1897 and 1912 against the Ottomans. He was a war hero, and furthermore the first Greek king born in Greece and baptized in the Orthodox faith.

World War I caused the first civil war of Greece: the king (son of a German, married to a German and son of a Russian cousin of the czar) wanted to stay out of it, and the south rallied around him, while his prime minister Eleutherios Venizelos (whom he had inherited from his father), based in the north, sided with the Western powers (Britain and France) against Germany, Austria and the Ottomans, hoping to obtain Cyprus. In 1917 the Western powers forced the king to abdicate and his son became king Alexandros I. The world war had just ended when Greece decided to attack the Ottoman Empire (which was imploding) to regain control of the old Byzantine territories. During the world war and after the war, between 1916 and 1923, the Ottoman empire massacred 350,000 Greek Pontians and 480,000 Anatolian Greeks. In the middle of the fight against the Ottomans, the rift deepened between the followers of Venizelos and the king's loyalists: in 1920 royalists tried to assassinate Venizelos and, in revenge, officers loyal to Venizelos assassinated the royalist politician Ion Dragoumis. In 1922 the Ottoman Empire, now headed by a president (Mustafa Kemal) and not by a sultan, and with capital in Ankara instead of Istanbul, won the war and 200,000 Greeks fled from the west coast of Anatolia to Greece and about 150,000 Greeks fled from Istanbul. In 1923 Turkey (the successor country to the Ottoman Empire) and Greece peacefully agreed to a transfer of population: more than one million Greeks left Anatolia towards Greece and 356,000 Turks left Greece towards Istanbul or Anatolia. The exodus was complete: now almost all Greeks lived inside the modern state of Greece. The defeat in the war caused the collapse of the monarchy. In September 1922 general and war hero Nikolaos Plastiras led a revolution against the king and in 1924 the Greeks voted in a referendum to become a republic. Like Lucius Cincinnatus and Giuseppe Garibaldi, Pastiras retired after restoring peace with Turkey and the success of the revolution. One of his helpers, Theodoros Pangalos, staged a coup in 1925 but he was in turn deposed in August 1926 by general Georgios Kondylis, who restored the republic with admiral Pavlos Kountouriotis as president. Venizelos was reinstalled as prime minister in 1928 and until 1932 Greece enjoyed some internal and external peace, but the Great Depression hit Greece and the electorate blamed it on Venizelos. In March 1933 he lost the elections to Panagis Tsaldaris' Laikon Komma/ People's Party, the party of the old monarchists. Pastiras tried to staged a coup to avoid the restoration of the monarchy, but was stopped. A few weeks later the monarchists tried to assassinate Venizelos who had to flee abroad. Tsaldaris proceeded to purge the army and the government of Venizelists. In early 1935 Pastiras tried again, helped by Venizelos' followers, but general Georgios Kondylis put down the revolt and at the end of the year Kondylis schemed to hold a new (rigged) refendum on restoring the monarchy. And so Georgios II, son of Konstantinos I and of Sophie (the daughter of the German emperor Friedrich III), became the king of Greece. One year later, in 1936, his prime minister Ioannis Metaxas staged a "self-coup" to assume dictatorial powers imitating Mussolini. In 1940 Greece was invaded first by the Italian fascists and then by the German nazists. Greece suffered the worst famine in its history, with hundreds of thousands of deaths, especially in the winter of 1941–1942. The partisans, i.e. the Ethniko Apeleftherotiko Metopo or EAM (National Liberation Front) and its military arm Ellinikos Laikos Apeleftherotikos Stratos or ELAS (Greek People's Liberation Army), largely communist, put up a strong resistance and in 1944 Greece was liberated. Unfortunately in 1946 civil war erupted between the Western-sponsored government and the Soviet-sponsored communists of the EAM/ELAS. The government, whose army was led by Alexandros Papagos, the same general who had defeated the Italians, won the war, disarmed the communists and imprisoned thousands of people. Greece therefore fell into the western sphere of influence instead of the communist sphere (the destiny of all its neighbors except Turkey). World War II and the civil war turned Greece into a really poor country, devastated by two brutal wars, and furthermore a country polarized between right and left.


The Greek Renaissance

Given how turbulent the story of the newly independent Greece was, it is impressive that Greek culture remained one of the most vibrant in the world. Between Vitzentzos Kornaros in the 16th century, the author of the "Erotokritos", and the Ionian poets of the 19th century (Andreas Kalvos, Dionysios Solomos, Aristotelis Valaoritis) Greece produced very little of note, and probably only one major novel, Emmanuel Roidis' "Papissa Ioanna/ Pope Joan" (1866). At the time the seven Ionian islands, that had escaped Ottoman rule being part of the Republic of Venezia and then a British protectorate, therefore under the influence of Italian art and culture, were the intellectual capitals of Greece, the place where so many Greek intellectuals found refuge during the independence struggle. Athens, on the mainland, was no longer the "cradle of civilization". However, in the first two decades of the 20th century Greek poetry experienced a renaissance with figures such as Kostis Palamas ("Phloyera Tou Vasilia/ The King's Flute", 190l; "O Dodekalogos Tou Gyftou/ The Twelve Words of the Gypsy", 1907), the leader of the Nea Athinaiki Scholi (New Athenian School) that advocated the use of Demotic Greek, Angelos Sikelianos ("I Sinidisi tis Pistis/ Prologue to Life", 1917), Kostas Varnalis ("To Fos Pou Kaiei/ The Burning Light", 1922), and the two lovers who died young, Kostas Karyotakis ("Eleyia kai Satires/ Elegies and Satires", 1927), a Greek pioneer of expressionism and surrealism, and Maria Polydouri ("I Trillies pou Svinoun/ The Trilles that Faint", 1928).

Theater followed suit. The Ethniko Theatro (National Theatre of Greece) was established in 1901 in Athens by the king, while the theater "Nea Skini" was established at the same time thanks to the lobbying of Kostis Palamas and playwright Gregorios Xenopoulos. Konstantinos Christomanos (coming form the University of Vienna) founded the theater company with the same name Nea Skini and Thomas Oeconomo (born in Vienna and a veteran of German theater) founded another one. All these intellectuals wanted to modernize Greek theater (according to the new Scandinavian and German styles) and at the same time revitalize the ancient Greek classics by translating them into colloquial Demotic Greek. Christomanos opened the theater with Euripedes' “Alcestis” translated into Demotiki. This outraged the University of Athens philosopher of classics Yorgos Mistriotis who called it "sacrilege". In November 1903 Oeconomo staged a Demotiki translation of Aischylos' “Oresteia” in the Royal Theatre. This time Mistriotis was determined to stop the performance and stirred up his students to start a riot (one person died). The Demotiki camp eventually won. The two stars of theater were Kyveli (Cybele Andrianou) and Marika Kotopouli, who became bitter rivals. Cybele was the progressive, favored by the Venizelists, while Kotopouli represented the traditional values of the royalists. However, the repertory of these theaters were mostly foreign plays and ancient classics. Very few playwrights emerged, notably Spyros Melas ("Ios Tou Iskyou/ Son of the Shadow", 1907). Fiction too was still rudimentary, despite Alexandros Papadiamantis' novella "I Fonissa/ The Murderess" (1903), although he was more famous for serialized novels still written in Katharevousa, Konstantinos Christomanos' "I Kerenia Koukla/ The Wax Doll" (1908), Gregorios Xenopoulos' trilogy started with "Plousioi kai Ftochoi/ The Rich and the Poor" (1919), and Stratis Myrivilis' anti-war novel "I Zoi En Tafo/ Life In the Tomb" (1923).

In 1929 Yiorgos Theotokas published the generational manifesto "Elefthero Pneyma/ Free Spirit" and the 1930s, when Greece's independence was recognized, witnessed a boom of both poetry, fiction and theater. The wave included Nikiforos Vrettakos ("Journey of the Archangel", 1938), Dimitrios Antoniou ("Poiimata/ Poems", 1939), Nikos Kazantzakis ("Odysseia", 1938), Giorgos Seferis ("Strofi/ Strophe", 1931; "E Sterna/ The Cistern", 1932; "Mythistorema/ Legend", 1935; "Emerologio Katastromatos A", 1940; "Kihle/ Thrush", 1947) surrealist Andreas Embirikos ("Ipsikaminos/ Blast Furnace", 1935) and Yannis Ritsos ("Epitaphios", 1936), and continued in the 1940s with Odysseus Elytis ("Asma Heroiko Kai Penthimo Gia Ton Chameno Anthypolochago Tes Alvanias/ Heroic and Elegiac Song", 1943), Nikos Engonopoulos ("Bolivar", 1944), also one of the leading surrealist painters, and Takis Papatsonis ("Ourtsa Minor/ Ursa Minor", 1944). Tiny Greece was producing some of Europe's greatest poets, such as Seferis, Ritsos and Elytis. Meanwhile, Greek fictions jumped from parochial to cosmopolitan thanks to a parallel wave of novels by the likes of Stratis Myrivilis ("I Daskala me ta Khrisa Matia/ The Teacher with the Golden Eyes", 1932), Yiorgos Theotokas ("Argo", 1933), Pandelis Prevelakis ("To Khroniko Mias Politias/ Chronicle of a Town", 1937), Yannis Skarimbas ("To Solo tou Figaro/ Figaro's Solo", 1938), Elias Venezis ("Galene/ Serenity", 1939), Demetrios "Karagatsis" Rodopoulos (the trilogy "Englimatismps Kato apo ton Phivo/ Acclimatization under Phoebus", 1939), Nikos Kazantzakis ("Vios Kai Politeia Tou Alexi Zorba/ Zorba the Greek", 1943), Ioannes-Michael Panagiotopoulos ("Astrophengia/ Starlight", 1945), and Angelos Terzakis ("I Pringipessa Izampo/ Princess Izambo", 1945). And theater boasted playwrights like Kosmas Politis ("Eroica", 1937) and Angelos Sikelianos ("Sibylla", 1940; "O Daidalos stin Kriti/ Daedalus in Crete", 1942). The theater director Karolos Koun introduced the Stanislavski acting method into Greek theater. In 1934 he co-founded (with painter Yannis Tsarouchis and actor Dionysios Devaris) the experimental theater Laiki Skene (Popular Stage) and in 1942 the Theatro Technis (Art Theater), where he staged some of the world's most daring productions of both modern and ancient classics.

The visual arts were awakened by events such as the 1928 Athens exhibition of Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas and Michael Tombros. In 1935 Hadjikyriakos-Ghikas, painter Spyros Papaloukas, architect Dimitris Pikionis and theatrical director Sokratis Karantinos launched the art magazine Trito Mati (The Third Eye). There were also the folk painter Theophilos Hatzimihail and the impressionist painter Spyros Vassiliou. In 1949 Yiannis Moralis, Yannis Tsarouchis, Nikos Engonopoulos and others started the Armos group that had its first exhibition in 1950 in Athens.

Greek cinema was virtually non-existent until the end of the civil war. The first homemade movie was probably Nkolfo/Golfo (1915), directed by a Konstantinos Bachatoris, a businessman from Smyrna, and shot by an Italian cinematographer , Filippo Martelli, and was an adaptation of a popular 1893 play written by Spyridon Peresiadis that launched the bucolic genre of "shepherd romance".

Dimitrios Gaziadis, returning from Germany where he had been a cinematographer and producer, started the first major film production company of Greece with his brother Kostas, a cinematographer trained in the USA, and directed: Eros kai Kymata/ Love and Waves (1928), written by the poet Lambros Asteris (aka Dimitris Karahalios), the shepherd romance Astero/ Star (1929), scripted by the poet Orestis Laskos, and Oi Apachides ton Athinon/ The Apaches of Athens (1930), an adaptation of Nikos Chatziapostolou's 1921 operetta (with a soundtrack recorded on a gramophone).

Orestis Laskos himself directed Dafnis kai Chloi/ Daphnis and Chloe (1931), an adaptation of the 2nd century novel, famous for an early nude scene.

The first sound film, O Agapitikos tis Voskopoulas/ Sweetheart of a Shepherdess (1932), was another shepherd romance, directed by Ilias Paraskevas and scripted by Dimitris Tsakiris based a play by Dimitrios Koromilas.

The Metaxas dictatorship of 1936–1941, World War II and the civil war killed whatever momentum the industry had gained. During the war the most significant event was the founding of Finos Films in 1942 by Filopoimin Finos, destined to become the biggest producer of the 1950s. He produced Dimitris Ioannopoulos's I Foni tis Kardias/ Voice of the Heart (1943), one the most popular movies of the war period. A notable film was Heirokrotimata/ Applause (1944), directed by Giorgos Tzavellas (aka Yorgos Javellas).


Towards the Dictatorship

In 1952 both Turkey and Greece became members of NATO. This not only firmly established Greece in the western camp but also seemed to end for good the millennial hostilities between Turks and Greeks. Finally Greece could begin to rebuild its economy. In 1955 Konstantinos Karamanlis, an old monarchist, was appointed prime minister by the king, who was now Pavlos I, the third son of Konstantinos I. For a while Greece experienced an economic boom. In 1963 the assassination of the popular politician Grigoris Lambrakis, a member of the leftist Eniea Dimokratiki Aristera (EDA, the successor to the ELAS), and the cover-up by the regime caused mass protests. Two months later Karamanlis resigned and left the country. The elections held to designate his replacement were won by the centrist Georgios Papandreou, whose party as well as the EDA had been complaining about fraud in previous elections. Further inflaming the situation, a fearless investigation by judge Christos Sartzetakis uncovered the complicity of police and army in the Lambrakis assassination. Papandreou went after IDEA (Ieros Desmos Ellinon Axiomatikon, i.e. Holy Bond of Greek Officers), a not-so-secret society of right-wing military officers that had been established during World War II, had fought the communists in the civil war and had been supporting Karamanlis. Just then the king died and was succeeded by his inexperienced 24-year-old son Konstantinos II, who wanted to protect the IDEA. In 1967, afraid that the leftists were about to seize power in scheduled elections, colonel Georgios Papadopoulos and others staged a coup. Leftists politicians and intellectuals were arrested and the king had to flee the country. Freedom of speech was greatly curtailed but the economic boom resumed. Papadopoulos welcomed capitalists like the Greek-born Aristotelis Onasis (aka Aristotle Onassis), a shipowner who had made his fortune in Argentina in the 1930s (his Anatolian Greek family had escaped Greece after the Greek defeat of 1922), in the USA in the 1940s and in Monaco in the 1950s, who invested in Greece in 1968 right after marrying the widow of assassinated US president John Kennedy. The junta finally collapsed in 1973 after a low-level officer, Dimitrios Ioannidis, staged a coup and overthrew Papadopoulos, who had started liberalization reforms and even tolerated demonstrations. The new military dictatorship was even worse than the previous one. Luckily, Ioannidis self-destroyed in an ill-advised military adventure. In 1974 he engineered a coup in Cyprus, a British colony populated by both Greeks and Turks that had become independent in 1960 under a Greek Christian archbishop. He was hoping to unify Cyprus with Greece, but Turkey invaded the northeast of Cyprus to protect the rights of the Turkish population from the Greek majority, mostly located in the south, and so the result was to split the island in two and to have a previously Greek-dominated island partially occupied by Turkish troops. Ioannidis lost the support of the junta, that decided to restore democracy and summoned Karamanlis from his exile. Surprisingly, the army stood by Karamanlis when he set up trials of the junta, trials that sent them to prison for the rest of their lives (Papadopoulos until he died in 1999, Ioannidis until he died in 2010). Many intellectuals who had fled Greece returned, like composer Mikis Theodorakiso and movie star Melina Mercouri.

Literature after World War II leveraged the momentum coming from the 1930s. Novelists included: Renos Apostolidis ("Piramida 67/ Pyramid 67", 1950), Alexandros Kotzias ("Lucifer", 1959), Kosmas Politis ("Stou Chatzephrankou/ In the Hadjifrangou Quarter", 1963), Kostas Taktsis ("To Trito Stefani/ The Third Wedding", 1963), Stratis Tsirkas ("Akyvernites Politeies/ Drifting Cities", 1965), Antonis Samarakis ("To Lathos/ The Mistake", 1965), Nikos-Gavril Pentzikis ("To Mithistorima tis Kirias Ersis/ The Novel of Mrs Ersis", 1966), Pandelis Prevelakis ("Oi Dromoi tis Demiourgias/ The Ways of Creation", 1966), Vassilis Vassilikos ("Z", 1966, about the Lambrakis assassination), Melpo Axioti ("Kadmo", 1972), Andreas Embirikos ("Ho Megas Anatolikos/ The Great Eastern", 1975), Menis Koumandareas ("Viotechnia Yalikon/ The Glassware Factory", 1975) Nikos Bakolas ("Mithologia/ Mythology", 1977), etc.

The great poets of the 1930s still ruled Greek culture. In fact, Ritsos ("I Sonata tou Selinophotos/ The Moonlight-Sonata", 1956; "Orestes", 1966; "Philoktitis", 1965; "Tetarti Diastasi/ Fourth Dimension", 1975; "Monokhorda/ Monochordeses", 1980) and Elytis ("Axion Esti/ Worthy It Is", 1959: "To Monoghramma/ The Monogram", 1972; "The Oxopetra Elegies", 1991) published their best poems starting in the 1950s. New poets included: Tasos Livaditis ("Machi stin Akri tis Nýchtas/ The Battle at the End of Night", 1952), Manolis Anagnostakis ("Synecheia 1-2-3", 1962), Miltos Sachtouris ("To Skevos/ Vessel", 1971), Pandelis Prevelakis ("O Neos Erotokritos/ The New Erotokritos", 1973), etc.

Theater had playwrights like Iakovos Kambanellis ("I Avli Ton Thavmaton/ Yard of Miracles", 1957), Loula Anagnostaki ("I Poli/ The City", 1965), Yorgos Dialegmenos ("Hassame Ti Thia/ Aunt Unaccounted For", 1970) and Dimitris Kechaidis/ Demetres Kechaides ("Tavli/ Backgammon", 1972).

Greek classical music was mostly relevant for the talents that emigrated to other countries. Dimitri Mitropoulos became one of the world's greatest conductors after migrating to the USA in 1936. The Greek star of classical music was a singer, not a composer: Maria Callas (born in the USA as Maria Kalogeropoulos but raised in Greece); but she too became famous abroad, in Italy, after leaving Greece in 1945. Romanian-born but Greek-raised Iannis Xenakis was one of the visionaries of the European avantgarde from the 1950s till the end of he century, but his career took place entirely in France because he had to flee Greece in 1947 for his communist views (he was even sentenced to death in absentia). Only in 2023 would Greece finally pay tribute to its greatest (and long dead) composer with an exhibition at the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Those who remained in Greece were not lucky. Nikos Skalkottas, Greece's first apostle of Schoenberg's twelve-note method, died virtually unknown in 1949. Mikis Theodorakis, a communist who joined the EDA, became a national symbol of resistance against the dictatorship of the 1960s, but his music was banned in the 1960s and he was exiled in 1970. Huge crowds welcomed his return when the military junta collapsed in 1974. He remained involved in politics while composing relatively traditional music. He died in 2021 and his funeral was a national event. Also successful in Europe was the rock group formed by keyboardist Vangelis Papathanassiou, Aphrodite's Child, whose double album 666 (1972) is a classic of prog-rock. Vangelis went on to become a famous electronic composer of the 1970s.

Inspired by Italian neorealism, Greek cinema restarted in the 1950s with films shot on location with non-professional actors. The first neorealist films were Grigoris Grigoriou's Pikro Psomi/ Bitter Bread (1951) and Stelios Tatasopoulos' Mavri Gi/ Black Earth (1952), set in a mining village, and To Xypolyto Tagma/ The Barefoot Battalion (1953), directed by Gregg Tallas (born Grigoris Thalassinos), about the heroic feats of 160 homeless orphans during the German occupation. Giorgos Tzavellas (aka Yorgos Javellas) was active throughout the civil war and reemerged with the popular melodrama O Methýstakas/ The Drunkard (1950) and with Istoria mias Kalpikis Liras/ The Counterfeit Coin (1955), scored by Manos Hatzidakis. Meanwhile, Frixos Iliadis's Nekri Politeia/ Dead City (1952) turned stage actress Irene Papas (born Eirini Lelekou) into an international star.

The first major filmmaker of Greek cinema was actually born in Cyprus, Michalis Kakogiannis, better known as Michael Cacoyannis, whose early films were: Kyriakatiko Xypnima/ Windfall in Athens (1954), which launched the film career of stage actress Ellie Lambeti (born Ellie Loukou); Stella (1955), an adaptation by playwright Iakovos Kambanelis of Georges Bizet's opera "Carmen", the film that launched the career of actress Melina Mercouri (later a Hollywood star) and of soundtrack composer Manos Hadjidakis; To Koritsi me ta Mavra/ A Girl in Black (1956) and To Telefteo Psema/ A Matter of Dignity (1957), both starring Lambeti and photographed by British cinematographer Walter Lassally. Cacoyannis then embarked on a trilogy of adaptations from classical tragedies starring Irene Papas in her most memorable parts and scored by Mikis Theodorakis: Ilektra/ Electra (1962), still photographed by the usual Lassally, Troades/ The Trojan Women (1971), also starring stars Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave, and photographed by Alfio Contini (the cinematographer of Antonioni's Zabriskie Point), and Ifigeneia/ Iphigenia (1977), photographed by Angelopoulos' cinematographer Yorgos Arvanitis. In between he made the blockbuster Alexis Zorbas/ Zorba the Greek (1964), an adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel "Vios Kai Politeia Tou Alexi Zorba", photographed by Lassally and scored by Theodorakis, starring US actors Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates but also Irene Papas.

Veteran playwright Alekos Sakellarios directed Laterna, Ftoheia kai Filotimo/ The Hurdy Gurdy (1955) and Laterna, Ftoheia kai Garyfallo/ Barrel Piano, Poverty and Carnations (1957), the comedies that launched Tzeni "Jenny" Karezi (born Evgenia Karpouzi), both with music by Manos Hatzidakis. He also helped turn Aliki Vougiouklaki into a sex-symbol with To Xýlo Vgike Apo ton Paradeiso/ Wood came out of Heaven/ Maiden's Cheek (1959).

Nikos Koundouros made the film noir O Drakos/ The Ogre of Athens (1956), scripted by Iakovos Kambanellis, scored by Manos Hadjidakis and starring Ntinos (or Dinos) Iliopoulos, and the shepherd romance Mikres Afrodites/ Young Aphrodites (1963), from a script of Vassilis Vassilikos that was yet another adaptation of the 2nd century novel "Dafnis kai Chloi/ Daphnis and Chloe".

The last major film made in the 1960s was Vasilis Georgiadis' Ta Kokkina Fanaria/ The Red Lanterns (1963), about five prostitutes, from a play by Alekos Galanos, starring Karezi.

Among the best comedies of the 1960s were Roviros Manthoulis' Psila ta Heria Hitler/ Hands Up Hitler (1962), the film that turned comedian Thanasis Veggos into a star, and Dinos Katsouridis' Tis Kakomoiras/ What a Mess (1963), starring the great theatrical actor Kostas Hatzichristos.

Again, momentum was killed by the dictatorship of 1967-74. The junta cracked down on the intellectuals and impose strict censorship. The only "Greek" film to indirectly attack the regime was made by Costantin Costa-Gravas, a Greek (born Konstantinos Gavras) but raised in France: the political thriller Z (1969), an adaptation of Vassilis Vassilikos' novel.

Nonetheless, Nikos Foskolos' partisan movie Ipolochagos Natassa/ Lieutenant Natasha/ Battlefield Constantinople (1970), starring sex-symbol Aliki Vougiouklaki, beat all previous blockbusters, theatrical director Alexis Damianos, the founder of two important theaters, directed the low-budget neorealist noir Evdokia (1971), with music by Manos Loizos, Dinos Katsouridis made the allegorical satire Ti Ekanes Ston Polemo Thanasi?/ What did you do in the war Thanasis? (1971), ostensibly set during the German occupation, starring comedian Thanasis Veggos, and Pantelis Voulgaris exposed the moral hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie in To Proxenio tis Annas/ Anna's Engagement (1972). Theodoros Angelopulos teamed up with cinematographer Yorgos Arvanitis and worked on a period trilogy starting with Meres Tu '36/ The Days of '36 (1972), a political drama set during the Greek dictatorship of the 1930s.

The fall of the fascist dictatorship has the effect to unleash a surprising amount of unbridled creativity. Nikos Nikolaidis opened the gates with his experimental take on classical mythology, Evridiki BA 2037/ Euridice BA 2037 (1975), photographed by Giorgos Panousopoulos and starring German actress Vera Tschechowa, and with the first two films of his trilogy, the nostalgic Ta Kourelia Tragoudane Akoma/ The Wretches Are Still Singing (1979), with a soundtrack of rock and soul music, and Glykia Symmoria/ Sweet Bunch (1983), both post-modernist takes on the noir genre. His cinema of despair peaked with Singapore Sling (1990), straddling surrealism, horror and pornography.

Theodoros Angelopulos and Arvanitis delivered the masterpiece of Greece's cinema, O Thiasos/ Travelling Players (1975), set during World War II, a four-hour tragedy of betrayal, at both national and personal levels. Angelopoulos blends Aeschylus' Oresteia with Fellini (the nostalgic evocation of rural life) and Brecht (the didactic presentation) in a product that compensates scant dialogue with a lot of traditional music (soundtrack by Loukianos Kilaidonis), using long shots to mold a continuum of allegorical scenes and to amplify the sense of deserted landscapes and deserted streets: history is more a silence than a clamor. A melancholy mood underscores the contrast between the glory of ancient Greece and the pathetic convulsions of modern Greece, reduced to a poor country: here, Agamennon is a refugee who leads a ragtag troupe of actors who wander from town to town, hardly the hero of ancient Greece.


Democracy (1980s and 1990s)

In 1981 Greece joined the European Economic Community, the future European Union, and the socialist Andreas Papandreou (son of Georgios) became prime minister after his party Panellinio Sosialistiko Kinima or PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) won a landslide victory over Karamalins' party while Karamanlis now had the symbolic post of president of the nation. Former actress Melina Mercouri was one of the founding members of PASOK, and even became minister of culture throughout the 1980s. Theodorakis joined the communist party and was elected to parliament in 1981.

The wounds left by the civil war seemed to never heal. Greek political life continued to be polarized, and the government kept swinging between right and left, but finally there was no more violence, no more conspiracies, no more coups.

Important novels were published by Margarita Karapanou ("O Ipnovatis/ The Sleepwalker", 1986), Rhea Galanaki ("O Vios Tou Ismail Ferik Pasa/ Life of Ismail Ferik Pasha", 1989), Thanassis Valtinos ("Stoicheia gia ti Dekaetia tou '60/ Data from the Decade of the Sixties", 1990), Vangelis Raptopoulos ("Loula", 1997), Ersi Sotiropoulos ("Zig-Zag stis Nerantzies/ Bitter Oranges", 1999), Soti Triantafillou ("To Ergostasio Ton Molivion/ Pencil Factory", 2000), Zyranna Zateli ("Me to Paraxeno Onoma Ramanthis Erevous O Thanatos Irthe Teleftaios/ With the Strange Name of Ramanthis Erevus Death Arrived Last", 2002), etc. New poets included Antonis Fostieris ("Skoteinos Erotas/ Dark Eros", 1977), Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke ("Oi Mnistire/ The Suitors", 1984), and Kiki Dimoula ("I Efiveia tis Lithis/ Lethe's Adolescence", 1994). Loula Anagnostaki remained one of the leading playwrights ("I Niki/ Victory", 1978; "Diamantia Kai Blues/ Diamonds and Blues", 1990; "O Ouranos Katakokkinos/ The Red Sky", 1998; "S'Esas Pou m'Akoute/ To You People Who Listen To Me", 2003) and Andreas Staikos was representative of the new generation ("I Avlaia Peftei/ The Curtain Falls", 1999).

New talents of classical music emerged in the new century, notably Minas Borboudakis, representing a generation that never knew the turmoil of the first four decades of Greek independence (he was born in 1974).

Cinema of the 1980s was dominated by Angelopoulos' "trilogy of silence", three films scripted with Italian poet Tonino Guerra and scored by Eleni Karaindrou, and photographed as usual by Arvanitis: Taxidi sta Kithira/ Voyage to Cythera (1984), his first film set entirely in the present, O Melissokomos/ The Beekeeper (1986), again scripted by Guerra and scored by Karaindrou, and starring Marcello Mastroianni, a bleak journey into the past that is also a moral and physical suicide, and Topio Stin Omichli/ Landscape In The Mist (1988), another contender for best film of Greek cinema, and starring again Marcello Mastroianni, a nightmarish version of Roeg's Walkabout in which two runaway children wander in search of the father that they have never seen, perhaps an allegory about modern Green searching for the glory of a mythological ancient Greece. The latter contains some of the most strikingly poetic images of his cinema, notably the giant marble hand emerging from the sea and being carried away in the sky by a helicoptera, and also the final scene in which they seem to have reached paradise and hug a tree as if it were the father that they were searching for. The three films are parables but not parables that can be explained in words. Together the three films represent the three dimensions of silence: the silence of history, the silence of love, and the silence of god. But the trilogy is not so much about silence but about absence.

Other notable films of the post-dictatorship period include: Nikos Panayotopoulos' Oi Tembelides tis Eforis Koiladas/ The Idlers of the Fertile Valley (1978), Thodoros Maragos' Mathe Paidi mou Grammata/ Learn How to Read and Write (1981), Costas Ferris's Rembetiko (1983), with music by Stavros Xarhakos and cinematography by Takis Zervoulakos, and Pantelis Voulgaris' Petrina Hronia/ Stone Years (1985), photographed by Arvanitis.

The 1990s opened with another Angelopoulos masterpiece, To Meteoro Vima Tou Pelargou/ The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991), made with the same team of Guerra, Arvanitis, Karaindrou and Mastroianni, a poem of loneliness and a political essay on borders, walls and bridges (made two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall). As an allegorical tale about forced migration and displacement, it stands as the exact opposite of Ulysses' journey home. The Ulysses of this film is a refugee without a homeland, a man who doesn't want to be himself and doesn't want to be found and doesn't want to return home. It also feels like an update of Antonioni's masterpiece of alienation La Notte of 30 years earlier, where the same actors (Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau) played a tormented married couple: the torment simply got bigger and incurable. The collaboration with Guerra, Arvanitis and Karaindrou continued with three solemn historical meditations: The three-hour To Vlemma tou Odyssea/ Ulysses' Gaze (1995), a summary of one century of political upheavals, sometimes Proust and sometimes Fellini, sometimes lyrical and sometimes sardonic, another journey into the past, and this time the modern Odysseus is a filmmaker who is looking for the original film, the first Balkan film, which has been lost; Mia Aioniotita Kai Mia Mera/ Eternity and a Day (1998), a cinematic poem about a poet who cannot finish a poem that has been left unfinished by another poet, another stream of consciousness by an old man, this time a Odysseus who has embarked on his last day, on his own journey towards death; To Livadi Pou Dakryzei/ The Weeping Meadow (2004), his first film without Arvanitis, set in motion by a recursive entangling of nostalgic oneiric Fellini-an scenes with the Shakespeare-ian leitmotiv of the betrayed father while the waters rise and submerge the old village.

Also notable was Constantinos Giannaris' study of youth alienation Apo tin Akri tis Polis/ From the Edge of the City (1998), a tragedy set in a milieu of drugs and prostitution and photographed in semi-documentary style by Yorgos Argiroliopoulos.


The 21st Century

In 1993 Papandreou’s PASOK returned to power, but in 2004 Kostas Karamanlis (nephew of Karamanlis) swept to power, and in 2009 the socialist Giorgos Papandreou (grandchild of Georgios) succeeded him. Greece plunged into the worst economic crisis of Europe and in 2010 the Eurozone countries bailed out its economy. In return they demanded that Greece reduced its spending, but that caused major social crises and mass protests. In 2013 Greece's unemployment peaked at 28%. In 2015 Alexis Tsipras, head of the leftist Syriza party opposed to the austerity measures imposed by the EU, won elections and became prime minister. In 2019 he was succeeded by the right-wing government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis. In 2020 Katerina Sakellaropoulou became Greece's first female president (although the presidency was largely a symbolic post). The Greek economy recovered somewhat faster than the rest of the Eurozone from the crisis caused by the covid pandemic of 2020-21.

The 2000s witnessed: Tasos Boulmetis' blockbuster Politiki Kouzina/ A Touch of Spice (2003), photographed by Takis Zervoulakos; Pantelis Voulgaris' blockbuster Nyfes/ Brides (2004), written by Ioanna Karystiani and photographed by Arvanitis; Filippos Tsitos' comedy Akadimia Platonos/ Plato’s Academy (2009); Panos Koutras' Strella (2009); etc.

The new thinker of Greek cinema was Yorgos Lanthimos, who collaborated with screenwriter Efthimis Filippou for the Kafka-esque parable Kynodontas/ Dogtooth (2009), Alpeis/ Alps (2011) and the cryptic double-dystopiac allegory of his first English-language film, The Lobster (2015), whereas the costume drama The Favourite (2018) indulged in a grotesquely baroque style (enhanced by Robbie Ryan's cinematography) that evokes Peter Greenaway's tableaux, and Poor Things (2023), based on Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel, was a philosophical sci-fi movie, a clever variation on the Frankenstein story. Lanthimos almost literally picked up the baton from Angelopoulos because Angelopoulos died in 2012.

Other notable Greek films of the 21st century include: Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg (2010), starring Ariane Labed and Yorgos Lanthimos, which analyzes the existential crisis of a young woman in an industrial town, Alexandros Avranas' Miss Violence (2013), Alexis Alexiou's Tetarti 04:45/ Wednesday 04:45 (2015), Argyris Papadimitropoulos' Suntan (2016), Elina Psykou's O Gios tis Sofias/ Son of Sofia (2017), etc.


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