Dir. Penny Panayotopoulou. Greece/Germany, 2002. 108 min.
A coming-of-age story that is richer and more original than most, Penny Panayotopoulou's first feature film effort is the most accomplished Greek film offering of this year. First unveiled in Locarno, where 10 years-old Giorgos Karayannis walked away with an acting award, it also shared the best acting prize in Thessaloniki, this time for Christos Stergioglou, who plays his uncle, and shared the FIPRESCI award. Modest, but skilfully written and directed, this portrayal of a boy who refuses to accept his father's accidental death, and the equally stubborn attitude of his grandmother, should be a natural seller on the overseas arthouse circuit. Distributor Rosebud releases the film in Greece on Dec 27.
Ten-year-old Elias is deeply attached to his father, a merchant who, due to the economic hardships affecting Greek life during the late 1960s, has to close his shop and become a travelling salesman. Elias, his older brother (Bouyotas) and his mother (Tsirigouli) are all affected by the father's long absences, as well as their tense relationship with a doting grandmother, who insists her daughter-in-law is trying to steal her son away from her. When the father is killed in a car accident, Elias and his grandmother are hardest hit. Denying he is dead, the writes letters in his father's name to the old woman. She then uses these as evidence that the entire world has turned against her.
Despite all the evidence, Elias believes he and his father will be reunited on the day that man first lands on the moon. Furious when this fails to happen, he only learns to accept the bitter truth by pulling himself out of his private fantasy back into reality - in other words, he grows up.
Staying away from the coy, sweet, soulful approach that tradition dictates for such parts, Panayotopoulou draws a simple and natural performance from young Karayannis, who is by turns obstinate and infuriating, while at the same time preserving the pure innocence and reflecting the pain that cause him to act as he does. At the other end of the age spectrum, veteran Despo Diamantidou offers a remarkable performance as the old grandmother, moving between petulant senility and flashes of lucidity. It is a portrait that fully justifies calling old age 'a second childhood'.
Prod cos: CL Prods., Greek Film Centre, Twenty Twenty Vision
Gr dist: Rosebud
Int'l sales: Greek Film Centre
Prod: Costas Lambropoulos, Thanos Karathanos, George Louizos
Scr: Penny Panayotopoulou
Cinematography: Dimitris Katsaitis
Ed: Petar Markovic, Angelos Angelopoulos
Prod des: Lily Kentaka
Music: Stavros Sofianopoulos
Main cast: Yorgos Karayannis, Stelios Mainas, Ioanna Tsirigouli, Hristos Steryoglou, Hristos Bouyotas, Despo Diamantidou