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Maria, Irene and Olga à la recherche du temps perdu…
© Maria Paradeisi
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Greece’s annual output of films is limited to twenty, of which less than one fifth are directed by women and even fewer deal with gender issues, like the two films selected for this essay: the second feature film by Katerina Evangelakou Think It Over (2002) and the first film by Elissavet Chronopoulou Α Song Isn’t Enough (2003).  Evangelakou has focused on producing and directing more than forty documentaries over the last fifteen years, mostly for television.  Her first feature film Jaguar (1994)i, deals with the Greek Civil War; whilst the third, False Alarm (2006), presents a contemporary fictional story.  Chronopoulou has worked as film editor since 1987.  Her second film, Annivas pro ton pylon (Hannibal before the gates-2007) has not yet been distributed.

The films examined here are amongst the very few Greek films in which women occupy leading roles.  They were chosen for their portrayals of the evolution of female identities in the last two generations in Greece, in different places and situations.  The main characters, who originate from the lower-middle classes, have particularly successful lives.  The first is a leading lady in the theatre and a political activist; the second an entrepreneur, and they both disregard the strong gender patterns prevalent in Greek society.  Both characters remain uncompromising in their defense of their objectives and their demands to receive the same treatment as their male counterparts. 

The characters and the directors often present spaces subjectively, superseding the distinction between private and public.  Moreover, the spaces of everyday life are enriched by a lyrical–poetic dimension in which characters act or seek moments of reflection and relaxation.  Motherhood occupies a significant position in both films, and the main characters are surrounded by a number of secondary female figures who highlight the complexity of relationships between women friends and relatives.  The male roles, however, are supporting and are represented only in conjunction with the female protagonists, thus reversing the predominant relationships found in contemporary narrative cinema.

Both films are well made, despite their low budgets.  They attempt to create portraits of women through similar innovative styles of narration, and both films present their content using many allusions and “distantiation” devices, and express the complexity of their contemporary heroines with gentle humor.  In short, these two films have been chosen because they show active and interesting female personalities successfully struggling to gain access to the public sphere.  Both films reveal all the complexities and costs of the female characters’ journeys, and they present the issues they encounter in a remarkable cinematic manner. 

These similar narrative traits nonetheless articulate quite different content, as the oppositions between the two films can be expressed as follow:

    Businesswoman     small city      single woman       present     outside
      Female artist         capital        divorced woman      past         inside

Despite the differences in content, however, both films effectively subvert stereotypes and present women’s difficulties in fulfilling different roles in Greece at the turn of this century.  More specifically, both films show the evolution of female identities  amongst the lower-middle classes from the end of the 1960s to the beginning of the twenty-first century, a period of economic development and cultural boom (especially after the end of junta in 1974).

The first film, Think It Over,  focuses on Maraki (a diminutive of Maria) who lives in a provincial area of Greece.  Bright at school, Maraki has a deep desire to leave her hometown and pursue her studies.  However, she decides to help her elder sister study and marry her beloved – their high school professor.  Maraki herself had been in love with “the handsome basketball player” at school, but in the end he preferred her other sister.  Maraki ends up alone with her mother, putting all of her knowledge into baking cakes in her pastry shop, which becomes famous in her small town and actually helps her to support her sisters.  Her fortieth birthday finds her pregnant by Κyriakos, a much younger friend of hers.  At this point in the film, the narration becomes fragmented and is structured around continuous flashbacks.  Early on in the film the plot takes an almost surrealist turn - as Maraki rehearses, in a voiceover monologue, different ways to announce her pregnancy to her lover, she faints and collapses in the street.  However, this so-called “accident” seems unreal since because Maraki changes positions, trying to get comfortable on the sidewalk, and seems to smile as though listening to the comments of her closest friend.

The second film, A Song Isn’t Enough, addresses the difficulties of Olga, a woman in her thirties, who is trying to come to terms with her mother Irene’s “betrayal” of her.  Olga is unable to forgive Irene for leaving her when Irene was imprisoned by the junta (Greece was under dictatorship between 1967-1974).  The film centers around the confusion of a young woman faced with the political activism of her mother and the recent history of her country.  It also focuses on the communication difficulties present in mother-daughter relationships, when both women have strong personalities.  More importantly, however, the film deals with the trauma caused when this relationship comes to an “unnatural” end.  The narration is like that of a Hollywood film under the influence of the European art house cinema: fragmentation between the present and the past, a mixture of black and white film (for the past) and color film (for the present) and an increasing number of questions, rather than the provision of answers.

The method I will use to present these films is a type of neo-formalist textual analysis (Stam, 185-192) focusing on the narration and, especially, upon close readings of the parts promoting gender issues.  At the center of the first film Maraki is surrounded by a whole group of women and men in a wide spectrum of relationships and oppositions: her mother, her two sisters and their partners, her best friend, and a friend of her mother’s – these are the people who become the main characters in an intricate plot.  Using a light comedic tone, the director presents the contradictory nature of not only female but also male desires, and the fear of facing the unknown and overturning familiar situations.  It outlines the intricacy of relationships, such as those between mother and daughter, between siblings, and between men and women.  Finally, it demonstrates the vacuity of accepted social forms as well as the heavy cost involved the compliance of women within their traditional roles.  The relationships between the main characters are presented through constant leaps from the present to the past, and vice versa, over a span of time that covers more than twenty years.

The film starts on the seashore, with a mother sitting on the sand reading, and at the same time, telling her young son an improvised fairytale about a princess that didn’t want to grow up.  The little boy cannot wait to reach the happy ending and, interrupting his mom at a critical moment of the story, he says, “And then the prince arrived in a spaceship and married her!”  “No my child,” the mother answers, “the prince will come at the end... running late, but he will come,” thereby anticipating, in a sense, the plot’s development.  At this point the opening titles intervene and, once they have finished, the film returns to the past through the heroine’s internal monologue. She is pondering over at least three different ways of announcing her pregnancy to her much younger lover, while she also debates the possibility of hiding it from him.  The humor, spontaneity, tenderness and sincerity of this monologue make this part of the film one of the most important in the whole narration.  The heroine, in her every attempt to find a way to announce her pregnancy, realizes the ineffectuality of every possible variation.

This monologue is often interrupted by the interventions of third parties, who get involved in the plot by disagreeing with the central heroine’s (a local councilor in their small town) actions, especially her support of the lazy cleaning lady, who everyone else wants to fire.  Perhaps the most important examples of interruption, as well as one of the most interesting elements of distantiation, are the sudden appearances in the action of the two sisters and the protagonist’s best friend, Poppy, a hairdresser.  In their first appearance, the two sisters are wishing her a happy birthday: the first wearing a surgeon’s gown as she accompanies a stretcher, the second with her hair in rollers, having just picked up her daughter’s doll from her bed.  In this way, with just two shots, the director outlines the main roles of the two sisters.  In the second appearance, the two sisters are hosting a child’s birthday party and declare that they are unable to look after their melancholic mother.  Through these appearances, the director outlines the first sister as a dynamic personality and the second as passive, with both characteristics being confirmed by the narrative’s development.

During the whole of this first section, the cinematic narration shows, by means of a parallel montage with Maraki’s problems, small flashes of a young biker, thus introducing us into the fragmented structure of the film.  The two characters, Maraki and the biker, move in opposite directions, exemplifying this structure, so that, when the younger man moves from right to left, Maraki walks from left to right, and vice versa, thus the movement of the two characters leads towards an imaginary point of convergence.  In this way, this concise narration has, in  space of five minutes, given the viewer all the important information they need about film’s the main characters.

Just after the first introductory section, the young man on his bike changes direction with a U-turn and arrives at a cottage where he is welcomed by middle aged Menis.  This movement of his is followed by an interesting visual metonymy.  Maraki has just left the hairdresser’s where she announced the results of the pregnancy test, and Poppy realizes that Maraki has left behind her cardigan.  She takes it to shake it out and at that moment the shot turns into slow motion and the cardigan hovers, immobile in the frame, while voices are heard and the hairdresser’s salon empties in the blink of an eye.  The next shot reveals Maraki lying on the pavement while she is heard, in a voiceover, expressing her wish to live her life again from the start.  The viewer then watches the review of her life that follows in segments: every time Maraki narrates certain events, the camera presents them taking place on the screen in a series of flashbacks while, parallel to this, snatches of action are shown by the rest of the characters as they take place in the present.

Maraki remains on the pavement in an unnatural position almost until the end of the film – often she opens her eyes and the questions put to her in a voiceover, all the while making small movements in order to get comfortable.  The first flashbacks, which concern her, take the viewer back at least twenty years and to a different place, when it seemed as though everything would turn out very differently from what we see now.  Maraki the student is dreaming of going to university -  we see her in the classroom, excelling in all her studies.

The most important of these flashbacks shows Maraki at the most decisive moment in her teens, with her inseparable companion, Kyriakos, the son of her mother’s friend Adonia, who is thirteen years her junior and like a younger brother to her.  The headmaster announces that she has won the first prize in essay writing and a scholarship.  This happy close up is followed by a shot of her and Kyriakos’ legs as they run along the corridor (the little one holds on to the edge of her school uniform). Then in a subjective shot from Maraki’s point of view, her favorite basketball player is seen on the playground.  And as she passes, through a voiceover monologue, from discouragement to hope, the miracle she always waited for takes place: he invites her, along with her sisters, to the game the following day.  Jumping for joy, in an imaginary dialogue with him, she states her case, “If you want a casual relationship I am available as long as it lasts, after all I’m leaving next year...”

The following scene shows her sitting with her friend Poppy on a bench, sharing their news while Kyriakos is playing next to them, now and then looking to his older “sister”. The following shots reveal a great friendship as the two teenagers share their joys and sorrows and try to support one another in the everyday dramas they face, such as Poppy’s expulsion from school and Maraki’s hopes being crushed.  In a close-up, she announces the scholarship and “The Date,” but Poppy tells her that her beloved is seeing her sister.  The camera has already repeatedly revealed to the viewer the intense flirtation between Lena, Maraki’s sister, and the basketball player – something Maraki was unaware of.  The shock that overwhelms her is expressed through the freezing of her movement in the frame (in the meantime she has stood up from the bench and is stretching happily).

A sudden cut, a typical method of fragmented montage, leaves the action suspended, thus increasing the tension for the viewer. The narration then presents the action in the present: her sisters are traveling towards town.  When the camera again finds the two girlfriends, it presents in close up their desperate bid to evoke all that they have said, in one of the most overwhelming and touching moments of the film.  Maraki, shocked as she is, tries to choke back her tears and says that “she was just joking” while the almost equally shocked Poppy says the same off screen.  Then little Kyriakos intervenes decisively with, “Don’t worry, I’ll marry you!” 

A little later, a key piece of action takes place in the present.  Her former headmaster learns of her “fall” and, as he approaches Maraki lying down, he asks out loud, “Why, my child, didn’t you accept the scholarship?  Why were you left behind?” and, as always, the reply comes as a voiceover, “Honestly, I don’t know....”  The film thus reveals that Maraki became frightened of pursuing a life more suited to her extraordinary abilities.  The flashbacks that follow show the sisters, each in turn, departing from their little town with their partners.  The last departure is that of Kyriakos, who will return to his childhood idol twenty years later with an impressive physique and a high performance motorbike.  A romance then develops between the two, despite the differences in their age and lifestyle.

The majority of the action in the present concerning Maraki refers to her powerful presence in the public domain, her interest in the common good and the unique feistiness with which she defends her beliefs, something that makes her disagreeable to the people who come into conflict with her.  She doesn’t hesitate to enter into conflicts, even publicly condemning members of the local council when she realizes that they are abusing their power for their own ends.  Finally, within her social circumstances, her feistiness is attributed to the fact that she is unmarried.
Maraki is not, however, the only member of the family who became scared of “pursuing her life.”  A series of flashbacks show a long time “silent” romance between her shy mother, Ioulia, a widow since she was twenty eight, and the even more shy Menis, a well-off neighbor. When Menis, encouraged by Maraki, finally decides to take the plunge and asks Ioulia to marry him, her friend, Adonia intervenes. A singer in a nightclub and single mother of Kyriakos, Adonia pursues and wins Menis.  So Menis, who never got over Ioulia, the narration implies, allows himself be carried away by events, and instead of becoming stepfather to the three girls, he ends up becoming stepfather to Kyriakos.  Even in the present, when Ioulia recalls this old romance, she refuses to admit her fear of rebuilding her life.  Evidently, as time passed, these events plunged her into melancholy and agoraphobia.

    The two sisters were likewise carried along by the flow of events.  Their conservative suits and matching shirts, their sunglasses and tight lips all confirm to the stereotype of married petit bourgeois women whose younger sister gets them into trouble.  As they travel towards the little town (Poppy having informed them about Maraki’s ‘collapse’), the cinematic narration, through the use of flashback, tells their stories and development.  Anthi, a bad pupil at school, dreams of becoming an actress and in a moment of adolescent impulse, recklessly flirts with her literature teacher.  The teacher reciprocates, and while she seems likely to regret this recklessness, she ends up leaving town with him.  Following his encouragement, and with financial support from Maraki, she manages to train as a paramedic.  As with Maraki, when she asks herself why she didn’t become an actress, she finds it impossible to answer, to admit her fear of realizing her dreams by following a path less traveled.

The other sister Lena is the first to get married (to her basketball player), when she is already expecting a baby.  Both women, in contrast to Maraki, have, according to social conventions, “made their lives” and experience the problems of living together, illustrating the heavy price of settling down. In their conversation, which we observe in shot / reverse shot, we see Lena crying hysterically as she describes the constant infidelity of her charming basketball player, who ended up becoming a taxi driver.  Her sister advises her to stop being a victim and to divorce him, adding a statement of truth, “Men are kids...there are no men... normal ones.  We reckon they exist... but it’s our fault, we give them the license to play around”.
As far as Anthi herself is concerned, after she admits that the highest virtue of her husband resides in the fact that he will never leave her, and that he does not fool around with young women, she in turn, will expose the routine of her daily life with a man who is something of a hypochondriac.  What also becomes obvious is the jealousy of the two sisters towards Maraki, who is free from the responsibilities of marriage and does not need to think about anyone else.

In contrast to the particularly hostile and unfair Anthi, Lena is riddled with guilt towards the “perfect” sister who give up the chance of becoming a mathematician in order to support them, and who ended up carrying the “burden” of their melancholic mother.  Lena has also learned from Poppy (probably when they were at school) of her sister’s feelings towards the charming basketball player, a fact that now magnifies her guilt.  Also, when Anthi holds Maraki responsible for getting mixed up with the much younger Kyriakos, she faces Lena’s hysterical reaction, asking her not to get involved in Maraki’s life.  Soon after, Anthi encourages Lena towards a more hostile attitude against “Saint Maraki”, whose fall has made things difficult for both of them.  Both sisters break in hysterical laughter as they imagine Maraki and Kyriakos together, hinting at the destructive effects such couples can have in the present age, and at the same time confirming the stereotype that a relationship between a woman and a man is inappropriate when the former is significantly older than the latter.

The women’s fears, guilt and insecurities are reflected in equivalent reactions by the men.  The basketball player, for example, full of worry and guilt (since Lena caught him flirting with another woman), searches for his wife at her sister’s house, thinking that she has left him.  At the same time, Menis, in a discussion with Kyriakos, hints at the fact that when he feels deeply (spiritually) in love he faces sexual problems, which explains why he finally preferred Kyriakos’ mother over Ioulia.  At this point, the absolute dichotomy of virgin and whore throughout the film’s narrative becomes clear, as do the catastrophic consequences it has for both sexes.   

During a discussion between the two men, Kyriakos seems lost in thought, having just confessed his fear of his girlfriend being pregnant.  When Menis realizes that the pregnancy concerns Maraki, however, he loses control and starts hitting him wildly, screaming at him that he should be ashamed of himself, that Maraki is practically his mother.  His violent reaction is indicative of the conservative society of the countryside, as it expresses the aforementioned dichotomy.  Having put Maraki in the role of virgin, Menis, the coward, is shocked by such a reversal.  In contrast, Kyriakos, as a representative of the new generation, doesn’t seem to understand the cause of such rage, thus showing that this social prejudice is foreign to him.  Soon, though, Menis regains his composure and rules out the possibility of such a pregnancy because, as he says, Maraki is a calculating woman, thus demonstrating another ongoing stereotype.  Finally, after insistent encouragement from Menis, they decide to attend Maraki’s birthday party.

    One of the key final scenes shows all of Maraki’s guests meeting up in a car park.  The moment of this encounter and revelation involves a wide range of emotional shifts that leave their mark in a series of rapidly alternating close-ups.  The announcement of Maraki’s fall is followed by the confusion of the personal reactions of those present, with everyone talking over one another.  The celebratory mood the two men shared turns suddenly into anxiety, and Lena concludes that her sister has lost her mind since, for the last forty years, she has kept everything bottled up.  Kyriakos’ anxiety gradually increases while Anthi declares that she knows absolutely nothing about the causes and consequences of the fall, and entertains various hypotheses.  In the midst of this chaos, the basketball player calls to make up with his wife.  While the two of them exchange sweet nothings, the camera turns towards the sky and the same cheerful music from the start of the monologue is heard.

With a fast-paced cross-cutting, the film shows Maraki (lying there all on her own, still in the same position – another unnatural event) wishing for something to happen which won’t be in vain. At that very moment, and in keeping with the comical tone of the film, pigeon droppings land on her forehead!  This event brings her to her senses while the cleaning lady (the only person there next to her) wipes her forehead and helps her to her feet.  Maraki’s smile draws to a close her review of her relationship with Kyriakos, and, in a voiceover as always, she concludes that it was beautiful while it lasted.

As the women walk off into the distance, a child’s voice is heard, asking to hear the end of the fairytale, and the film returns to the opening scene where Maraki gives her son a math problem to solve.  A close-up of the puzzled child with an exercise book with the problem written in it is shown, followed by a close-up of the mother reading a math book.  Then, at the back of the frame, the figure of a tall man is seen from behind (with a silhouette similar to that of Kyriakos), as he fishes along the edge of the rocky shoreline while the camera tracks back to include the mother and son in the frame, suggesting that these people belong to the same group, or better, the same family.   

Instead of the usual heterosexual couple, the largest part of the second film is taken up by a mother and her daughter.  Twenty-eight year old Irene tries to juggle her roles as actress (the lead in a youth theatre), mother of an eight year old child, divorcee and activist. The fragmented structure of the film shows the same pair twenty years later, still suffering from the wounds of the rift between them.  Although the majority of the film deals with the past, what really seems to be at the center of the film are the ramifications in the present.  The film starts with photographs from political exiles, while in voiceover an interview is heard with a member of the resistance, who relates the experience of prison and exile.  After the defeat of the democratic army in the civil war (1946-1948), the left-wing partisans ended up in prison and in exile on various arid islands in the Aegean, whereas those who had collaborated took over the means of suppression from which right wing terrorism ensued.  This interview, divided into four different fragments, placed at different points in the film, does not last long, but is of vital importance, because it shows the efforts made by the young daughter, Olga, to comprehend her mother’s betrayal.

Besides the interview, the film moves on various different levels, which blend into one another through the fragmented structure and constant leaps in time from the present to the past and vice versa.  It is worth noting the skillfulness with which these transitions are connected through the similar montage techniques of montage used for the past and the present. The first level deals with the past, around the axis of the mother-daughter relationship through which the film presents Irene’s rehearsals in the theatre, her relationship with her best friend Vasia and her involvement in the resistance.  The narration depicts with equal clarity the mother-daughter relationship with regard to Irene’s ex-husband, Manolis.
The second level is the one to which most time is devoted and concerns Irene’s life in prison and the relationships that develop in the context of the female community there.  Parallel to Irene’s life in prison, the narration shows those people for whom her absence is decisive in the development of their relationships: little Olga’s relationship with her father and his family, and the relationship between Manolis and Vasia.  The third level concerns Olga’s life as it is in the present with her family, her companion Dimitris, her son Dodo, and her alcoholic father, whom she often retrieves from bars, juxtaposed with her mother’s life, who lives only for the theatre.
Throughout the journeys, the coming together and the conflicts among these characters, the director reveals the complexity that surrounds a series of important issues: the conflict between the desire to fight against a tyrannical state and the need to preserve family harmony; the difficulty of juggling the multiple roles of a modern woman; the consequences of a triangular relationship on the lives of those involved; the difficult mother-daughter relationship and the trauma that results from its sudden and unnatural ending; the limits of respect of others’ decisions when the most important relationships for the family’s survival are at stake; and the violence that characterizes conflicts between similar headstrong personalities.

The analysis below presents the most important points of these three levels in the order in which I refer to them, after a making a point about the discrete manner in which this multifaceted material is presented by the director.  The cinematic narration declares little and implies a lot.  Many nuances and tensions can be inferred from the positions that the characters hold in each frame, their gazes, their small gestures, and the charged silences exchanged between them.  From the start, the film depicts the characters lucidly and the first outline they are given is then confirmed by the developments in the film.  The relationship between Irene and Olga, in the first level of the film, seems to be a relation between equals, despite the differences in age and role and considering the dynamic personality of the young girl and the virtually single parent character of the family.

The first depiction of this central pair takes place in the theatre.  The inventive theatrical direction brings to the fore the rehearsals between Irene and her colleagues, thereby pointing at the obliquely critical nature of the plays that the obviously left wing theatre company decides to produce.  While the mother at the front is working creatively, at the back of the scene, Olga is trying to concentrate on her study of Roman history, since she is obliged to follow her mother into the theatre.  At the same time, it becomes clear that the little one is very sensitive to any scolding by her mother and yet she is very strict towards her (Olga often reaches her limits and punishes her mother and, later on, her father, by ignoring them).  Her strictness is now and again accompanied by a latent tenderness and a supportive stance towards her parents when they are in a vulnerable position.  We could argue, as a rule, that the child develops her own criteria of how to interpret “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” thus overturning the stereotypes that are usually associated with the presentation of children in the cinema.

The scenes which follow present some of the main features of the characters, which will play a key role in the film’s development.  Irene’s relationships with Vasia and Manolis are contradictory and complex, and the director highlights the relationships of attraction and repulsion that the charismatic heroine develops with people around her.  Vasia is competitive with her childhood friend, as Irene is undoubtedly the leading lady of their theatrical company, and accuses her of elitism and arrogance, an opinion Irene’s future cellmate, Argiro, seems to share at times.  Irene has left and rejected the reckless and irresponsible Manolis, however, there remains a physical attraction between them, shown by her tolerance and the occasional hospitality that she offers him in his late-night visits.  With similar montage techniques, the camera portrays the corresponding situation of the 28-year-old daughter who, on top of everything else, goes around retrieving her alcoholic father from bars.

This relative equilibrium of relationships and situations is overthrown when Irene is arrested and put in prison.  The theatre company is left without a lead actress, Manolis has to face responsibilities he is incapable of handling and the daughter experiences the absence of her mother as a result of having been abandoned.  What follows in the narrative discretely discretely implies, at many opportunities, the predictable difficulties in their relationship: the reproachful stance and the long silences with which Olga treats the immaturity of her father, marking the near reversal of the parent-child roles.  At the same time, however, the narrative underlines a great love and tenderness which connects this new pairing created by circumstances and the tender moments of reconciliation shown in the warm smiles they exchange now and again when they play piano and sing together.

In the second level of the narration, the director presents the contradictory feelings and situations created by isolation and confinement.  The humor, solidarity, support and small acts of resistance in prison, which bring the political prisoners together, alternate with the tensions, breakdowns, tears and despair of facing the absence of their loved ones.  Emphasis is also put on the relationship between political and criminal prisoners.  Finally, and tellingly, there is the nervousness and insecurity that they first feel when faced with the sudden amnesty they are granted and their coming release. Key to this second section are the two meetings between Irene and Manolis in the prison visiting room, where they are both filmed with a classic simplicity and in especially expressive shots / reverse shots. Both of these meetings are characterized by the exceptionally rich nuances in the exchange of their gazes and in the charged silences; the couple communicates perfectly in the midst of the raucous crowd that surrounds them, without needing to exchange a single word.
Equally important are the two letters written by Irene in prison, one to Olga, and the other to Manolis, which describe her inability to express all that she feels and her attempt to reappraise her actions.  In the first letter, heard as a voiceover, Irene describes with nostalgia the small morning ritual of getting Olga ready for school, and counter to the narration Olga is seen doing exactly what the letter describes as she prepares the breakfast like her mother used to.  Meanwhile her father is dead to the world, asleep in the next room.  The letter closes with the mother imploring her daughter to come and visit her at least once in prison.  The second letter, again heard in a voiceover, starts with the phrase “everything was wrong... nothing is the same any more...,” showing Irene’s inability to express all that she feels, her longing for Olga, for Manolis himself, for Vasia, for “a walk on a Sunday afternoon...,” concluding with, “...Olga is right...everything I have done is wrong…”

It is worth noting when the letter starts, the prisoners are playing football wearing their little woolly hats in the prison yard, looking like little girls.  The thick snow gives a dreamlike atmosphere to this unique moment of joy and play.  This scene, in the context of the film as a whole, the place of artistic motivation, has an appealing element only justified by the plot but also present for its own sake.  David Bordwell (1995, p. 36), defines four kinds of motivation. The spectators may justify the material in terms of its relevance to the requirements of the story (compositional motivation); or they may apply a notion of plausibility derived from some conception of the way things work in the world (realistic motivation); or they may justify an expectation or inference on transtextual grounds (transtextual motivation). Last but not least something could be present for its own sake – as an appealing or shocking or neutral element (artistic motivation).
The most decisive element in this period of confinement for Irene is her gradual substitution on almost all levels by Vasia, who takes her position in the theatre; and, at this point in the film, the director brings to the fore a whole network of conflicting emotions and moods that the two women experience, by using two very distinctive close ups: Vasia’s guilt and, at the same time, her powerful desire to replace her best friend and eternal rival in the leading role; Irene’s hesitancy to be generous and to understand the development of events and, at that same time, her bitterness towards the intentions of her best friend.  The resolution to this unacknowledged rivalry occurs when Irene surpasses herself and actively supports her friend at the premiere.

Irene’s supplanting by Vasia will bring an even greater shift in her relationship with Manolis.  The scene in which the second level of narration closes anticipates the development in the present.  Irene is released from prison, and enjoys the sunny return journey to the town in Manolis’ car.  And just as the relationship of the ex-spouses seems to be fully restored, when they arrive at home little Olga, hiding on the balcony, reacts coldly to the warm embrace of her mother.  The drama erupts further with the arrival of Vasia who, after becoming emotional at first, collapses, confessing indirectly to her relationship that has developed with Manolis, who is incapable of realizing the consequences of his actions.  Still in love with his wife, Manolis considers her replacement by her best friend while she was in prison, and the return to their previous life upon her release, very natural.  And just as Irene shows him the door, little Olga, with her characteristic determination, declares that she herself will stay “with Manolis.”  It is not accidental that the child rarely calls him “father”.

The third level of narration presents the developments once twenty years have passed, shifting the weight from the mother to the daughter and focusing on the total absence of communication that still comes between them, and the consequences this bears for both women.  As the narration implies, from the threefold rupture at the conclusion of the second part, only one relationship has been restored – the one between Irene and Vasia.  Now a famous leading lady of the theater, Irene seems to have little or no contact with Manolis, seeing him only at premieres.  The interviews, and her limited presence in the narrative, indirectly show the pain that separation from her daughter has caused.

Olga, who has by now made her own family, with a loving and supportive companion and very cute son, is similarly affected.  Her outbursts that occur every time her father or her partner tries to persuade her to overcome her stubborn refusal and accompany them to the theater, reveal the size of the problem caused by the absence of any contact for the last twenty years.  However, her constant study of material concerning political prisoners reveals her efforts to understand and show that her resistance, albeit unconsciously, is growing weaker.

The greatly anticipated reconciliation takes place in the theater where the director turns the usual way such encounters are represented on its head by showing Olga backstage, instead of among the audience, watching her mother from behind as she plays the role of Alexandra de Largo in The Sweet Bird of Youth.  When the heroine talks about her despair – the moment of withdrawal from her art - her speech functions symbolically, referring to the separation from her daughter.  At one point, turning on the spot (with her back towards the audience), she is able to make out her emotional daughter and her eyes fill with tears as she continues her lines, though now she is clearly addressing only her daughter, “... sooner or later, at some point in your life, what you considered to be the purpose of life, you lose it or you let it go... and then you die…”  Then, slowly, Olga turns around, ending up at her mother’s dressing room and, with a smile of relief, lies down on the couch and stares at the big picture, dominating the room, of her and her mother as they were twenty years ago.
The analysis of the two films presented shows firstly that both films are characterized by the dominance of female characters both in leading and supporting roles, of which there are many.  The charismatic leading personalities transcend the limitations of gender and they come, now and again, into friction with social and family surroundings.  The central heroines acquire an important position in the public sphere, sometimes paying the price on a personal level or in their family life, but their positions also give them a sense of independence and autonomy which is absent for those women who occupy with traditional roles.  The social set-up of “settling down,” and the women’s compliance with traditional roles often have a much greater cost.  Male roles in these films are always supporting and are presented only in relation to the leading roles, thus reversing the dominant model of that relationship in narrative cinema.

 The reversal of old social forms 
Man       =      superiority  =      vitality     =      spirit  
    Woman             inferiority          passivity        body

(Clement and Cixous, p. 115) becomes clear, and so too does the fluidity of contemporary gendered identities.  Both films reach the conclusion that no relationship can be taken for granted, that reality is often much more intricate and contradictory than we assume it to be.  They also point at the fact that the important subversions caused by the forming of gendered identities in recent decades coexist with the survival of social forms and prejudices which are more obvious in smaller towns and within older generations.

This content is shown through cinematic narrations that include many of the conventions of the European art film and of the “new Hollywood” of the mid-sixties.  Exemplifying this are the projections of the ambiguous and intricate character of human identity and the wide use of distantiation devices.  I could argue that, as a rule, the use of the camera is the very opposite of the unseen observer that characterizes classical narration.  Both films are characterized by the fragmentary nature of the narration, the disruption of the space-time continuum, the sudden cuts with which the transition from the present to the past, and vice versa,  takes place and the disarray of the subjective and objective realities.  Spaces acquire a subjective and even lyrical-poetic dimension, conforming to the feelings of the characters who live in them and the directors who construct them.  The first film is also characterized by the mixture of black and white and color film, whereas what is distinctive of the second is the use of slow motion and the unforeseen happy ending.  Finally, both belong to the very few examples where the woman’s body is not presented as an object on view, where “the representation of woman as spectacle-body to be looked at, as a place of sexuality, and object of desire…” doesn’t have its usual place (de Lauretis, p. 4) ii.

i. Evangelakou’s Jaguar is an adaptation of a Greek novel by Alexander Kotzias with the same title, published in 1987.

ii. I would like to thank Flavia Laviosa and my colleagues, Alexandra Halkias from Panteion University, and Zacharias Palios from University of Crete for their important help. I also want to thank Theo Hutchinson and Roza Maragopoulou for their translation of this essay into English


    Bordwell, David. Narration in the Fiction Film, London: Rutledge, 1995.
    Bordwell, David Janet Steiger, Kristin Thomson. The Classical Hollywood Cinema, London: Rutledge, 1996
    Clement Catherine and Hélène Cixous. La jeune née (Paris : 10/18),  1975
    Cook, David A.  A History of Narrative Film,  New York London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996
    de Lauretis, Teresa 1982. Alice doesn’t. Feminism, Semiotics, Cinema, Bloomington: Indiana University  Press 1985
    Mast, Gerald Bruce Kawin. A short History of the Movies, Boston: Allyn and Bacon 1996
    Stam, Robert. Film Theory, An Introduction, London: Blackwell Publishing. 2005

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  Katerina Evangelakou
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