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Ektoras Lygizos` Interview at Festivalists
© Wai Ho
First Publication: January 28 2013
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Last November, before visiting Thessaloniki IFF, I spent one night in Athens, stuck in an unexpected transportation strike. At that time, I had no idea I would later meet Ektoras Lygizos (the theatre director who made Boy Eating The Bird`s Food), while I was wandering the narrow streets and recalling episodes from the film. I wish I had shouted once at the same square, as the 23-year-old main character did. There was something from which we were both stressed and we could not do anything but yelling to the sky.

Inspired by Knut Hamsun’s classic novel "Hunger", Lygizos’ debut feature follows a well-mannered and talented but unemployed countertenor who is trapped in a poverty-stricken, alienated situation and who makes every effort to look for sustenance. While the feeling of starvation is coming to overpower me with every move he makes on the screen, he steals food from his favorite canary but never leaves behind his pet bird and his attraction to a pretty receptionist. Even when things go worse, he still stubbornly refuses to ask for any help from his family or friends.

With this kind of weird title, there is an obvious reason why some viewers would miss this film. They might think about the absurdity and quirky humor of the so-called Greek New Wave of Yorgos Lanthimos, Athina Rachel Tsangari and Babis Makridis, which often contains mimicry of animal behavior. However, as programmer Dimitri Eipides said in Thessaloniki, Lygizos’ stark, rigorous and austere film evokes such literary forebears as Baudelaire, Dostoevsky, and Camus and echoes the brilliantly elliptical cinema of Robert Bresson in this bracing, dispassionately lucid study of an outsider, driven to the extremes of isolation and desperation.

I would agree that there is something literal about it, but the consistent and continuous way of story-developing is so intoxicating for me that I would not call the man behind camera an outsider at all. The distance between the protagonist and observer comes to such an corporeal intimacy that not only provides many details, answering a lot of questions raised by the audience regarding the boy’s inexplicable behavior, but sets up an irresistible resonance among viewers who are able to share the same emotions.

Since there are plenty of readings about the powerful scenes, along with the resemblance between the young man and Greece, for me Boy Eating The Bird`s Food is rather a compelling film about every youth who is struggling though tough times, facing life’s challenges alone, in the personal process of breaking free. Indeed, not much was written about how the film could provoke empathy, so I hope this point is being revealed in my conversation with Ektoras Lygizos below:

Wai Ho: In this very moment the film is also being screened at Seville European Film Festival, right?

Ektoras Lygizos: We actually won the second prize there. We could not go there, so we sent the leading actress.

WH: Congratulations! When I watched the film again on big screen, I felt that at certain points the picture was quivering. Is that the way of cinematography to represent the boy’s hunger? The hand-held camera?

EL: It was our choice, 100%. Even if we had a bigger budget, I would have used this kind of camera [Canon 5D hybrid photo/video camera] and this way of shooting. I was really in need of small camera which has not only decent lenses but such a mobility and dizziness. I did not do it on purpose, to shake the camera – this was due to my attempt to be close to the character all the time, not really him, but in the center of actions, like his eyes, hands, whatever. I am really satisfied with what I captured in regards to what I want to tell in the film.

Giannis Papadopoulos, the protagonist of the film

WH: So the shaking was not your intention at all?

EL: These are the logical consequences of using such a small hand-held camera with such big lenses… You have been in Athens, uh?

WH: Yeah, I spent one night there.

EL: It is awful now, but it is my city which I cannot abandon like that. It feels like that I want to be there, with my friends, and all I want to speak about. I would like to stay there as much as I can. Though I am living in a not so nice neighborhood now.

WH: In which hotel does the film take place?

EL: It is Titania Hotel, around Omonoia Square, a big hotel. In the film, what you can see is just a certain idea of the city, which is usually more awful and crowded. There were not many people in the streets.

WH: Because of the winter or?

EL: Nope, the weather was like starting to get cold, respectively, for the character – starting to get hostile, especially for him living outside, without any shelter. I just wanted to make the film in-between seasons.

WH: Somebody thought you showed mercy at the end, in order to prevent some inevitable narrative, from showing the audience directly… death maybe?

EL: Death? Definitely not!

WH: You know… just this kind of stories tend to end…

EL: You perceived it as death? No! I do not want him or the bird to die. It is not this kind of mercy at all. Throughout the whole film, as a director and camera holder, I developed the same kind of feeling towards the character, which was not compassion, pity, mercy, or being objective. It was kind of being neutral, not cold-blood, even though the camera took so much part in the story. I just wanted to be there, feeling what he felt and capturing his actions. It is important that at the end he takes all necessities and a ladder to take care of the bird, though in the whole film he did not make strong decisions, just being like sort of a victim of the situation. He started to protect the bird and himself more wisely.

WH: It is not in the film, right?

EL: Yes. Just before the end he has a proper meal which means he accepted the girl’s help. This is important, because he does not accept any help from anyone during the whole film. So then he overcomes his ideas of dignity or pride just to take care of his real needs. He confesses and admitts them. For me it is always difficult, not hunger, but other more simple things.

WH: It’s not kind of a compromise for him at all, is it?

EL: No, it is not a compromise!

WH: You have to survive…

EL: Yeah, that is true! No matter how much pride and dignity you have or think you have, no matter the values of civilization and culture, you have to survive. This is more vital than anything else. And also you have to find a way to be more related to other people. That is huge for me. We have all these defenses against others, even friends, family or lovers, but in a way it is really difficult to be there, at present, with them, to admit your real needs.

WH: Like growing-up?

EL: Right. For me it is kind of a coming-of-age story in a special way. I would like to see the film as a teen movie, containing all the elements, such as romance, ambitions. He is young and handsome. Of course, in this context you cannot have a teen movie.

WH: I read some reviews talking about the scene in which the personage covers the bird’s cage…

EL: Yeah, the flag, the Greek flag…

WH: No need to over-read it, right?

EL: I agree. I was afraid things could be over-interpreted. Then I did not care, because my intentions were not like being symbolic or anything. I felt the need to highlight a little, just to mark that he is Greek, which is important for me. And all these ideas about the broken statues… too many people were trying to find these allegories, I do not know what. That is not my intention. For me, it is just a really good color for the cage.

WH: I think the boy never broke down or completely gave up. So he is like a hero?

EL: In a way he is. There were so many moments I would like him to collapse, because it is his big obstacle, to express his devastation. I prefer he would come to a point that he could express anything. He did not give himself opportunities, neither good nor bad ones, neither his attraction to the girl nor his despair. That is a problem for me, for the body. I think we have very blocked bodies, very defensive and stressed. If we managed to get a little bit more relaxed, it will be easier. In the theatre, the actor cannot act expressively with tense muscles. It is the same in life. It would be such a social environment, if we can really hear the others, really look into each others’ eyes.

  Boy Eating the Bird`s Food
  Athina-Rachel Tsangari
  Ektoras Lygizos
  Babis Makridis
  Yorgos Lanthimos
  The 53rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival Awards
  Hellenic Film Academy Awards 2013
  Read it on Festivalists
  Thessaloniki IFF Official Site
  altcine Explore movies by Country People To read
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