Yannis Economides • Director
“My characters were in crisis long before the Greek bubble even burst”
by Joseph Proimakis
- Spearheading the Greek invasion at the Berlinale, Stratos director Yannis Economides discusses his divisive competition entry
Cineuropa: Debuting at such a heavily international festival, are you troubled by the fact that your films and heroes are heavily defined by the particular way in which your characters use the Greek language?
Yannis Economides: I don’t think there’s any particularity in my use of language, meaning that it’s not a manufactured language. It is my belief and certainty that this sort of language is genuine. It’s the way this specific group of people talks, under these specific social circumstances and in this specific sort of situation. Even this heavy repetition of words, I think, is true to how Greeks talk; it’s out there and it’s how I know a scene like the ones in my film would play out, if it were happening in real life.
It’s a trait that you’ve established in both The Matchbox and Soul Kicking [+see also:
film profile], yet Vangelis Mourikis’ character in Stratos is almost completely silent, which evokes your previous film, Knifer. Is this antithesis indicative of a director torn between two facets of his work?
You could say that in Stratos we’re witnessing a clash between two worlds, two clashing aesthetics – one of loud, extroverted verbalism, and one of introverted, low-key calmness. But there’s no division in me, no. It’s just that such is the complexity of life. In real life, in Greece, or anywhere, you’ll find people of few words who are quiet and enigmatic, just as you’ll find very loud people, bordering on hysteria. My characters reside in both pools, and I guess that in this film, they sort of come together. It’s just on a par with being as true to reality as possible.
The international press has been exhibiting a sort of effort to fit Stratos into the recent Greek wave of films revolving around the aftermath of the financial crisis.
Yes, I can understand the press’s need to categorise and label things, but the world I describe in my films has always been in crisis. My characters were in crisis long before the Greek bubble even burst. I didn’t just discover Greece’s societal crisis, nor the crisis of the Western World. The themes I’ve always explored, themes of the human condition, of love, hate, betrayal, money-grabbing, meanness, the identity of the neo-Greek, his vices, defects and shortcomings, they’ve always been what I dig into. But I understand the press’s need for labels, just as I understand the awkwardness they show towards my film, because it’s a movie that might be talking about them as well, their own countries and environments, their own societies.
This is your first straightforward genre attempt. Did you find the noir form confining in any way?
No, not at all. It was sort of like an added challenge, and that’s what I find intriguing in this work. You’re always setting up a bet and you’re trying to win it. In this case, it was about managing to make a plausible character out of this anti-hero, in an environment of strict and precise social reality. Not to make a neo-noir with raincoats and hats and sunglasses, all the identifiable genre clichés that in no way resemble reality, but truly make it believable that this character is actually out there somewhere, his name is Stratos and he’s a hit man.
You’re spearheading the Greek invasion of the Berlinale – is that an added pressure for you?
No, not really; I don’t think it works that way. I’m just carrying the responsibility of my own work. And being here feels like a great vindication of everyone’s work and efforts. What’s most important is the recognition that the film has garnered, first of all by the festival and its people, who surrounded it with immense love, even from the selection process onwards. They understood the film. In all its complexity, they got it. I’m very proud of this film, and furthermore, I think Vangelis Mourikis’ work will not go unnoticed by the jury. I think his performance will be unnerving for a lot of them.
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