1968: Preserving athletic history
- The new feature by A Touch of Spice director Tassos Boulmetis is an awkward balance of fact and fiction, focusing on AEK BC’s greatest triumph
In 1968, a tempestuous time for Greece, as the country entered the second year of its military junta, a sports club founded by refugees seeking to overcome their hardships by uniting under a new, common flag managed to gather the whole of the country under its black-and-yellow banner. AEK BC, the basketball branch of the club created by Greeks driven out of Constantinople en masse in the wake of the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), would push its way through the European Cup Final, becoming the first-ever Greek basketball team to win a European title, by defeating Slavia Praha.
A story close to acclaimed director Tassos Boulmetis’ heart (the director not only draws his descendance from Constantinople, but is also an AEK BC fan and former player), this road to triumph was not only a passion project for him, but also a chance to stretch his filmmaking skills while remaining in a familiar oeuvre: the director made a name for himself by raising the bar for sweet-and-sour period pieces when he recreated the era of the Constantinople persecutions in box-office sensation A Touch of Spice, and once again indulged himself in local socio-political nostalgia with his second feature, Mythopathy [+see also:
Third time is decidedly not a charm in his case, however, as 1968 [+see also:
film profile] comes off as an awkward mix of fact and fiction, with the documentary parts of his docudrama never quite managing to shake off their TV aesthetics, and his fictionalised period pieces lack the requisite narrative focus and clarity that would raise them any higher than bland re-enactments verging on banality. Hastily shot and edited in order for its release to coincide with the 50th anniversary of AEK BC’s great triumph, the film suffers not only from the effects of its restrictively low budget, but also from the director’s uncertain steps within an extremely unforgiving form of storytelling.
Stubbornly focusing on the specific game, Boulmetis not only leaves great chunks of the country’s political woes of the time out of the picture, but also deprives his narrative arc of the structural balance that would have been achievable had he decided upon a specific focal point for his story. Failing to decide whether it’s fact or fiction that will push the film’s drama forward, 1968 lacks the emotional impact necessary for the film to break through special-interest viewership, its chances of reaching a larger audience relying solely on the director’s previous track record.
Nevertheless, the film’s historical context is certain to help 1968 not only secure a spot in the hearts of AEK BC aficionados, but also find limited travel in neighbouring countries like Italy and the Czech Republic, which were directly involved in the story of how a small sports club in a troubled country managed to keep its figurative chin up and achieve the unimaginable.
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