Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Caravan Serai in Luxembourg

As a complete paradox, I watched for the first time in my life (and most probably the last, as well) the Greek film Caravan Serai in the only art-house cinema in Luxembourg, Ciné Utopia. I call it a paradox, as it is the utterly greek film, featuring the situation in the country during and towards the end of the civil war (that would be around 1949), depicting local characters dipped in a strong mid-of-the-century misery and grief and with a nostalgic soundtrack.

The film has quite a reputation back in Greece, even though it did not, in the end, fulfill my -- admittedly high-- expectations. Shot in 1986, when I was still very little, based on a book by Lazaros Pavlidis and shown also in a mini-series version in national TV, to which it owes its reputation, the film has an all-star cast(sic), that is, if we have or ever had stars in Greece. We see Thymios Karakatsanis as an original villager, Dimitra Hatoupi acting quite decently her character of the naive girl who becomes a sceptical modern woman in no time at all, Vassilis Kolovos trying to awaken unfortunate minds, Mirka Kalatzopoulou who most probably thought she was playing in a Greek tragedy, but was the scandalous widow instead and Tasos Palatzidis in a performance that shows some true acting skill, indeed.

The story is a sad epic of a villager who flees his village when guerillas are approaching, under state orders, and ends up in a squat in Thessaloniki that hosts numerous families and is called Caravan Serai, a title that in turkish would mean something like "palace for travellers". The images are realistic, and even have some neorealist qualities, but are usually deviating from that norm, as they tend to exaggerate. Irony is used widely regarding the views on guerillas and the so called "american help", the Marshall plan and the like, as well as religion. The author is the main source, I reckon, of the witty satire of it all: everyone is trying to save the collapsing country, ergo to support the population that originates from villages and is flooding the cities or the rest of them that ended up in Greece as a result of the TR--GR swaping that took place earlier in that period: christian communities, dedicated police-officers, Americans, town scoundrels, communist saviors; it's a laughable sight to look at.

Laughable, but at a second thought, a sad and disturbing sight when put into context. Was that our country some fifty years ago? More or less, if I take the authors' text for real. Poor, uneducated, prey to foreign kings and greedy allies. Did the country change that much? That question and its ominous resonance in my mind, is the reason why I disliked the movie the most, after all. It looked so bloody familiar, that it scared me to death. The lenght of it is most unwelcoming, too, as well as the quality of the screening copy and the english subtitles. Nevertheless, it still justified its place in the list of must-see films, not only for natives, but for historians and maybe also everyone who has a mere interest in Balkan history.

Info: Caravan Serai was only one in the big selection of Greek films that the mutlicultural luxemburgish audience has a chance to explore, offered by the Greek Cinema Club or the
Ciné-Club Hellénique once per month, except July and August. Film talent is occasionally invited for a Q & A by the commitee of the Club, which is a non-profit organisation as Ms Maragoudaki told us, and is in favour of films that were backed up by Greek Film Center when produced.

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