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July 14, 2020

Greek Cinema

Yet again, Greece has marked another era of time, in the art of cinema.

The Cinema of Greece has a long and rich history. Though hampered at times by war or political instability, the Greek film industry dominates the domestic market and has experienced international success. Characteristics of Greek cinema include a dynamic plot, strong character development and erotic themes. Two Greek films, Missing (1982) and Eternity and a Day (1998), have won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Five Greek films have received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Though Greek cinema took root in the early 1900s, the first mature films weren't produced until the 1920s, after the end of the Greco-Turkish War. Films during this period, such as Astero (1929) by Dimitris Gaziadis and Maria Pentagiotissa (1929) by Ahilleas Madras, consisted of emotional melodramas with an abundance of folkloristic elements. Orestis Laskos's Daphnis and Chloe (1931), one of the first Greek films to be shown abroad, contained the first voyeuristic nude scene in a European film.

During the Axis occupation, the Greek film industry struggled as it was forced to relocate overseas. Following the Greek Civil War, Greek cinema experienced a revival. Inspired by Italian neorealism, directors such as Grigoris Grigoriou and Stelios Tatasopoulos created works during this period shot on location using non-professional actors. During the 1950s and 1960s, Greek cinema experienced a golden age, starting with Michael Cacoyannis's Stella (1955), which was screened at Cannes. The 1960 film Never on Sunday was nominated for five Academy Awards, and its lead actress, Melina Mercouri, won the Best Actress Award at Cannes. Cacoyannis's Zorba the Greek (1964) won three Academy Awards. Other films released in this era, such as The Counterfeit Coin and The Ogre of Athens are nowadays considered some of the greatest works of Greek cinema. Censorship policies of the 1967 junta and rising foreign competition led to a decline in Greek cinema. After the restoration of democracy in the mid-1970s, the Greek film industry again flourished, led by director Theo Angelopoulos, whose films captured international recognition, making him probably the most acclaimed Greek director to date. Other acclaimed directors of this era include Nikos Nikolaidis, as well as Pantelis Voulgaris and Alexis Damianos, the director of the landmark film Evdokia. However, this drift toward art-house cinema in the 1980s led to a decline in audiences. In the 1990s, younger Greek filmmakers began experimenting with iconographic motifs. In spite of, or because of, funding issues created by the financial crisis in the late 2000s, unique Greek films such as Yorgos Lanthimos's Dogtooth (2009), Panos H. Koutras' Strella (2009) and Athina Rachel Tsangari's Attenberg (2010) received international acclaim, constituting what has been called the "Greek Weird Wave". In the spring of 1897, the Greeks of Athens watched the first cinematic ventures (short movies in "journal"). In 1906 Greek Cinema was born when the Manakis brothers started recording in Macedonia, and the French filmmaker "Leons" produced the first "Newscast" from the midi-Olympic games of Athens (the unofficial Olympic games of 1906). The first cine-theater of Athens opened about a year later and other special 'projection rooms' begun their activity. In 1910-11 the first short comic movies were produced by director Spiros Dimitrakopoulos (Spyridion), who also starred in most of his movies. In 1911 Kostas Bachatoris presented Golfo (Γκόλφω), a well known traditional love story, considered the first Greek feature film. In 1912 was founded the first film company (Athina Film) and in 1916 the Asty Film.

The 1950s and 1960s are considered by many to be the "Golden Age" of Greek cinema. Directors and actors of this era were recognized as important historical figures in Greece and some gained international acclaim: Mihalis Kakogiannis, Alekos Sakellarios, Melina Mercouri, Nikos Tsiforos, Iakovos Kambanelis, Katina Paxinou, Nikos Koundouros, Ellie Lambeti, and Irene Papas. More than sixty films per year were made, with the majority having film noir elements. Notable films were The Counterfeit Coin (Η κάλπικη λίρα, 1955 directed by George Tzavellas), Bitter Bread (Πικρό Ψωμί, 1951, directed by Grigoris Grigoriou), and The Ogre of Athens (Δράκος, 1956, directed by Nikos Koundouros).Finos Film and director Alekos Sakellarios collaborated on several films in the late 1950s, namely The Hurdy-Gurdy (Φτώχεια και Φιλότιμο, 1955) and its sequel, Laterna, ftoheia kai garyfallo (Λατέρνα, 1958), as well as Aunt from Chicago (Η Θεία από το Σικάγο, 1957) and Maiden's Cheek (Το ξύλο βγήκε από τον Παράδεισο, 1959).


The 1955 film Stella, directed by Michael Cacoyannis and written by Iakovos Kambanelis, was screened at Cannes, and launched Greek cinema into its "golden age." Melina Mercouri, who starred in the film, met American expatriate director Jules Dassin at Cannes while attending the screening, and the two would eventually marry. Dassin directed the 1960 Greek film, Never on Sunday, which starred Mercouri. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Actress for Mercouri, and won the Academy Award for Best Song for composer Manos Hatzidakis' title track. The couple also collaborated on the 1967 musical stage adaptation, Illya Darling, for which Mercouri received a Tony Award nomination. She went on to star in such films as Topkapi and Phaedra, both directed by Dassin, and the 1969 American comedy, Gaily, Gaily.

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