The 10 Greek Films That You Must See! (Part 1)
A Few Words Before We Start off...
I am sure of it; You are wondering who are these people in the image above. It is not time to figure this out but it is time to explore their works.
I have to make it clear that they are going to be presented by the year of release.
The Nazis Strike Back (1948)
The Nazis Strike Back (original title: Oi Germanoi Ksanarhontai) released in a difficult era of modern Greece. After the WWII a Civil War broke out. The poor and dilapidated country faced another war. This time the war was fought in Greece from 1946 to 1949 between the Greek government army (backed by the United Kingdom and the United States), and the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE, the military branch of the Greek Communist Party), backed by Yugoslavia and Albania as well as by Bulgaria).
The ravenous and bleeding Greek people were craving for peace and fraternity. They were tired of fighting. They were tired of being afraid. They were too tired of death. This film tells a story about these people. About the folksy people who have never done anything but still they have suffered the most. Not only in Greece; everywhere...
The protagonist of the film represents those people. His name is Thodoros and he's really tired of what I mentioned before. He sees his countrymen fight each other instead of trying to heal their wounds from the WWII. He warned them: "We are so ungrateful. We forgot about Axis occupation and now we fight each other. We forgot about the starving and we now even refuse to eat something because we don't like it. One day we'll be punished!" And some other quotes of his were said but they didn't listen... He lives in a yard (this is how the Greeks call the old Greek houses. These houses used to have some houses around a yard which was shared for all of the owners). This yard was a miniature of the society: There was a leftist, a royalist, an educated man (there was a big problem with illiteracy back then) and their women.
So one day, when they were pitching into each other, Thodoros got tired about that and went to relax on his chair. There, he takes a nap and dreams of what he was afraid of! The Nazis Strike Back! So the film is about what he lived in his dreams... That interesting plot was quite unique back then. The Greek films were about drama, comedy or romantic genre. This comedy-drama satire film released in the middle of the Civil War and its topics are bold and daring!
- Directed by Alekos Sakellarios.
- Produced by Finos Film.
- Written by Alekos Sakellarios and Christos Giannakopoulos.
- Starring: Vassilis Logothetidis, Dinos Dimopoulos, Lavrentis Dianelos, Mimis Fotopoulos and Christos Tsaganeas.
(Every name means nothing to you but in Greece they are considered among the best)
In some point of Thodoros' dream, his friends and he found shelter in a madhouse. There Thodoros meets a crazy man, who finally says what the film is trying to tell us from the begging: "Men, men! Why all this hatred! We all are humans after all!
The Counterfeit Coin (1955)
The Counterfeit Coin (original title: Istoria mias Kalpikis Liras) released in 1955. It's directed and written by Yiorgos Tzavellas who was one of the greatest Greek directors. His filmography includes some of the finest Greek films ever made! It's quite possible that The Counterfeit Coin is his best film! French historian of cinema, Georges Sadoul, listed this film among the Best 1000 Films of All Time.
This is the first Greek anthology film. Because of that the genre isn't specific. The plot is separated into four stories which are quite different from each other. They have only one common thing; one counterfeit coin! Narrator of the film provides us with some information, He says: "The story which is about to be told concerns a counterfeit coin. Let's say I am not that smart and this coin is in my possession now. It's time to tell how it came to me. The story will get sometimes funny and romantic but it will get quite dramatic, as well". So the plot is actually his narration and how the coin came to him. (And believe you me, the following stories are deeply humanistic, touching and in some point quite amusing)
The first story is about how the coin was made. In the first story our protagonist, who earns a modest living by engraving, got convinced to counterfeit a coin by an evil man who told him that he's an artist and they are about to make lot of money by counterfeiting. In the beginning he is unwilling to do it but the mistress of the evil man flirts with him and he finally did it. Of course in the end he loses everything except his will to restore his moral sense.
The second story is about a crook, who pretends that he's blind, and a prostitute. The crook man had his own spot to beg money from the pedestrians. At this spot, one day, a prostitute came to find her customers. So from then on they hate each other because no one could work. Later the crook man says to the prostitute that he's got a golden coin and if she sleeps with him he will give it to her. She says yes but the next morning he couldn't find the coin. He had lost it. Then he told the truth about the fake coin and they started fighting again.
The third story is maybe the most dramatic and touching of the film. There is a little girl whose father dies out of the blue and her mother and she are very poor. They are tenants of a house whose owner seems to be heartless and mean. When the little girl found the coin, she tried to exchange it but no one could accept a counterfeit coin. So the owner accepted to exchange this coin knowing it's fake. Maybe the owner wasn't that mean but we see this story through the eyes of the little girl.
The fourth story is the only which is connected with a previous story. The owner of the the little girl's home is the uncle of a young poor artist. The young artist has a relationship with a girl whose father is well-off. However she prefers to stay with her beloved than staying with her father. The young couple won the vasilopita's coin (it's a Greek custom) in the uncle's home. I don't have to mention that this coin is the counterfeit one. This coin was put in a moneybox by the uncle.
I don't want to keep telling the story. You'll be spoiled and I don't want this. In short this film narrates a story about how money can affect human's relationships. And it's doing it with a unique way. Through this film you are going to watch the Greek society and tradition as it was back then. It could be named as an essay of Greek people's personality. In the end, I think, it represents the whole human nature.
It's a strongly must-see film! The narrator in his epilogue says: "It's not only this coin counterfeited, in general money is fake and counterfeit" And I think this is the moral of the story!
- Directed by Yiorgos Tzavellas
- Produced by Anzervos
- Written by Yiorgos Tzavellas
- Starring: Vassilis Logothetidis, Ilia Livikou, Dimitris Horn, Elli Lampeti, Mimis Fotopoulos and Orestis Markis.
(I have to mention that was the elite of Greek theater and cinema back then)
The Ogre of Athens (1956)
The Ogre of Athens (original title: O Drakos) released in 1956. It's directed by Nikos Koundouros (who recently died). He is considered one of the best Greek film directors and this film was his breakthrough. The film is pioneer for the Greek Cinema because its genres: Crime-drama with thriller's elements. Naturally the budget was quite low but still Koundouros and his crew made one of the best Greek films. Pan-Hellenic Union of Cinema Critics included it among the 10 all-time best Greek films.
The suited music was written by Manos Hadjidakis who had won an Oscar for Best Original Song (Ta paidia tou Peiraia). The plot is about a notorious villain who's missing and his doppelganger who's a low-profile and loner public worker. This loneliness of his, this lack of any kind of power of his, led him to pretend that's the villain. The mobsters showed respect to him and he finally had power and influence. But nothing lasts forever.
The starring actor is a classic Greek comedian but still he performed very deeply well. The fine scenario, the bold and daring direction of the new director makes the film so unique. The director is clearly inspired by Italian neorealism and Film noir.
- Directed by Nikos Koundouros
- Produced by Athens Film Company
- Written by Iakovos Kambanellis
- Starring: Dinos Iliopoulos, Giannis Argyris, Thanassis Vengos and Margarita Papagergiou
Totally worth watchin'!
Never on Sunday (1960)
Never on Sunday (original title: Pote tin Kyriaki) released in 1960. It’s probably the most well-known Greek film. It’s directed by Jules Dassin. And it’s one of many films of his that his wife Melina Merkouri had starred. It’s a romantic-comedy film but it didn’t trap into the genre’s labels.
The plot is very simple; an American tourist got charmed by a Greek prostitute. I believe the character of Merkouri represents the whole Greek nation. This is Greeks; cheerful, all the time ready to have fun and celebrate, honest, easy going, vivid and hard workers. Don’t be fooled of her profession. This prostitute isn’t like others. She lives near to harbor. The workers are in love with her and respect her as a woman and as human. This relationship is quite interesting. On the other hand, the American tourist represents the whole American nation; polite, gentle, well-educated and ready to act like a Greek! This is not me telling that. This is the way the director sees it.
The recipe of the script is simple. The narrating of the script is perfect. And, really, Melina Merkouri is at her best! If you don’t want to see the movie then you must listen to the song which won the Best Original Song Award in Academy Award! The scene with Merkouri singing it it’s just enjoyable! Let her lead you for a moment in Greece! Must be mentioned thou that the song and the score of the film was written by Manos Hadjidakis. He was one of the best Greek musicians!
- Directed by Jules Dassin
- Written by Jules Dassin
- Starring: Melina Merkouri, Jules Dassin, Yiorgos Fountas, Despo Diamantidou and Titos Vandis
(Listen to the song! As soon as possible!)
Zorba the Greek (1964)
Zorba the Greek released in 1964. It's actually a Greek-British film, but I could not skip it! Modern Greece is known for its Crisis, souvlaki, mousaka and Zorba’s dance! So, how could I skip it, right? The music was written by the legendary Greek musician Mikis Theodorakis. The film is directed, produced and written by Michael Cacoyannis. The scenario is based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ Alexis Zorbas novel.
If you had read the Kazantzakis’ novel, you would have seen in Anthony Quinn’s role the real Alexis Zorbas. The plot couldn’t be bad since it’s based on Kazantzakis’ novel. But we have to mention that Cacoyannis made an excellent job! Every each character was thoroughly written. Nothing is random in this film.
- Directed by Michael Cacoyannis
- Produced by Michael Cacoyannis
- Written by Michael Cacoyannis
- Starring: Anthony Quinn, Alan Bates Irene Papa, Lila Kedrova, Sotiris Moustakas and Anna Kyriakou
It was nominated (seven categories) in Academy Awards. It finally won three of them. It’s an unforgettable journey to humanity… to Greece! Do not miss it.
And the Wife Shall Revere Her Husband (1965)
And the Wife Shall Revere Her Husband (original title: I de gyni na fovite ton andra) released in 1965. It’s directed and written by Yiorgos Tzavellas. This film could be labeled as feminist. But some events don’t let it be as a totally feminist film. Its dramatic scenes are always (almost) covered by comedic quotes or events. The director walks that thin line between comedy and drama. Of course many directors have done this. But there aren’t many that did it so much perfect.
Film’s topics are social and how society sees an unmarried woman who lives in her boyfriend’s home. The same society seems no interesting or aversion for the boyfriend. But… for the woman does seem! The couple has been together for seven years. The woman is a typical kind of woman who never refuses to anything. On the other the man is a typical stereo-type man. A stallion! He might be better than this, but who doesn’t want to be treated as a King? Back then women were not independent. Only the men could work and provide goods. So, like many women, our female hero was trapped into this. She loves him and so does he! When they got married the things changed. She stopped obeying. She stopped being the typical woman… Of course he couldn’t stand this behaving and he left her. And his friends left him.
This film focuses on the woman’s issues which are not eliminated yet (not only in Greece but everywhere the women are treated like subjects. Fortunately this problem no longer exists in Greece or in some other societies!) Also the director wanted to mention the reconstruction’s problem which was taking place in Athens back then. Nowadays the center of the capital of Athens is covered by cement… We see how it’s troubling that issue the film’s director.
- Directed by Yiorgos Tzavellas
- Produced by Damaskinos – Mihailidis
- Written by Yiorgos Tzavellas
- Starring: Maro Kontou, Giorgos Konstantinou.
The film won a prize in for its direction in 1st International Film Festival in Chicago. It’s a really worth watching!
What Did You Do in the War, Thanasi? (1971)
What Did You Do In the War, Thanasi? (original title: Ti ekanes ston polemo, Thanasi?) released in 1971. In the time The Regime of Colonels or The Junta was ruled the country. It was a dictator regime. This film released in this era. And it was an anti-Junta work. The film is set in WWII between 1941 and 1944. At this time was a period of mass starvation for Greece.
Our hero is a low-profile factory worker. He doesn’t try to rebel or something else against the invaders. He only tries to be a good worker and provide his home little bit of food. He lives with his sister who’s not acting like him. She wants freedom. She wants to Axis away! Our hero wants that too but he’s so afraid.
What it makes it unique is its protagonist. The actor Thanasis Vengos was a slapstick comedian. This film is deeply dramatic. But as for me, this is his best role! This films is an anti-war one! As simple as that!
The scenery is dark and suffocating. You could feel the mass starvation of the Greek people and their suffering. The only thing you have to do is let yourself…
- Directed by Dinos Katsouridis
- Produced by Dinos Katsouridis
- Written by Dinos Katsouridis and Asimakis Yialamas
- Starring: Thanasis Vengos, Katerina Gogou, Efi Roditi and Antonis Papadopoulos.
The Man with the Carnation (1980)
The Man with the Carnation (original title: O anthropos me to garyfallo) released in 1980. This era of Greece is called as Metapolitefsi. This film has clearly political topics. It’s actually a thriller-political film. It refers to events which were taking place in 1952 when the communist Nikos Beloyannis executed by the government. The main topic of the film is that the communists were being killed back then were executed not because of their actions but because of their belief.
The actors were all members of the leftist parties or just supporters and friends. Rather its style, which is a little of propaganda, the film stays in the real events and says or does things were actually happened. It was quite difficult.
- Directed by Nikos Tzimas
- Produced by Arma Films
- Written by Nikos Tzimas
- Starring: Foivos Gkikopoulos, Mirka Papakonstantinou, Petros Fyssoun, Alekos Alexandrakis, Kostas Kazakos, Manos Katrakis and Antonis Antoniou.
This is the first political film in my list. But I couldn’t skip it. Politic and Greece is deeply connected. At least it’s worth learning about Nikos Beloyannis. Two scenes could make you cry… the one which he is about to be executed and the other one is when he is in court. Beloyannis’ speech is a song about humanity and democracy!
(A little trivia: Foivos Gkikopoulos who's potreying Nikos Beloyannis isn't actually an actor. He is a mathematician. And this is his first and the last film. Tzimas wanted him so bad because he looked like Nikos Beloyannis)
Loafing and Camouflage (1984)
Loafing and Camouflage (original title: Loufa kai Parallagi) released in 1984.This is a cult comedy in Greece now. Its story takes place in the Junta and between comedic and dramatic events of private’s soldier life are born a majestic satire of the regime.
It’s a simple film to watch. There is nothing to worry or think while watching it. The film also is followed by 2 sequels which I wouldn’t suggest. It has the basic characteristics of a satire; funny and clever roles and smart dialogues. Maybe the story won’t be your favorite but it’s a comedy. Just enjoy it.
- Directed by Nikos Perakis
- Produced by Nikos Perakis
- Written by Nikos Perakis
- Starring: Nikos Kalogeropoulos and Giorgos Kimoulis
Dogtooth (original title: Kynodontas) released in 2009. It’s directed by the promising director Yiorgos Lanthimos. It’s the film which renewed and refreshed the interest of discussing about Greek cinema once again. Its sick and weird plot made that.
A perfunctory discussion would ruin the meaning of the film. The plot is about a family whose the parents don’t want them to meet the outside world. So they are prisoners in their home. What the children know is what the parents have told them. They have never been outside. They could go outside when their dogteeth is lost.
The film is surrealistic and weird from the beginning to the end. I think this is how the director sees humanity. The children of the family are us. I believe a plot like this is quite clever and interesting. Worth watching!
The film won many international awards. Among them it was nominated for Oscar in category for Best Foreign Language Film. I don’t know if it’s the best Greek film of 00s. It is for sure the Greek film you should had already seen! If you are into arthouse films then just see it! If you like it you should watch the complete Lanthimos’ filmography . It’s a new interesting and weird world.
- Directed by Yiorgos Lanthimos
- Written by Efthimis Filippou
- Starring: Christos Stergioglou, Michelle Valley, Angeliki Papoulia, Mary Tsoni and Christos Passalis
(Mary Tsoni died on 8 May 2017 at the age of 30. R.I.P. Mary. My condolences to her family...)
This Is It!
I might be back with a new 10 Greek Films list soon. At this point I have to make something clear: I didn't choose any Theo Angelopoulos' film in perpose. He deserves a whole list not only a place on it. He was one of the best European directors!
Please, let me know if you watch (or you already watched) any of them. I will be happy to discuss your experience.