The art of acting has long been a part of Greece, dating back to the ancient Greek dramas. During the glory days of the Acropolis and the famed Herodes Atticus theatre, drama became a formalized and major part of Athenian culture and civic pride. But even with modern day odes to this era by directors like Woody Allen, long gone are the days of Mighty Aphrodite.
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is holding on to this legacy, offering an independent identity to the seemingly non-existent Greek dramas of today. Beginning his international fame with a curious feature film, Dogtooth, he managed to garner the attention of the Academy Awards. Lanthimos premiered his follow-up feature film, Alps, at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, taking home an award for Best Screenplay alongside co-screenwriter Efthimis Philippou.
Lanthimos has become recognized for his dark and bizarre storytelling. Alps, follows an underground group who offer their services to replace a loved one after they have passed away. These ‘specialists’ take on mannerisms of the deceased, wearing their clothes to bridge the gap of closure. The name of the group, Alps, is derived from the idea that no geographic formation could possibly replace the Alps, whereas the Alps could stand in for any other mountain range in the world.
“It’s hard to say where the idea of the film came from. We were toying with the idea of contacting the dead through letters and it developed into a plot about how people deal with grief,” explains the director.
Still, applause never produced a film. Even with the indie success of Dogtooth, the slide in the Greek economy this year made Alps more difficult to make. Lanthanum cut corners where he could avoid sacrificing the aesthetic and brilliant one-dimensional characters he has been celebrated for.
“I’ve made two films this way. I thought that the success of Dogtooth would make it easier for me to make a film, but it has proved to be the exact opposite,” he lamented after the Venice Film Festival. “Because of the financial situation in Greece, the little money we had for Dogtooth, we are no money at all this time. So we just had to make a very difficult choice to go ahead and make it in Greece with very little money from France, and our own money, and again with people working for free.”
The director gives credit to his producer Athina Rachel Tsangar who adopted a Field of Dreams ‘build it and they will come’ concept. “I was telling her, ‘Are you crazy? We don’t have the money.’ And she said, ‘Don’t worry, it’s going to happen, we are going to do it. Of course we will have to make compromises, but if we make the film, money will come,” he explains.
During the production money gradually rolled in to see film through to completion.
“I think if we were waiting for money it would never have arrived,” says the director. “Now the Greek Film Centre kind of is working again. So we will get some support from them, but you know it is afterwards. After the film is in Venice, in Toronto, and the BFI, whatever.” The ‘whatever’ does include a U.S. release in the spring of 2012.
The film stars Aggeliki Papoulia as a nurse and Alps member who uses the idea of substitution to fill her own vacant life, as well as those suffering a loss. Papoulia who began working with the Greek virtuoso in Dogtooth, says the director has helped her out of a struggling theatre career in Greece.
“We don’t make any money still, despite the success of the film. And with this film it was harder,” explains the actress who was also credited as a co-producer for Alps, scouting three locations for the film.
Papoulia attended the Oscars earlier this year with Lanthimos for Dogtooth. “They gave us dresses to wear, but we had to give them back, one dress is like the cost of our whole production,” the actress jests.
So what’s the next step for the international heroes of Greek cinema? Well, for both director and actress, the grass is most definitely greener on the other side. For Lanthimos, that’s Los Angeles.
“After everything is done with Alps, I am looking to work on a film in the U.S., something international that I can use my own style to make,” says the director who recently got an agent in California and has been looking at scripts with producers for his next project. “I am open to the idea of making completely different films. I’ve been looking in England too, where things are more towards the creative side.”
For Papoulia, life is a little more uncertain, but she plans to leave Greece and move to New York when the buzz from Alps subsides. Agent uncertain, the actress isn’t shy to say she may join the league of actors and actresses searching for work in the Big Apple. “Greece is so small and there is no money, I want to go to the U.S.. Who knows, maybe I’ll have to waitress, we’ll see what happens.”