In limbo, radically – Syllas Tzoumerkas for Czas Kultury / Filmicon and Andrzej Marzec [PL & EN]

Syllas Tzoumerkas’ second film is literally having A Blast in its trajectory in the international festival circuit: Since March 2015, when it opened in a number of theaters in the Netherlands, the film found distribution in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, and on September 19, 2015 it premiered in Denmark – opening the way for the raving journey of the main character, Maria (Angeliki Papoulia), beyond the borders of the country, beyond the stereotypes in the representation of a young, Greek, female subject ‘in crisis’. The director discussed his method, his references and profound thoughts on filmmaking with Andrzej Marzec, running the distance between the metaphorical and the literal, between individual and collective truths and illusions.

Andrzej Marzec: In my opinion, it is your movie Hora Proelefsis/Homeland (2010), together with Yorgos Lanthimos’ Kynodontas/Dogtooth (2009) that gave rise to a dynamic shift in the history of Greek cinema, and evoked interest in family as a filmic subject. While Lanthimos paints a hermetic, abstract, enigmatic image of an ordinary breadwinner (composing a bizzare parable of family), you create some sort of socially engaged cinema – from the very beginning you are interested in the turbulent changes in the social fabric and civil disobedience. Why did you decide to embark on this cinematographic path?

Syllas Tzoumerkas: Homeland is a film born by rage; rage against both family and country. This is the film’s driving force, in terms of theme and core sentiment. The turbulences you mention in the social fabric, as well as the civil and personal disobedience, are major fields of investigation in the film – I mean the nature of these notions, the ideas that fuel them, the specific actions by which they are expressed. In terms of style (in other words, the way in which the film creates a body of meaning) it’s not a film that works with abstraction, but one that works through accumulation. What I wanted to do in it was to shed light on the behavioral patterns of patronizing and the secretive lies that led to the pitiless generation fights inside the lower-middle-class families – and consequently in the country’s modern political history. A key point for me in the way the film’s narration is built, is the following: I don’t like placing the core parable in a test tube, but I prefer to set it in what we call the very ‘reality’ of things, to the extent of using family photos or TV footage, or throwing the actors into real public events as they occur. To me, there lies hidden an important level of understanding: how are these patterns, or the parable, visually born, how do they fit in, and how do the twist and alter our idea of the reality of historical events. It’s like creating a kaleidoscope, where the existential situations, the psychology, story and history co-exist simultaneously, either in harmony or engaging in endless clashes and contrasts. Overall, Homeland is my version or – to be more accurate in what concerns my intentions – my kick on the corpse of the film (and literature) genre we call ‘family saga in a tormented era.’

AM: You were the first among the contemporary Greek directors to relate in such a determined, bold manner the conflicts within the family with the crisis in society itself. Where does this “family equals society” correlation come from? Is it perhaps an exclusively Greek phenomenon? Can we imagine the society in categories other than blood relationships or kinship?

ST: Growing up in the 80s and 90s in Greece, you could see the strength of the blood relations, the way large families were affiliated to political parties, how a certain lower-middle-class mentality of dreaming of becoming a nouveau-riche ruled the country;[evident] both in individuals, but also the major political groups. This is the audience these parties were addressing to, flattering all their weaknesses and prejudices, and at the same time, always keeping them in their mothering and suffocating embrace. So, this was, and still is, the field of the social crisis, this unbreakable family-society tie. The idea is not new: you can find it all around in theatre and literature, from the ancient Greek tragedies to Dostoyevski’s The Devils and Chekhov. Personally, I despise this notion of blood and the special kind of de facto connection it implies, this ‘we have the same blood, we have the same disease’ kind of connection. And the main reason I despise it and it even scares me, is that it immediately turns grown-up men and women into scared little boys and girls, with all the dreadful psychological characteristics of this dependent age. So, I pictured Homeland like a story drawn from the poem “Mauvais Sang” (Une Saison en Enfer) As Rimbaud says in the poem of the same title and also as a reference to the Blast’s first scene: “Not a family in Europe I don’t know. I mean families like mine, who owe it all to the declaration of the Rights of Man. – I’ve known every good son of good family!”

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Jako pierwszy z greckich reżyserów w zdecydowany sposób wiążesz ze sobą kryzys społeczny i konflikty w obrębie rodziny. Skąd bierze się utożsamienie rodzina=społeczeństwo, czy jest to specyficznie greckie myślenie? Czy można myśleć o społeczeństwie w innych kategoriach niż pokrewieństwo, więzy krwi?

Jeśli dorastało się w Grecji lat 80. i 90., to widziało się siłę więzi rodzinnych, na przykład wówczas, gdy duże rodziny wstępowały do partii politycznych. Jednocześnie niższa klasa średnia o pewnej mentalności, aspirująca do awansu społecznego, kierowała naszym krajem – zarówno jednostkami, jak i czołowymi grupami politycznymi. Rodzina to publika, do której zwracają się partie, schlebiając ich słabościom i uprzedzeniom, a jednocześnie zawsze trzymając ich w duszącym, matkującym uścisku. Nienaruszalna więź rodzinno-społeczna stanowiła i stanowi nadal obszar kryzysu społecznego. To nie jest nowy temat: można go odnaleźć w każdym teatrze i literaturze, od starożytnych greckich tragedii do „Biesów” Dostojewskiego czy Czechowa. Osobiście pogardzam „krwią” i specyficznym rodzajem związku, jaki ona narzuca – tego uwikłania „mamy jedną krew, mamy jedną chorobę”. A głównym powodem, dla którego gardzę nią, co mnie nawet przeraża, jest to, że natychmiast zmienia dorosłych mężczyzn i kobiety w wystraszonych chłopców i dziewczynki ze wszystkimi przerażającymi symptomami psychologicznymi tej epoki uległości.

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