The following interview with Konstantinos Antonopoulos was initially taken at Syros International Film Festival, on September 6, 2020, with a follow-up via FaceTime once I got back to Berlin, on September 16.
There was literally so much to talk about. The short film Konstantinos showed at SIFF, Postcards from the End of the World, is so beautifully shot and rich with meaning that you can easily go off at a tangent while discussing it. And I obviously had to ask him about the festival itself, about its splendid backdrop – I’ve never seen sunsets as seductive or the moon to shine so bright over a huge expanse of water… Konstantinos must have been as sensitive to the beauty of the island since the starry sky of Syros found its way into his film and felt as alive and palpable as I experienced it in real life. There’s also a highly sought-after sea view in the film that is “ranked 4.5 on Trip Advisor”, the ironic omniscient narrator informs us. The beauty of nature isn’t the main theme of the film however, only its setting…
But first things first…
Dana: You strike me as an exciting new voice in contemporary Greek cinema but I can also see an affinity (both tonal and thematic) with established Greek filmmakers such as Yorgos Lanthimos, Athina Rachel Tsangari. A new weird wave of Greek cinema perhaps? A more optimistic one, dare I say. I’m thinking here of the optimistic ending of your short film, Postcards…
Konstantinos: I think it’s impossible to be a Greek filmmaker today and to not be influenced by Yorgos Lanthimos. He’s one of the most interesting filmmakers in the world and I think he created a school of followers in Greece, with all the good and the bad that comes with it. And I feel that both Yorgos and Athina Tsangari come out of a longer tradition that toys with this mixture of existential tragedy and a playful, humorous tone. This actually existed in Greek cinema, I refer to them as the 3 Ps: Nikos Panayotopoulos , Giorgos Panousopoulos and Nikos Papatakis, a Greek filmmaker who lived in Paris for many years and was the lover of the singer of Velvet Underground whose stage name, Nico, was in reference to him…
So the new Greek wave, the weird wave, has a lot of tradition behind it. These filmmakers peppered their films with humour, absurdity and playfulness, the mix of tragedy and absurdity. But the films of those filmmakers didn’t travel internationally as much as the films of Theo Angelopoulos for instance, with his long takes, so they aren’t so well known to the international audience.
I definitely feel part of this tradition in the sense that I draw some joy in treating stories in a similar manner. It’s a defence mechanism that helps to deal with the uncertainty of the present. Living in Greece means living with the fear that everything might collapse the following day, we face a lot of disappointment, disillusionment and I think that humour is a defence mechanism to deal with this everyday tragedy.
Dana: I know it’s not your first time on the island, you’ve been a regular at SIFF since its inception 8 years ago. What do you appreciate the most about the festival?
Konstantinos: I first went to SIFF in their third year. It was already an impressive festival back then. It started with a few American kids who were somehow related to Greece and to the island of Syros, the founders of the festival were all very young. I remember being very impressed with the programming: the choice of movies is always surprising, they have a really good eye for experimental films that are relatable and interesting, narrative films that are rare and touch on aspects you haven’t seen before, that treat filmmaking and storytelling in surprising ways. The festival is also very good at creating thematics and incorporating the island in setting up the festival. They will screen crazy movies in crazy locations that are also very beautiful and unexpected. I remember many screenings where they used super 16 stock or even super 8 in weird locations, on the beach or on a hill. They even created a drive-in cinema for the festival, something we don’t have in Greece, I definitely never experienced one before. And the music: every year they will have a concert or an audio-visual performance that is cutting-edge experimental or very interesting. So overall I’m very fond of this festival.
Dana: What have you screened at the festival previously?
Konstantinos: Nothing, I was there to teach a film-making workshop to teenagers and I was very impressed with how talented they are…
Dana: Having seen your short now, I bet you could have taught them how to shoot the perfect short film…
Dana: You shot Postcards on Syros of all the 200 plus islands in Greece. How did that come about?
Konstantinos: The story of this family on vacation called for an island but a deserted, less civilised one, a landscape that makes you feel uncomfortable. And Syros is a very beautiful island so I wasn’t considering Syros as a location at all, I was looking for something more rough. And I found that sort of island but production has a totally different set of parameters and it would have been very difficult to shoot there. So I was at Syros during the festival and realised that actually Syros has this completely wild side, the North of the island is a protected area, it’s very steep and rough and rocky and you can film it as if you’re in the middle of nowhere. Also we found people on the island who were very attuned to art projects and they were willing to help us. So the festival played a role in introducing us to the artistic community on the island that was super friendly.
Dana: Postcards could be interpreted as prophetic given the current COVID 19 situation…
The film was actually inspired by another crisis we had in Greece, the financial crisis in 2015. I was at the festival during the week that saw the climax of this Greek drama of the financial crisis: the referendum was held that week, there was a lot of pressure, the banks closed down, people couldn’t draw out money, there was a lot of uncertainty and rumours that Greece is going to exit the EuroZone. It was really like…
Dana: The end of the world…
Konstantinos: It felt like that a little bit. You don’t know what’s happening, what the next day will bring, everything may collapse or everything may stay the same. And it was weird being on the island at that time: one one hand you could feel the pressure, the negativity, on the other hand everything was so beautiful, the sun was shining, people were swimming in the sea. You felt as if nothing could go wrong. And this paradox, this collection of antithetical elements stirred up something in me and I felt it’s a good way to open a movie. But I shot the film a few years later.
Dana: How do the two crises compare in your eyes, the Greek financial crisis and the global pandemic?
Konstantinos: (laughing) It’s interesting…Both crises are something we have to learn to live with since both are here to stay. It’s important to be aware that things can fall apart at any moment. As I was growing up, everything was getting better and better financially, in every sense but it was a bubble. Things go in circles, or in spirals or in weird shapes and we shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking that things will always go in the same direction.
Dana: About the family at the heart of your film – you managed to capture the chaos of family life beautifully but also show us a glimmer of hope and maybe a way out of the humdrum of marital existence. I also loved the layering of looks in your film. The film opens with the main characters looking at another family that seems the ideal family. But this is contradicted later on and you’re creating a contrast between the two families.
Konstantinos: Hope is a weird word for me but I’ll admit that being just miserable won’t get you anywhere!
As I was working on the script, I realised I was actually writing about my own family, my own parents. I remember going on vacation with them as a child and they were arguing about the most mundane, boring things, practical matters that meant nothing. And I remember thinking: these people should just break up, they clearly didn’t fit together. But sometimes I could also see the love. And today they are happier than ever! So I guess I’m also thinking about couple life, myself, what does it mean to be a couple or in a marriage for a really long time. And I think love works in very peculiar ways and this is what I was investigating a little bit in my movie. Even in the most dysfunctional of relationships, there can be something deeper that ties people together.
Dana: In the second half of your film, this family decides to start anew, to create a new world. Which takes them seven days, like in the Bible…
Konstantinos: Yes, there’s this Biblical reference. But the end is a bit more open-ended than that. There’s the threat that things could easily return to the dysfunctional “normality”. Which is something that I feel could easily happen with our situation now. For instance, during the quarantine, a lot of people in Greece, including myself, were super happy, we found time for ourselves, time to think, to read. Most people discovered something about themselves during the quarantine, or did things they couldn’t do normally. But as soon as the quarantine ends, whatever they discovered could easily disappear.
Dana: Yes, we could slip back into our old ways. Very symbolical in this respect is the sound of the ferry at the end of your film, signalling the return to normal life. The old world is making a comeback and what you built in the meantime may easily vanish.
Dana: Something that amused me about the new world the family is trying to build is that their new goals and resolutions include learning French and also patience. Is patience is one of your favourite virtues?
Konstantinos: (Laughing) Definitely, my favourite virtues are Courage and Patience. Patience is in a way the opposite of courage but it also has a lot in common with it: being so courageous that you will wait.
Dana: The end of the world comes against a backdrop of stunning natural beauty, the calm blue sea and the starry sky above reminding one of Kant’s moral code that the other family in your film struggles with, they embrace an “everyone for themselves” type of philosophy. Could you talk about the antithesis and tension created through these juxtapositions?
Konstantinos: This is a tool I actually want to explore further: working with directly contradicting elements within the same space, frame, scene…This may sound too theoretical but Hegel has this idea of thesis- antithesis – synthesis. And I think something new and more revealing comes out if you show opposite sides of the same thing. If you show a tragedy taking place while on vacation on a very beautiful island, with its almost “postcard” quality, where everything should be perfect, this creates a contradiction and it says something more profound about the drama and comedy of the situation. The combination of the two shows that there’s no comedy without tragedy. And that’s one way to talk about tragedy, to reveal the comedy of it, and vice-versa. This reveals the human experience in a fuller way.
There is something revelatory in contradictions, paradoxes: the beautiful family on the beach, all dressed in white, they are in the end those willing to save themselves at the expense of everyone else…
Dana: There are many twists and turns in your 25 minute narrative, you managed to compress so much story and so much about the characters in such a concise format. Do you intend to develop the idea further into a feature film perhaps?
Konstantinos: I think it’s an idea that can be further developed but somehow I moved on to other things at the moment. There is this idea that short films should not be compressed feature films and I agree with that. But I do feel that Postcards is toying a bit with a bigger format. That’s why I used tools that filmmakers don’t use that often, like voice-over narration and playing a little bit with reality, in order to be able to narrate a longer story in a shorter form.
Dana: Last but not least, who are your actors playing the main couple in the film?
Konstantinos: The main actors are Giorgos Gallos and Angeliki Dimitrakopoulo. Giorgos comes from a theatre tradition and he’s been doing a lot of TV recently.
The reason I chose them is two-fold: 1) they are both parents, they both have two kids and experienced all the tribulations and trials of being a parent; and 2) in their real life they are the opposite of the characters they are playing and this supported my desire to work with contradictions. Giorgos plays a shy man in the film who doesn’t take a lot of initiatives but wants to show he is the man of the family, that he runs the family. In reality he’s the opposite of that and I thought it would create an interesting tension if he were trapped in this role. The same holds true for Angeliki who’s also very dynamic in her life, she’s like a teenager in a way. And in this movie she had to be more of a mum, more of a wife. She was stuck in a role that was not herself and I was hoping to see the tension of that.
Dana: Your next project?
Konstantinos: I’m working a feature film set in Medieval times. I plan to shoot in two years from now, the financing is slow but hopefully in 2022 the film will be in the can.
Dana: And in Cannes hopefully!
Konstantinos: (Laughing) I’m also working on other things at the moment: other shorts, documentary films, installations, art projects…By the way, I was looking at your film blog and I really enjoyed browsing through it, I was reading an interview with Radu Jude about Aferim!, a film I very deeply admire. I really look up to this filmmaker and to this film specifically. It’s also a work that feels tragic and absurd and comedic.
Dana: Indeed, you and Radu Jude have a lot in common. And the propensity towards the absurd is definitely part of the Romanian sensibility too. This just brought to mind something he said when he accepted his Silver Bear award for Best Director at Berlinale: “If I’d known I would get this prize, I would have tried to make a better film!”
And if you’ve read so far into this article, you’ll now be rewarded with the trailer of the film: