Saturday, October 18, 2014
Little Britain is a British character-based comedy sketch show, comprising sketches involving exaggerated parodies of British people from all walks of life in various situations familiar to the British people. Little England, on the other hand, is a Greek film by Pantelis Voulgaris, comprising an inordinately long narrative of affluent pre-war bourgeois Andriots, in various situations familiar to the Greek people.
“The feelings portrayed in the film – love, separation, loneliness – are timeless. All these emotions have always been a part of the world of cinema. There is no such thing as decadent or marginal emotions. The characters’ emotions in the movie are not specific to any era or time period,” Pantelis Voulgaris comments on the film.
Little England, which is a sobriquet that seems only tenuously relevant to the isle of Andros’ relative pre-war prosperity, where the drama is interminably played out over an excruciating two and a half hours, concerns itself with the inevitable compromises and loss of love forced upon a young girl in order to secure her financial future. In a manner reminiscent to Euripidean drama, the doomed lover, Media-like, turns on herself in self-destruction, sacrificing her family unit and children, not when she is forced to marry someone she does not love, nor when she is is forced to endure years of living in close proximity to him, nor when she is forced to hear him make love to her sister, who he has married, but rather when, his ship, aptly named Mikra Agglia, sinks, with him on board. Here the symbolism to a Greek audience is easily identifiable. Ships are said to be the conveyors of dreams. When they sink, so too does hope.
Though the climax is easily foreseeable, such is the power of Voulgaris’ cinematography, ably evoking an antediluvian idyllic natural environment, in richly adorned scenes and juxtaposing it against the emotional trials of his heroines, that he is able to convey the viewer through some extremely stilted dialogue, as well as predictable and stereotypical behaviour of the characters in the movie. The males especially, appear to be two-dimensional cardboard cut-outs, rather than well rounded human beings. One plays the patient, jilted and enormously wealthy but un-loved husband and father, the other, the dashing, entrepreneurial lover and raconteur, and the other, the distant, lonely, gentle pater-familias. We learn next to nothing about these men. We are given no insight into the way they think, how they feel about the situations they are thrust into or what the alternatives to their situation in life comprise their hopes. Instead, they plod along, more like pawns in a games of cross-chess played by the females of the movie than well rounded characters in their own right.
In one view, this is a flaw. The cuckolded, unloved husband displays no emotion when learning of his wife’s public declaration of love for her brother in law. Instead, emotionless, he packs up his children and exits the stage. Similarly, the closest the lost lover comes to emotion is in detailing the acquisition of his ship, which according to him, will “right wrongs,” and in, according to his lover’s post mortem account (and we do not know if that account is real or a fantasy) indulging in a bout of furtive love making. On the other hand, the pater-familias is also disengaged and silent, being silenced with just one statement when he dares to take his wife to task for engineering the destruction of her family.
Viewed differently however, Voulgaris has perhaps evoked, better than anyone else, the almost unreal and caricature-like quality that the almost always absent males evoked in the plans and consciousness of Andriot females. According to this view, given they are never home, they are extraneous to the real narrative which is female focused. Which view of the movie is correct is a vexed question, for while Voulgaris was presented with a brilliant opportunity to analyse the introverted, Byzantine composition of the female sub-culture of Andros, he chose not to do so in depth, giving us instead, tantalising snippets of repressed sexuality in scenes where the women dance with each other in male clothing, reminisce about retaining the taste of their man’s mouth on their lips years after his demise or lamenting the fact that they were not even able to wear out one set of linen. In this, we are presented with an idealisation of the absent males that is as intriguing as it is far from reality and judging how much the ideal male as opposed to the real male features in the Andriot women’s construction of their world view is a fascinating endeavour. Voulgaris here amply proves his mastery of the art of insinuation.
Where the movie possibly could be said to derail itself is in the inexplicably long denouement after the heroine’s mental and physical breakdown. It appears that Voulgaris is playing catch up, rushing to fill in the back-story and the lacunae in the script that are necessary for the viewer’s complete understanding of what has been left unsaid. One could suggest that this detracts greatly from the emotional intensity of the film, which appears, after it has resolved itself, to flow endlessly on, to no apparent aim. At any rate, it plays merry hell with its internal rhythm. Nonetheless, the agonizingly slow physical and mental decay of the heroine, coupled with the lapse into irrelevancy of her once dominant mother and the descent into bitterness by the once flighty and hopeful younger sister possibly serve as a cautionary reminder that when lives are built upon stereotypes, ideologies or bourgeois susceptibilities, things can go remarkably, tragically, irreversibly and rather blandly and lingeringly wrong.
Little England, not an easy film to watch, presents a novel retelling with Euripides Media, in that it is the mother’s ambition and lost love (one that is only hinted at), which proves the catalyst for the destruction of her children. Unlike Media, there is no dragon, or ship to descend and carry her away as a Deus Ex Machina. Instead, the only escape is ignominy and death, or, in the case of the already peripatetic males, flight. As a modern day re-telling, Little England, the feature of this year’s Greek Film Festival, is rich, symbol-laden and harrowing as it is absorbing.
First published in NKEE On 18 October 2014