ASTORIA – The Hellenic Film Society USA presented the biographical film Kazantzakis on December 9 at the Museum of the Moving Image (MoMI) in Astoria, part of the Always on Sunday Greek film series.
The film takes on the difficult task of presenting the whole life, from childhood to death, of one of the most complex and valued writers of the twentieth century, Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957). The script was based on Kazantzakis’ Report to Greco, the fictionalized account of Kazantzakis’s own life, a sort of intellectual autobiography framed as a report to the Spanish Renaissance painter, and fellow Cretan, El Greco.
Kazantzakis’ fame has grown over the years through film adaptations of his works, including Christ Recrucified, The Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas, and The Last Temptation of Christ. Beloved by the Greek people and well-known abroad, Kazantzakis was born in 1883 in Crete, at a time when the island was still part of the Ottoman Empire.
The film introduces Kazantzakis in his childhood and attempts to reconcile him with the personality of his explosive and often violent father. After the liberation of Crete, we follow the writer to Athens, where he studied law and began his efforts to find a course for his life.
The film continues through the events of his friendship with poet Angelos Sikelianos and the writer’s travels. We see his anxiousness to discover God, his often complicated relationships with women, and his romantic relationship with his wife, Eleni Samiou.
Iannis Smaragdis, whose films include Kavafis, El Greco, and God Loves Caviar, is an experienced historian and creates visually stunning films.
Inevitably, Kazantzakis’ passion with Greece and the director’s beautifully crafted shots impressed the audience who crowded MoMI to see the film.
The aesthetics and solid performances by the actors, especially Odysseas Papaspiliopoulos as Kazantzakis and Marina Kalogirou as his wife, are among the positive aspects of the film.
On the negative side, the often superficial approach to complex issues and the difficulty of capturing the richness of Kazantzakis’ language in film marred the overall effect of the film.
Hellenic Film Society Founder and member of the Board of Directors James Demetro introduced the film, noting that “we met with director Smaragdis in Athens three weeks ago and he asked me to convey his thanks to the public, who is here today.”
The film had its official premiere at the Houston International Independent Film Festival, where it won the Grand Remi Prize for Best Feature Film. Smaragdis’ next project will again be a historical drama, based on the life and work of the first President of Greece, Ioannis Kapodistrias.
The sold out screening is the last of 2018 and Greek film fans will have to wait until January 27, 2019 for the next screening in the film series at MoMI when the Hellenic Film Society presents Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words. The documentary film about the iconic opera diva Maria Callas, directed by Tom Volf, has received rave reviews. Film fans are urged to purchase tickets in advance online through the MoMI website: movingimage.us or the Hellenic Film Society USA: hellenicfilmusa.org.