Amalia Moutoussi gives a powerful performance in Joy, one of several films that triumphs over Greece’s economic hardship.
Twenty years ago, Eleni Bertes was part of the inaugural Greek Film Festival in Melbourne, working as a volunteer at an event she helped to found. Now, she is back as an invited guest at this year’s festival, accompanying a Greek movie she has produced.
It is a good feeling, she says, “to come full circle, after starting something 20 years ago with some fellow collaborators”.
Bertes, who lives and works in Athens, helped to start the Greek Film Festival in 1993, along with Costas Markos and Costas Karamarkos. She is a lawyer, who went from “a very dry legal background” to work as legal and business affairs manager at Film Victoria. There, and in subsequent roles, she learnt about financing and other aspects of the film business, so it was almost inevitable she would move into production or executive production, she said. “And trying my luck in Greece seemed like a natural progression.”
She moved to Athens in 2003.
Since then, she said, she knows that the festival has grown and evolved, and she is even more closely aware of how much Greek cinema has been flourishing in recent years. This has taken place as the country has gone through a devastating recession in the wake of the global financial crisis.
In particular, Greek films have had a strong impact at international festivals – with filmmakers such as Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari, and movies such as Dogtooth, Alps, Atten-berg, Wasted Youth and Boy Eating the Bird’s Food, this year’s Greek entry at the Oscars for best foreign film.
“These films are made with a great amount of difficulty and very little money,” Bertes said. “The economic environment in Greece is particularly challenging.”
The work she brings to the festival is Joy, for which she was the executive producer. It was written and directed by Ilias Yannakakis, and it is his second feature, after several years working in documentary and television. The idea for the film came from a news brief.
When he approached her about producing the film, Bertes said, Yannakakis was ready to discuss all kinds of possibilities, but he had two elements that were non-negotiable: he had a particular actor in mind for the lead, and he wanted to shoot on 35-millimetre black and white film.
It is not hard to see why he was so certain about Amalia Moutoussi – a well-known theatre actor but with limited exposure on screen. She gives a powerful, engrossing performance as Hara, a middle-aged woman who walks into a hospital and emerges with a three-month-old baby.
And the austerity and clarity of black-and-white have an undeniable impact. They help to define Yannakakis’ exploration of how individuals, society and the law deal with Hara’s actions, and how she responds. The film is both assertive and ambiguous – an exploration of the maternal impulse that turns into a tale of complexity, rhetoric and silence.
Joy screens on Wednesday, November 13, at 9pm.
The Greek Film Festival is at Palace Como until November 24.