After sifting through nearly 400 submissions, the San Francisco Greek Film Festival boiled its lineup down to 18 films, which were available for attendees to access online and free of charge from Oct. 3-10. Now, the table that served this film feast has been cleared, so it’s time to digest the art we consumed.
“The Distance Between Us and the Sky”
Brilliantly episodic, “The Distance Between Us and the Sky” captures two alluring strangers (Nikolakis Zeginoglou and Ioko Ioannis Kotidis) who meet at an old gas station on the outskirts of Athens. Director Vasilis Kekatos composes a sharp script, softened only by the swelling heart pulsing in the film’s remarkable leading performances. “The Distance Between Us and the Sky” premiered at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, garnering the Short Film Palme d’Or and making Kekatos the first Greek filmmaker to win in this category. The camera captures the electric intimacy that binds its leads, a cinematic drive only detoured by the indulgent excess of close-ups. Kekatos effortlessly maximizes the nine-minute duration of “The Distance Between Us and the Sky” to tell a sensitive, compelling story about queer connections and intimacy.
Director Konstantina Kotzamani’s film “Electric Swan” allegorizes incisive commentary on class disparities and infuses poetic elements of magical realism. Kotzamani employs stunning cinematography to depict a Buenos Aires apartment complex and its stoic security guard, Carlos (Juan Carlos Aduviri). À la “Snowpiercer” and its train, the apartment in “Electric Swan” cleverly literalizes class structures of privilege and wealth — the rich elite reside on the polished top floor, while the poor live on the squalid nadir. When an unexplainable force causes the building to tremble, the residents’ anxieties reflect their class position, as the wealthy fret over their potential fall and the poor are afraid to drown. Carlos dwells in the apartment’s gray, dingy and desolate basement, devoting his days to doting on three female tenants. Aduviri portrays a hypnotic, haunting lead, yet his character’s underscored obsession with the cruel and wealthy teenage ballerina Catalina (Elisa Massino) feels indecisive and discordantly perverted. The more noteworthy performance comes from Nelly Prince, who glimmers as Madame Capdepont, the demanding elderly matriarch of the top floor. While they inadvertently clot the film’s pace, the sumptuous visuals in “Electric Swan” elevate the execution of this sophisticated and deconstructed fairy tale.
“When Tomatoes Met Wagner”
After debuting at the Berlin International Film Festival, “When Tomatoes Met Wagner” paraded through festival circuits and gleaned the Hellenic Film Academy Award for Best Documentary. Directed by Marianna Economou, “When Tomatoes Met Wagner” transports viewers to the modest Thessalian plains in an agrarian village called Elias. Elias and its graying populace stand on unsteady ground, as the young people have retreated to cities and the national economic crisis has uprooted the community’s financial security. The documentary follows Christos and Aleco, a pair of cousins who collaborate with the elderly villagers to export jars of organic tomato recipes around the globe. The film lifts its title from an early conversation between Christos and Aleco as they amble through a field, musing whether tomatoes will taste better if they listen to Wagner or traditional Greek music. This early scene encapsulates the balance of humor and heart redolent throughout the documentary. “When Tomatoes Met Wagner” traces how a local community embarked on a new international frontier with remarkable sensitivity and compassion.
“Last Stop” only lasts six minutes. Christos Zenios’ film follows an old man (Andreas Vasiliou) confined to a nursing home and his gentle attempt to rejoin the outside world. Vasiliou’s unnamed character treads in an insular milieu captured by deceptively simple camerawork. While the mere shortness of this short film may cast doubt on its storytelling merits, Zenios rounds out a bittersweet conclusion that justifies the film’s brevity and grounds its importance; he suffuses “Last Stop” with subtly. The refreshingly enigmatic ending is underscored by cinematic reflexivity that probes inquisition instead of providing resolution. The film leaves audiences to wonder what happens to its characters after they exit frame and return to the wings. While it’s the shortest movie on this list, “Last Stop” is a testament to the importance of precision over runtime, and it encourages audiences to marvel at the minute.