In late April 2021, the San Francisco Greek Film Festival, or SFGFF, returned to celebrate cinematic contributions by Greek and Cypriot filmmakers from around the world. Just like last year’s lineup, all of the films were available to stream free of charge from April 16-25. In addition to its feature-length films, SFGFF boasted a robust collection of shorts with unique perspectives and creative visions — here are a few highlights.
As she steps into her closet to get dressed for the night, a transgender woman (Nektarios Theodorou) receives a devastating call from her brother about the death of their mother. In a 10-minute, unbroken shot, “The Call” peers into an emotionally blistering story confined to a small, intimate setting. The camera’s vantage point doesn’t change, only inching closer as the call comes to an end. Though the cinematography is far from passive, the camera’s fixed position allows Theodorou to take control of this story.
The film only shows the woman’s side of the conversation, but it’s not hard to fill in the gaps. What begins as tragic news quickly flares up old family tensions, as the woman is invited to her mother’s funeral but only on the condition that she will look like her “normal” self — that is to say, who she was before her transition. Theodorou is tremendous in communicating the difficulty of this conversation and the multiple emotional planes it touches. The performance believably crescendos and retreads through the character’s emotions, squaring loud outrage with equally evocative moments of quiet hurt and betrayal.
“Escaping the Fragile Planet”
Writer-director Thanasis Tsimpinis brings viewers into an immersive, visually stunning atmosphere in his short film “Escaping the Fragile Planet.” A cloud of deadly pink mist shrouds the Earth, leaving only a few hours before life on the planet is extinct. The film follows a chance encounter between two young men, played by Michail Tabakakis and Nikos Lekakis. “Escaping the Fragile Planet” goes through the beats of a rom-com — from the meet-cute to the playful flirting — so it’s easy to forget that the end of the world is dawning. Yet, the beauty of their connection is actually enhanced by the relationship’s undeniable transience. These men don’t have a past and they can’t make a future, but they choose to live and to love anyway.
Tsimpinis maintains alluring visuals full of colors and shadows, and the synth score heightens the futuristic element of this stunning sci-fi world. Though the film was shot before the COVID-19 pandemic, there are moments with uncanny timeliness, such as the masks they wear in the pink plume. Yet, Tsimpinis’ dreamy and hazy aesthetic alleviates these moments from the heavy weight of reality. Just like its charming characters, “Escaping the Fragile Planet” makes the most of its short duration, offering viewers an enchanting, wonderful reprieve.
The heart monitor apathetically beeps as Maria (Konstantina Lia) lies on the operating table, donning teal hair net and scrubs. An unidentified voice coos, “Do not be afraid,” echoing the famous biblical line the angel Gabriel says to Mary when he foretells Jesus’ birth. Through this opening sequence, writer-director Stavros Markoulakis establishes the stakes in his short film “Madonna F64.0.”
Following her transition surgery, Maria returns to a tense, fissured home. Her sister (Penelope Tsilika) has just had a baby but wants Maria to stay as far away from the newborn as possible. In the opening sequence, the film frames Maria like the Virgin Mary, but her prejudicial sister regards her as more of a Magdalene. The religious metaphors admittedly muddle as the conflict between Maria and her sister intensifies. Though Lia and Tsilika give strong performances, their characters’ mother (Athina Pappa) has little material to work with, stifling her purpose in the movie. The film could stand to spend a few more minutes fleshing out the family dynamic to give the dramatic ending a firmer place to land.