On Thursday, I had the pleasure to watch the US premiere of the Greek movie What if... at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, followed by a Q&A session with Christopher Papakaliatis, director, writer and star of the movie.
I am writing about the film as a person who enjoys movies that offer food for thought and as a Greek who lives in New York. What if... is a very good production with an excellent choice of music and a story that makes you think and revaluate things. I connected to the movie in many ways. It takes place in Athens and many scenes are taken at the cobbled streets of Plaka with the Acropolis at the background. Greece is my home country and I miss it a lot, so it was normal to feel nostalgic. Anyone who has walked down these streets in Plaka would love to go back virtually through a two-hour movie, and I am encouraging those who will be visiting Athens this summer to watch it in advance.
There is a lot of Greece in the movie. Authentic Greece, sunny, colorful, with passionate people and old couples that grow old together and cannot imagine their lives separately. The story, or fairytale, as Mr. Papakaliatis described it during the Q&A session, unfolds in two parallel worlds due to an instantaneous decision that was taken (or not taken) by the lead character. Walking the dog at 11pm or not? Then life unravels in both cases and a fairytale of love, passion, loyalty, parenthood, family values, loneliness, loss, betrayal, violence, unemployment, recession and hope takes place.
The past, the present and the future are all combined in a harmonic symphony where the common denominator is the time that goes by. At the end of the day, destiny cannot be avoided and neither can karma, but once peace is made with time and acceptance of its wear and tear on everything (items, relationships, people) loneliness is accepted as well and peace is found. The time that destroys everything also brings everything, as depicted by the forever in love elderly iconic couple from the movie "Η δε γυνή να φοβήται τον άνδρα" ("The woman shall respect the man" -- a phrase that is said during the traditional ceremony of a Greek Orthodox wedding). I must admit that Mr. Papakaliatis got me with this; it is my favorite black and white Greek movie and the song "Σ'αγαπώ" (I love you) that Maro Kontou sings with the background sound of laterna (an old music box that itinerants used to play at the local streets) has now stuck in my head; beloved sound, full of memories and sweetness that make you smile. I liked the contrast between the old and the young couple; different lifestyle, different problems, different society, different economic environment, yet the same underlying magic that holds them together: love. Mr. Papakaliatis said that the old couple represented the hope that true love exists.
Jackie, the dog in the movie, goes by the name Lonesome and plays the lead character's roommate. Can you call your best friend Lonesome? Can lonesomeness be your best friend? Maybe it can. For how long? The hero is struggling back and forth with his life's choices and the events that are out of his control: the economic crisis, his job loss, his mother's dying of ages and so on. In these two parallel realities, depending on the protagonist's mood, the director uses either colorful scenes or the shades of grey.
Mr. Papakaliatis admitted that many people identified themselves at one point or another to the lead characters. Reflecting upon it, I can understand why. Overall, my favorite message is that you can never be sure what is the right moment or the right place (as the police officer ironically tells him at the beginning of the movie in both versions); you just have to make the best of what you get instead of wondering what if...
The movie was a big success in Greece and it has now reached the US, bringing with it a strong taste of Athens, the sun, the music and the modern Greek culture. Visiting Athens this summer or not, I highly encourage you to see it. Congratulations to Mr. Papakaliatis and we expect to see more of his work!
Photo courtesy by Mr. George Balafoutis.