Layered with politics and philosophy like a rich moussaka, the 17 selections in this festival of new Greek cinema emerge from a land where even soda jerks quote Thucydides. Older films are among this year’s highlights. Director Vassilis Vafeas, whose mordant satires of contemporary Greek society play off the tension between village tradition and postmodern bureaucracy, is honored with a four-film retrospective. In his deadpan farce Day Off (1982), an Athenian businessman plays hooky from his job, but this mini-vacation is filled with small humiliations. His efforts to have his car radiator repaired, get a medical checkup, send a package abroad, and make love to his mistress are foiled by other people’s bad tempers and inane complications. Reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s work in its use of silence and oddball alienation, Vafeas’s film is laced with nihilism and melancholy.
Scratch the surface of Greek history and you hit a bedrock of tragedy. The Price of Love (1984), written and directed by Tonia Marketaki, is set on the island of Corfu in the early 20th century. Screening in a section dedicated to films by women, this beautifully composed and remarkably incisive period drama recounts the effects of small-town poverty on a young girl’s future. Episteme labors in a factory to support her family, while her husband drinks and her daughter Rini weaves baskets to save for her dowry. Three hundred silver pieces have been set aside, yet her down-at-the-heels bourgeois suitor demands more. As might be expected, money strangles passion; the real surprise is the power of Marketaki’s vision, which moves between intimate catastrophes and the fall of political regimes to reveal the broad social forces at work behind them. Though occasionally marred by overt ideology, her film is also a paean to the strength (and sometimes folly) of rural women.