Front-loaded with sunny crowd pleasers, this year’s “New Greek Cinema Festival” feels like an implicit rebuke to gloom-meister Theo Angelopoulos, whose humorless epics still reign as Greek film’s only significant stateside representation of the past five years. Alternating office rom-com with coming-of-age nostalgia, dysfunctional foreplay with gooey family healing, the festival miraculously circumvents its own sugar rush by combining uncute performances with an overall maudlin fascination with the supernatural. Opener One Day in August (2002) may be the strong-est entry in this respect. Following three families as they embark on religious holiday, director Constantine Giannaris pits Christian iconography against contemporary techno-profanity, weaving it all together in a Dogme-inspired roundelay of frenetic mugging and hair pulling. His characters yearn for spiritual transcendence even as they depend on digital mediation—cell phones, PDAs, digi-cams—to make the most basic human connections. By the time the Virgin Mary makes her cameo appearance via HDTV, the movie has irrevocably launched itself on a one-way ecclesiastical acid trip.
Considerably less apoplectic, The Cistern (2002) employs soft lighting to re-create the glow of crepuscular boyhood. This leisurely expulsion from Neverland benefits from the theatrics of Almodóvarian relatives and macabre flourishes courtesy of the titular swimming well. Hard Goodbyes (2002) covers similar ground to more sentimental effect. A boy’s refusal to accept his father’s untimely demise precipitates much hand-wringing and the inevitable group hug. Ten-year-old Yorgos Karayannis’s lead performance resists adorability in favor of Ponette-ish insolence, saving the movie from too many good intentions.
The festival includes a five-film retrospective of director Nikos Panayotopoulos, whose allegories infuse obscene modernity with potent literary allusion. If his most recent films fail to live up to his much praised The Idlers of the Fertile Valley (1978), they seldom lack intertextual complexity. I Am Tired of Killing Your Lovers (2002) riffs on Bizet’s Carmen while constructing an appropriately labyrinthine homage to novelist Patricia Highsmith. Its plot grows both pulpier and more intellectual as the twists begin twisting on themselves. Lynchian in ambition but ultimately too conventional by half, Edge of the Night (2000) sets its Sailor on a cross-country Orpheus pursuit after his lost Lula. Haunted by corporate logos and the overhead roar of international jumbo jets, they become refugees adrift in a rancid, global backwash.