Smyrna: Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City Fails to Honor a City’s Rich Legacy


Istanbul was Constantinople, just as today’s Aegean-coast metropolis of Izmir, Turkey, was once Old Smyrna—an ancient Greek settlement that would eventually be fortified by Alexander the Great before evolving into an affluent Ottoman cultural center. Ripe with several centuries of absorbing history, filmmaker Maria Ilioú’s uninspired flake of talking-head Wikipedia cinema focuses on the forgotten Anatolian port city’s post-World War I years. A pompous British writer and five historians, including the film’s official consultant, Alexander Kitroeff, and some second- and third-generation Smyrniots, speak hyperbolically yet broadly about the fancy fabulousness of this forgotten melting pot—split into Greek, Armenian, Muslim, and Jewish quarters—and its wealthy American region, nicknamed “Paradise.” But how did residents make money? What was daily life like? The film’s few hints of specificity lie in the remarkable found footage and vintage photos, roved over Ken Burns–style while Nikos Platyrachos’s too-jaunty score gives them the awkward feel of a silent comedy. (Even the testimony of the sole Smyrna-born interviewee is limited by his having been a small child before the mass evacuation.) Yes, as the Greco-Turkish war neared its end in 1922, enemy forces invaded and mass fires broke out, causing tens of thousands of deaths and even more refugees to flee. If only the film offered more depth or pleasures to honor their legacy.