Film

From Both Sides of the Aegean Is More Social Studies Lesson Than Cinema

by

Following the end of the Greco-Turkish war, the participating countries signed a mutual population expulsion that chaotically, violently forced the denaturalizing exchange of 1.2 million Orthodox Greeks from Turkey and 400,000 Muslim Turks from Greece.

In this yawn of a follow-up to their equally sterile historical doc Smyrna: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City, 1900–1922, filmmaker Maria Iliou and historical consultant Alexander Kitroeff pay tribute (but hardly do justice) to the refugees through the talking-head commentaries of droning historians and an overreliance on composer Nikos Platyrachos’s sober piano-and-strings ode to Anatolian music.

It’s honorable that first-, second-, and third-generation descendants of both Greek and Muslim survivors are given the chance to share personal, painful testimonies, but their poignancy is undercut by a stagnant presentation and arbitrary curation of the material. (The emotionality of the piece doesn’t speak to the political or economic effects of the ethnic homogenization.)

Since it’s more social-studies lesson than cinema, the best offerings are the rare archival footage and photos — images of daily street life, the refugee camps, armies on the march — but the film’s trapped-in-amber stiffness misses every opportunity to place its themes of identity and oppression in an accessibly modern context.