“BURIED UNDER THE RUG”
By Dr. Luis Dias
Enas Isyhos Anthropos (A Simple Man, 2019) by Greek director Tassos Gerakinis is a psychological thriller set on a beautiful little island. The contrast between the lush natural setting in which the drama unfolds and the ‘ugliness’ the human psyche can conceal is stark.
Makis (Takis Sakellariou) is a vintner (wine-maker), and a widower with a quiet disposition, who lives on a remote island off mainland Greece with his 30-year-old daughter Sofia (Katerina Papanastastou). He was compelled to raise her as a single parent after his wife died, and their relationship has never been easy. Sofia blames Makis for the death of her mother and also accuses him of being judgmental about her failed marriage, which has compelled her to return home to live with her father.
When Michalis (Christos Strepkos), a dangerous fugitive from the police, takes Makis hostage, his primary concern is to protect his daughter. Makis invents a story, pretending to be an immigrant worker, a mere bottling assistant. But none of his ploys can prevent his daughter from falling in love with the criminal.
The police dragnet draws ever tighter around Michalis, who grows increasingly desperate and cold-bloodedly murders twoofficers who identify him. This terrifies Makis even further, but Sofia is too besotted to listen to her father and becomes an accomplice in helping Michalis escape. What the film explores is the dark corners in the personalities and histories of Makis and Sofia, not just the criminal Michalis.
Gerakinis (who also co-wrote the script with Christos Strepkos, who plays Michalis in the film) spoke about his film to the Greek magazine In Exarchia just a few days ago. What fascinates him is “the dark side behind the everyday faces we meet… Everyone has a story worth telling,” he felt. Everyone has a unique story, “personal dramas and injustices” that might escape the casual observer.
Gerakinis has lived in the countryside, and he says that “contrary to the beautified and often sanctified image we may have” it also conceals “many dark secrets”. He goes as far as to say that A Simple Man has an “anthropological direction”. People in our everyday lives, just like Makis, are “invisible”, just another statistic. Life in the countryside, particularly on a tiny island can be literally insular, with “an indifference to what is happening outside”, born out of conservatism, and entrenchment in the personal home and hearth. This, says Gerakinis, is why his character in the film Makis, “as often happens in Greek society,” prefers “to bury things under the rug” and avoid conflict. But this burial can only compound psychological trauma.
Sofia’s character comes across as a dynamic female figure who, in taking matters into her own hands, attempts to break free from the chains and stereotypes imposed by an orthodox patriarchal society while on the other hand being inexorably drawn to a strong male figure, embodied here by the escaped convict Michalis.
In Gerakinis’ view, “Sofia’s relationship with Michalis is essentially the way to break the relationship with her father, to bring a vertical rupture and finally leave the island.”
The breathtaking Greek landscapes are a particular highlight of the film, but for Gerakinis it is much more personal. “My gaze, when I am in the countryside, is not the gaze of a tourist or a man who sees this art in the landscape. For me, it is an experience. As a child, I played here, I grew up in the fields and [I also know] the cruelty that lurks in the provincial cities. The fact that the film took place outdoors was something very familiar to me and piqued my interest. It is a familiar and foreign environment at the same time, but I cannot see the countryside with the tenderness of an outside observer.”
It calls to mind another film I had written about just a few days ago, Dev Bhoomi (Land of the Gods, 2016) by Serbian director Goran Paskaljević, which has a similar juxtaposition of jaw-dropping natural beauty and the “dark secrets” festering among its inhabitants. Hell is just a couple of thought processes away, even in earthly Paradise.
Gerakinis told In Exarchia that “The Goa festival – meaning IFFI – will be the first [in which] we will be able to see it in a hall and I hope we can do it”, he said. On that score, he can rest easy. Far from being “buried under the rug”, A Simple Man will walk the red carpet in the 51st IFFI World Panorama section.