director: Sotiris Tsafoulias
writer: Sotiris Tsafoulias
starring: Pigmalion Dadakaridis, Dimitris Katalifos and Manos Vakousis
genre: Crime | Mystery | Thriller
released: 19 January 2017 (Greece)
Greek filmmakers almost only ever get recognition based upon how provocative or artistic they are and almost never on how industrious and aware they are to follow standard plot development, cliches and the inclusion of intellectual ideas that are easily graspable by a mass audience. To many this may seem minute and frivolous as cinema is an art form that shouldn't concern itself as much in this regard. On the other hand, I always have begged to differ by being able to enjoy the odd art film here and there and the occasional schlocky action film, especially when they come from places you least expect them to.
In Athens, Greece a criminology professor is thrown into a serial killer case during a family tragedy. This case will be of intense interest to him and the criminology community with the police needing all the help they can get. The murders will all be of a grotesque nature, but what makes them of an extra concern & interest is the intellectual nature of the crimes and of their architect.
A good friend of mine recommended this film with the following line "You will see, it rises above Greek standards." Initially, I wasn't sure what that meant as Greek standards for cinema are either very low or too high, depending if it's a commercial film for the Greek public or an art film made for the intellectual 'cinefil' crowd. What 'Eteros Ego' does is show us how a Greek film would be if Greece had a conventional & modern movie industry in its country. This though hasn't been the case in terms of movie productions there since the 1950's and 60's where Greek cinema was at its commercial height and because Greek filmmakers today were never also truly interested in crime serials for the big screen, but only occasionally for TV and on small budgets without any real creative artistry or originality to speak of.
In general, Greeks have a selective nature in choosing their cinematic entertainment and could be considered at times peculiar and sometimes even pretentious. So, getting a film from a Greek filmmaker that is an honest attempt of modernizing the Greek audience's perception at how a movie production should feel and be is fresh and impressive. Through this film there is the honest effort to spice things up not only with its tone and plot, but also through the usage of locations, craftier sets, characters who are value oriented and, or goal driven and who have intellectual knowledge, while also stand for things or want the world to change. Bear in mind, all this in a film that heavily uses cliches and tropes of the crime genre.
And while I commend the filmmaker on his attempt to modernize Greeks into accepting a little higher minded entertainment, he still went the route of making his film cliched and conventional. Consequently, if you've seen one cop drama or psychological thriller in your lifespan from any other country other than Greece, then this isn't of any surprise from its plot development or plot characteristics. What makes it though alluring is the fact it comes from Greece and there is enough in there extra to keep those cliches feel new and enticing.
Some of the elements that are common of this genre and that filmmaker Tsafoulias retains for everyone to have a clear idea are as follows: main character finding a meaning and a purpose through his work at a difficult point in his life, lead character having a person of an older age be his mentor and partner, a love interest that is hinted for more down the road, lead character catches a break in the case finding the right clue at the right time and then gets a expert to enlighten him when he reaches a dead end. In addition, a good subplot to side with the main plot (romance & personal tragedy that converges with the main plot slightly) and a grand revelation to finding the killer towards the end with a red herring so you were led down the wrong path. Like it or not, all these are cliches or movie tropes have been used for decades and sometimes must go back to basics when nothing well has been done.
However, as mentioned the filmmaker makes the effort to modernize the atypical Greek film and in doing so he has to use these cliches for the Greek audience to adapt to old, tried and true storytelling and classical film development. Also, important is the inclusion of characters that have interesting character traits and personal lives. Full of emotional baggage either known to us or implied. From being workaholics, methodical thinkers, skeptics to the status quo and seekers of truth and justice. Something we are not used to from Greek cinema with most films as mentioned before being too artsy, sexual or stupid (Dogtooth, Safe Sex, Loufa kai Paralagi). Not to say they aren't other films that exist beyond this characterization, but not many that attempt to be in this middle ground meant for general audience consumption.
SPOILERS in the next paragraph concerning the film's ending.
Regarding the main character and his personal arc, it only worked due to his personal experience with his father in the film, otherwise we would be talking about a person who can easily be swayed by a master killer's intellect. Here he lets his emotions take control and cloud his judgment during the case and by the end of the film you understand the killer's motives and the reasoning behind the professor letting the killer go. However, and while I accept it in the confines of a film narrative, his actions are also criminal let's not forget. As he is letting a murder go free and enact justice outside of the legal system. In this I am with the professor's mentor and boss in the film. Who rightly states "It's best to live in an unequal society rather than the chaos of self-rule". Doesn't matter that the killer won't go on after his streak of intended murders, as that person was acting as judge, jury and executioner and in a civil society we can never let that come to pass.
On a side note, the most striking and negative element to point out in the film is its music and intro. The intro has a fairy tale like tone that doesn't sit well with the rest of the film and the accident of the couple in it also was badly edited and abrupt and not in a good way. It needed to have been cut quite faster as that effect didn't get me to personally jump, but instead laugh. Also, the music sometimes is trying to be too sentimental at times and falls flat. There is an instance in the film where the professor is talking about his father's second stroke and the film goes somber with a piano backdrop and when the violin if I am not mistaken right after it comes into play, it sets a far better tone. It just seemed too on the nose in some cases for what they were trying to do. This though is also true in the film's cliches and movie tropes as mentioned before and let's not forget not everybody will notice these things.
Before I get to backlash/controversy surrounding the film's release, I wanted to emphasize on the film's sets and shooting locations. As much of the movie was filmed at the 'American College of Greece', otherwise known as Deere in Athens. This most likely was done as filming it in any modern day Greek police station would have been frivolous with the paperwork needed to get it done or even fees to make it happen. Not to mention the abhorrent condition they are in and the fact the filmmaker was attempting to elevate the Greek police force in his film instead of denigrating it. In fact, I would say his attempts at portraying Greeks as not who they are, but as who they want to be is evident throughout the film. It presents a different reality from modern day immoral Greece that is lacking in a just police system and orderly society backed by the enforcement of laws and the fight against political corruption.
Concerning the film's controversy during its theatrical release in Greece, it seems that a murder happened of a grotesque nature and the murderer stated or implied that this film influenced his actions. Because of this there was a slight outcry from some individuals or organizations and the director pulled the film from the theaters after a short release. And while one can be sensitive to other people's feelings, its undeniably false to make the argument that any person commits an evil action due to a film's existence or of any other artistic expression for that matter. As people commit actions because they are evil and lack any sense or judgement of morality and human values. Also, by not releasing this film it's not like any other individual in Greece couldn't just rent 'Silence of the Lambs' or read online about other fictional media and tragic real life events. I'm not sure what the fear of this film being released was and the director should have stuck to his guns and kept the film in cinemas. This selective uproar for this film over others is baffling and the last thing we want as a society is to be more oppressive and restrictive over artistic thoughts and creations.
If this film was made in the U.S. or the U.K. for example, we would probably be writing about a decent TV film and nothing more. However, because this is coming from Greece and you put into perspective Greece's cinematic track record and film tastes then it suddenly doesn't look that bad.