Katina, an impoverished Greek woman, tries to arrange the marriage of her shepherd son, Thanos, to Despina, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. But when Despina’s father, Vlahopoulos refuses to give his blessings and wants Despina to marry a more wealthy gentleman, named Yankos. The wealthy and spoiled Yankos plots to break up the romantic union between Thanos and Despina any way posible while the young lovers plot to run away in a futile attempt to being a new life for themselves.
EVERY now and then, just when I think I’ve reached the point of no return in cinematic sophistication, I see a film such as “Thanos and Despina” and am magically returned to that state of dumb innocence in which I looked at movies as a child. Watching it in the company of a (probably) bored parent, I wouldn’t have hesitated to ask such questions as “Why’d the goat explode?” or “What’s that lady doing crawling on the ground — is she sick or something?”The goat explodes and the lady (who’s not sick, just mad with passion) crawls on the ground because “Thanos and Despina” is a mock-folk epic about passions so primitive and basic that perhaps only music can define them.The scene is contemporary Greece and the people picturesque, peasants oppressed by church, state, drought and superstition, to say nothing of other peasants. It opens with the belly of that starving goat erupting into the eye of the camera and it ends with a young man and a young woman, fleeing authority, jumping off a cliff. Because it’s Easter, someone says “Greece is resurrected.” Greece is resurrected, indeed.The film, which opened yesterday at the Cinema Village as part of the Grove Press International Film Festival, is the second movie to be directed by Nico Papatakis, a Jack-of-all-trades of Greek-Ethiopian parentage who lives in Paris and calls himself a spokesman for the avant-garde. (His first film; “Les Abysses, which I did not see, wa presented here in 1964.)Papatakis apparently means for “Thanos and Despina” to be taken as political allegory (the villian of the piece is a young man named Yankos). Allegory, however, is rather like quicksilver: it needs some kind of vessel to give it shape. There are times when “Thanos and Despina” seems on the point of becoming a lunatic “Romeo and Juliet,” but because it never makes sense as coherent drama, it has even less meaning as allegory.The photography is quite lovely with its brilliantly contrasting, grainy tones of blacks and whites. There is, however, something patronizing about this loveliness, as there is about the entire film. It’s as if somebody said: “Oh, let’s go down and look at the peasants tonight. They are real.”
— Vincent Canby (The New York Times)
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