Minore (2023)

Minore had its European première on Sat 26th Aug at FrightFest

Some way into Konstantinos KoutsoliotasMinore, an elderly grandmother (Efi Papatheodorou) visits the psychologist Dr Lakis Portokalakis (Alexandros Romanos Lizardos) in his office, sent there by her family to get help for the ‘unsavoury dreams’ that have been keeping her up at night. Alarmed by her ‘dark and depressing’ outlook on life, the doctor asks her to remember and recount ‘a more positive incident’ from her life. So Granny launches into a story from her childhood – illustrated with bright hand-drawn (and semi-animated) pictures, modelled on real Greek children’s grammar books of the time – about how, during the Greek Civil War, four Government soldiers invaded their home, killed her little kitten and dragged her mother into the bedroom for ‘you know, the business’, only for mother and daughter to turn on their invaders, murder them and stick their severed heads on the fence outside. “We realise that what you’re saying has nothing to do with reality,” insists the psychologist, “and it is merely the fanciful fabrication of a child desperately seeking ways to deal with the reality of everyday life” – only for Granny to place onto his desk the skull of one of her persecutors, Yianni, which she now carries around ‘for luck’, and which will serve a significant if obscure function in the film’s climax

Set in a country associated with the foundational legends of Western culture, Minore is full of storied elements – some from Greek mythology, some from the Bible and the Church, some from popular local songs (especially the melancholic, minor-key ones, called minore, which are part of rebetiko), some even from Lovecraftian horror (Granny is not the only ‘Old One’ here)  – through which everyday Greek experiences, and the very nature of the Greek psyche, are filtered and fictionalised, even as the impossible is realised. The protagonist of sorts – in a film featuring a plethora of characters – is the sailor William (Davide Tucci), on shore leave and in search of his lost Greek roots and his long-estranged father, who might just be the old bouzouki player Nikodimos (Meletis Georgiadis) residing in the same Athenian hotel where William is staying. When Nikodimos is not playing with his rebetiko band in a nearby taverna, he spends his time either dancing with the ghost of his late beloved wife Maria (Nikol Drizi), or staring out to sea watching and waiting for a return – although, somewhat to the surprise and disappointment of his seaborne son, not exactly for William’s return.

There is the strong sense here that something apocalyptic is very nigh. It is not just the man seen wading out into the sea (as William first arrives) with a sign that reads “Armageddon is coming”. Nor is it merely the strange blue-tinged mists that keep wafting through Athens, or the seismic activity that has everyone and everything rattled, or the tentacular nightmares that are plaguing more than just Granny, or people’s unexplained disappearances. Perhaps it is a bit of all these things. Yet there is also a counterforce building, whether the priest (Giannis Zouganelis) who appears to be immortal, or the tattooed body builder (Igor Górewicz) who has studied the blade and keeps an arsenal of firearms under his gym, or the artist Naris (Constantin Symsiris) who – like the real-life queer painter Yannis Tsarouchis – is drawn thirstily to vulnerable male beauty, or the baglamas-playing cabbie Vaggos (Makis Papadimitratos) who just wants to holiday on a beach, or the dancer Alexis (Nicolas Bravos) who is always gratuitously baring his well-toned chest, or the mamma’s boy Manos (Apollon Bollas) who longs for romance, or the unseen uncle whom you only ever call for help in the absolute direst of emergencies. Between them, these men represent both the Greek heroic ideal, and a pathetic crisis of masculinity, while the waitresses Aliki (Daphne Alexander), Marianna (Maria Nephele Douka) and Litsa (Eleftheria Komi), much like Granny herself, seem to be getting by just fine on their own. 

When the crisis reveals itself, all these characters will have to work together, drawing on their own mixed talents, their historical and musical traditions, and some special skllls, in a mythic free-for-all and last-stand siege that also involve a lethal singalong (think Attack of the Killer Tomatoes! – or its Greek equivalent – or Mars Attacks!), as a lost son finally finds his place and purpose in a life by the sea. It is a wild, weird odyssey, part ensemble drama, part invasion epic, grounded by the observant screenplay which Koutsoliotas has co-written with Elizabeth E.Schuch, while free-floating through some truly absurd ideas and associations. Yet somehow, in this tallest of tales, there are truths to be found – about a nation still steeped in its patriarchal past, yet also cast adrift into a postmodern future, with the fluid, changeable Ocean the one anchoring constant.

strap: Konstantinos Koutsoliotas’ ensemble epic is a home-coming Odyssey of monsters and myths in modern Greece

© Anton Bitel