9. Matchbox (2002), dir. Yannis Economides
Matchbox, the first cult Greek film, is a great example of how verbal abuse can be as shocking as physical violence. The film narrates one hot summer day in the house of one troubled family, their friends, and their violent arguments.
Although Matchbox is filmed between four walls, there is a heavy dose of excitement; along with the sharp one-liners, the film feels like a punch in the stomach. Loud, fast paced, and mean spirited, the film is undoubtedly an effective piece. In order to endure the eighty minute feast of swearing and yelling, a strong stomach is necessary.
The most interesting fact about Matchbox is that it divides the audience— what appears extreme to some may look hilarious to others. Despite the vicious exhibition of his characters, Director Yannis Economides, beneath the surface, treats them with affection.
10. A Touch of Spice (2003), dir. Tassos Boulmetis
A Touch of Spice is a real treat with a taste of nostalgia. When a Professor of Astrophysics has to travel back to his hometown, Istanbul, to meet his grandfather—who was one of the Greek minority in Istanbul—he re-encounters his first love, and all the flooding memories of his childhood resurface.
A Touch of Spice is a heartwarming movie about family, love, and food. A gentle, bittersweet comedy, it is one of those special films that t uniquely and sincerely tug at the heart strings. The horrifying pain of political expulsion, the agony of repatriation, the longing for a lost past—all these ideals are depicted with sensitivity and respect for the individuals involved. Family ties and traditions make the unbearable bearable in this lovely, touching film, which is, indeed, as delicious as the food it presents.
11. Plato’s Academy (2009), dir. Filippos Tsitos
Four xenophobic best friends enjoy sitting and doing nothing while mocking the foreigners who work at the building right across one of the friends’ kiosk. Everything changes when the protagonist’s ailing mother reveals to him that his brother might be an Albanian foreigner who works at that building.
Plato’s Academy is one of the few Greek films that addresses racism with realism by not attempting to teach a lesson, but examining today’s culture and behavior. The result is a hilarious, distinctive, tender and tough when needed film which stands out from the usual.
Antonis Kafetzopoulos gives the best performance of his career playing Stavros—a character who isn’t a caricature of a human being, but a true representation of a contemporary Greek civilian. Thus, critics have applauded the film, and it’s true when some reported that Plato’s Academy has a “savage bite.”
12. Dogtooth (2009), dir. Giorgos Lanthimos
In Dogtooth, a married couple deprives their three children from experiencing the unknown world. The parents indulge in tall tales about what happens outside of their large mansion and gives the children outlandish and depraved ideas of what will happen if the three young ones leave.
The father is the only person allowed out, as he works in a factory to generate the family’s income, and the only person allowed in is Christina. The outsider, Christina, is a woman who is hired by the father in order to fulfill his son’s sexual urges; but when one of the two daughter’s gets close to Christina, the consequences are tragic.
The most original film in years, Dogtooth is the best example of a darkly funny and horrifyingly surreal film. It is such a perfect movie full of vile twists and stellar acting that the audience will be unable to avert their eyes from the screen. Considered one of the best European films of the last decade, the Oscar-nominated Dogtooth is a fiercely and ferociously funny film, and it is quite a unique experience for serious audiences.
13. Attenberg (2010), dir. Athina Rachel Tsangari
Many critics call the film, Attenberg, the little sister of Dogtooth (2009)—not because the two movies have a similar story (Dogtooth is a surreal allegory about life and Attenberg is a love story); nor is it because Dogtooth’s director, Giorgos Lanthimos, stars in Attenberg—because both movies present today’s Greece as hell on Earth.
Attenberg is an offbeat, “coming-of-age” movie that narrates the life of twenty-three year old Marina (Ariane Labed) as she navigates between her father’s terminal illness and her first, not-so-great sexual experiences.
Attenberg symbolizes a dark place, full of lonely and insane people who do their best to escape from without any major success. Moreover, Attenberg shares, with the Oscar-nominated Dogtooth, a weakness for overgrown innocence and deadpan perversity. Both directors favor a steady shooting style with wide shots, minimal camera movements, and off-kilter compositions that combine and create a dreamy, anxious mood.
Essentially, Attenberg is a “bad” romance of the highest order; a black comedy that sincerely and humorously navigates the defining moments in life. Love and death couldn’t be more closely intertwined than they are in Athina Rachel Tsangari’s Attenberg, and it has a near-adolescent purity of purpose in how it handles love and loss, which is the film’s strongest element.
There are more subtle, allusive films about stormy conflicts of the heart, but Attenberg distinctly knows when and how to surgically pierce the skin directly through the bone.
14. Alps (2011), dir. Giorgos Lanthimos
Following the Academy Award nominated Dogtooth is Alps, a story about a small squad of people who work as “substitutes for the recently deceased.” These “for-hire” death surrogates assist the living “loved ones” of the deceased to cope with these recent tragedies as the panged individuals gradually transition into their grief or attempt to recreate favorite memories.
Although not nearly as riveting as Dogtooth, Alps is as original as contemporary as cinema can be. The difference, however, between this film and the between Alps and Dogtooth is that Attenberg provides hope for love, affection, and people. It is disturbing at places and as abstracted as the two previous films, but it’s mysteriously romantic and emotional, nonetheless. Viewers can sympathize with the protagonists because aside from some flaws, the characters have emotions and feelings.
The film explores emotional identity—how people come to define themselves and their projections of other individual responses. In fact, one character “loses herself” in the emotional connections of her role-playing, which becomes detrimental to the relationships in in her own life, while another fights hard not to be broken down, holding onto her sense of self.
Alps is a deadpan, absurdist “ghost story” from the ingenious Giorgos Lanthimos. Lanthimos discovers new, fascinating worlds by not conquering them, but building his own special existence. Even the film’s title is devious—no sooner have the lights dimmed we are pitched, without a map, into a landscape that is not steep and snowy, but flat and black. Nevertheless, follow the filmmaker, Lanthimos, because he knows exactly where he’s going.
15. Miss Violence (2013), dir. Alexandros Avranas
A young girl named Angeliki (Chloe Bolota) jumps from the balcony of her home and kills herself on the day of her eleventh birthday. The question ‘’why’’ will be answered in the ninety-nine minutes following her leap. Director Alexandros Avranas carefully and methodically pieces the enigmatic narrative.
Almost every scene reveals some strange new piece of the puzzle; once the viewer inches forward, toward the horrifying secrets that reveal the reason Angeliki took her own life, he or she is entirely absorbed.
This first-class mystery is not a pure state-of-the-nation picture. Like Lanthomos in Dogtooth, Avranas examines the rotten, corrupt heart of the family unit, as well as the way society and individuals remain complacent when faced with terrible abuse. It’s impossible to ignore the second-time Greek director Avranas’ directorial bravura.
What one gains from Miss Violence depends on how the viewer can stomach the brutality, as well as appreciate the film’s cold-mannered formalism. Nonetheless, Miss Violence is a tour de force.
16. Xenia (2014), dir. Panos H. Koutras
After their mother passes away, two Albanian brothers journey to find their biological father. The two protagonists, Danny (Nikoulis Kostas) and (Ody) Nikos Gelly, are a powerful duo who have chemistry, raw energy, and honest power. Kostas’ character can be easily transformed into a caricature; instead, he masterfully creates a creature one cannot avert his or her eyes. Gelly plays in a grounded and moral role, giving balance to the pair.
Panos Koutras, one of the best Greek directors of his generation, sets up a majestic journey, which includes unparalleled style and warmth, and the film’s bold scenes overflow with magical realism. Throughout his career, Koutras uses this magical realism his own personal and stylistic way. (Hopefully, he will continue to provide the cinema of which Greece is famous and proud.
Greece’s unknown future, the terrifying thought of bankruptcy, the newly strange homeland can be forgotten for a while longer because Xenia is a celebration of life—a film that gifts its viewers with a euphoric high. As long as directors like Koutras continue to direct films, which rediscover the definition of beauty and love and the journey called life, then everything in life that currently seems chaotic will be manageable. Now, who said poets were a dying breed?
Author’s Bio: Lyberis Dionysopoulos was born in Thessaloniki, Greece. Living one day at a time, he is just another teenage wanna-be writer who spends his time exploring the infinite abyss (spoiler alert: life).