Daily Archives: December 5, 2015

Rebetiko legend brought back to life on the silver screen


It all started about five years ago, when a production company gave Manousos Manousakis a screenplay based on the novel “Ouzeri Tsitsanis” by Giorgos Skabardonis. The successful screenwriter, director and producer was not impressed. He did, however, discern a glimmer of potential and returned to the source, the book.

“Other than a good piece of literature, it’s a gold mine for a screenwriter,” says Manousakis. “It offered the possibility – by adding some things or shifting the narrative’s focus here and there – to take a simple love story and make it reflect today’s reality, to condemn racism, to reveal Nazism for what it is to those who don’t know and remind those who have forgotten.”

And so the journey began, with Manousakis and screenwriters Vassilis Spiliopoulos and Ada Gourbali working together with historians and people who experienced some of the more dramatic events from the period. Each added his or her own precious contributions to the wonderful mosaic that hit cinemas across the country on Thursday, December 3.

The story

The story begins in Thessaloniki in 1943, shrouded in the heavy mantle of the Nazi occupation, with security battalions, hunger, arrests, execution and, of course, resistance, as the first trains start leaving for the death camps carrying the city’s Jews. Against this tragic backdrop, a forbidden love blossoms between Estrea, a Jew, and Giorgos, a Christian, accompanied by the sounds of Ouzeri Tsitsanis, a live music venue and taverna where rebetika master Vassilis Tsitsanis, then 28 years old, was in his creative prime, penning some of his most emblematic and lasting songs – including “Synnefiasmeni Kyriaki” (Cloudy Sunday). The song came to him at dawn as he left the taverna and saw traces of blood in the snow. He followed the trail and came upon the body of a young man. This scene is in the film: a powerful bond between the fiction of film and the real story.

“The protagonists are young people who are not much different from those today. Back then they were trying to build a life under the extreme conditions of the occupation, while today the situation is similar with the harsh conditions of the economic crisis,” says Manousakis.

The writer did not have any particular knowledge of the singer when he started the screenplay. “Of course I knew his songs but I hadn’t delved any deeper. Through the process of making the film I had the opportunity to get to know more about him and, more importantly, to understand the torment of the creative process he was defined by, just like any great artist.”

The cast

The director had no problem whatsoever in picking a cast for the film. He found his perfect Tsitsanis, Andreas Konstantinou, while watching Pantelis Voulgaris’s “Little England.”

“He didn’t even have to audition,” says Manousakis. “Andreas is creative, inquisitive and full of suggestions. And if you’re clever as a director and wring him dry, you can make miracles happen.”

Konstantinou worked hard on the part. He did a lot of reading, took bouzouki lessons, listened to all of Tsitsanis’s songs again and again, memorized his mannerisms from photographs and videos, and took in the details of the man.

“I don’t know if I identified with Tsitsanis. I tried to understand what it is like to be gifted with such a talent under those circumstances. What I saw was a man who was low-key, a man of action instead of words, a modest man and a perfectionist,” says Konstantinou.

Vassiliki Troufakou stars in the role of Lela, a young woman from a working-class background with an exceptional voice and beauty. Her desperate love for the unavailable Tsitsanis leads her into the arms of another man, a powerful and controversial character.

“Without calling her a saint, she’s a person who fights to the end. And the most charming thing about her is that she fights all her battles alone. I tried to put myself in her shoes and imagine what it meant for a woman at that time to be responsible for her ailing mother, without a male presence at her side, walking into a place that was all-male,” says the actress.

On the other side of the story, Dimitris Horn Award-winning actor Haris Frangoulis plays Giorgos, an active member of the resistance who leaves a secure future to open an ouzo joint with Tsitsanis at a time when the rebetika scene was very much the underbelly of society.

What the actor admires most about his character is his “immediacy, his sincerity and strength.”

Giorgos is in love with Estrea, played by first-timer Christina Hilla Fameli. What did she learn from the story told in the film? “That you can survive even the most tragic events, fear and prejudice, without closing your eyes, without losing your courage.”

The production

The numbers alone indicate the challenge of the endeavor: 60 actors, 2,500 extras, 6,000 period costumes, three months of shooting. What’s it like doing this kind of cinema, huge for Greek standards, and especially during the crisis?

Manousakis smiles. “Bliss! Especially when a problem was overcome,” he says. “You can’t imagine how much trouble we had with locations. We’ve demolished everything in this country, erased every trace of our historical memory. We built walls, we painted them and at night the kids would come by and scribble them with graffiti. We had to have a security guard on watch all night. In Thessaloniki alone we used 1,200 extras. In the train scene we had 700 and most were volunteers. Thessaloniki residents of all ages would come forward and offer to help. They would come and watch the shoots, take it in, cry. The film was a trigger for them to remember things from the past, the stories of their families.”

What are his predictions about the film’s fate?

“As a people we’ve started to appreciate our products, the cultural ones too. You saw what happened with ‘Little England’ and ‘Lobster,’” he says of two recent Greek film success. “So, yes, I’m optimistic!”

The film’s music is by composer Themis Karamouratidis and it was no easy feat because he had to write new material that would also evoke the era of the film, without it sounding “old” to the ears of younger audiences. He penned 27 original melodies, adaptations and new renditions of Tsitsanis songs that form a parallel yet equally fascinating narrative without overshadowing the story and action.

How close to Tsitsanis did he feel through this process?

“I can’t answer that,” says Karamouratidis. “I think it’s disrespectful to say that I feel I’ve come close to him. I would love to, of course, to come to a point where I can approach his elegant simplicity, the purity of his melodies, his sincerity.”

The CD with the “Ouzeri Tsitsanis” soundtrack, released by Feelgood Records, will be included in Kathimerini’s special Sunday edition on December 13. The special collectible CD will also include a rare recording to “Synefiasmeni Kyriaki” from the personal archive of the Tsitsanis family, performed by the great man himself, together with Eleni Gerani.

Panathinaikos beats Barcelona as Olympiacos tear up Armani


As the first group stage of the Euroleague is nearing its conclusion, with two rounds of games left to play, it becomes ever clearer that Olympiakos and Panathinaikos are growing stronger by the week.

This week Olympiakos came from behind to down Armani Milano and consolidate its place at the top of its group, while Panathinaikos has beaten its group’s leader, Barcelona, and is mighty close not just to qualifying to the second round but also to clinching the third spot in the group.

Olympiakos had a hard time on Thursday beating Armani that led in the first half and threatened Olympiakos with a home loss. However the Greeks won 73-63 as their quality told despite the absence of Vassilis Spanoulis.

The Reds are also sweating over Matt Lojeski who got injured and is likely to sit out the next three or four weeks. They have also agreed terms with forward Shawn James who has left Bilbao Basket.

Panathinaikos broke a nine-game losing streak with Barcelona and beat the Catalans 93-86 on Friday after a spectacular home performance, led by its captain, Dimitris Diamantidis, scorer of 20 points. The Greens led throughout the game and fended off the Blaugrana fightback – that cut the distance to one point (71-70) – to score their fourth win in eight games.

The Greens will host Zielona Gora next and if they win they will probably need to defend a 35-point lead at Zalgiris Kaunas to finish third and avoid entering Olympiakos’s group in the second round.

In the Eurocup on Wednesday PAOK scored a huge win over Besiktas in Istanbul with a 75-73 score, Aris saw off Unics Kazan 76-70 and AEK went down 86-79 at Nizhny Novgorod.


Constructive criticism of destructive passion: some A-League fans should stay banned


Big blue: empty seats usually occupied by The Cove during Sydney FC’s 1-0 win over Newcastle on Friday night. Photo: Getty Images

Let’s step back for a moment.

There is one aspect of this appeal thing that’s seriously bugging me, especially when it is so easy, safe and common to play into the general fans’ loyalties with statements, platitudes even, about standing together, being the heart of the game and so on.

Yes, they are. Yes, you are. That’s obvious, and recognised. Football Federation Australia stuffed up, admitted it and an appeal process will be implemented. I get that.

But there’s a catch. Not every fan has my support. Only those that serve the game well.

And behaving like idiots at a football match makes you my enemy, not my friend.

Populism rules the day at times like these, if you ask me. Especially when we are dealing with such a wonderfully passionate fanbase that is becoming more capable of wielding influence.

It’s very easy to say you stand with them, very beneficial at times for people’s roles inside the game, whether club chief executives, chairmen, players or media personalities.

But every single one of us has one obligation, and one only. And that is to the game.

Example: I am an ex-Socceroo. This is a brotherhood we are immensely proud of and which carries certain responsibilities towards each other, but I’ll smash any ex-player who acts contrary to the game’s wellbeing and long-term benefit. That obligation supersedes any other.

Likewise, in the media, I don’t mention other networks, analysts, shows or personalities because there is a level of professional courtesy. Nevertheless, if anyone acts contrary to the game’s interest, it’s war.

That’s the rule of football. The game comes first. And that’s really the true test of whether you love football, or love more what football can do for you. What it gives you, whether a job, a profile or standing within your community.

There are a lot of people around at the moment who seem to me to be the latter.

Because the banning of anyone that sought to put themselves above the game through their actions at a match is not a simple matter. It is highly complex; any wrong move can damage the game’s image and, aside from the now infamous appeals process, I reckon FFA have done a pretty bloody good job of protecting the game’s image over the past 10 years.

Therefore, let us all acknowledge one fact. One reason the game’s image is so incredibly healthy, is the banning of idiots willing to damage it.

So, I get that David Gallop stuffed up in not standing up for our fans, but I also agree with his hard line on behaviour. If he did anything else, I’d be into him quick smart, so let us not be hypocrites.

Let us neither speak only of love or passion. It is not enough.

There must also be the intention to protect, promote and grow the game. That is a true fan. A genuine football lover. We had plenty of passion in the past, but much was destructive. All we need, and all we will tolerate as a game is constructive passion. To do good, see good and only to allow good.

An uncomfortable truth, then, in case anyone is confused. Some of the banned fans should stay banned.

Whomever among them set out to intentionally cause damage to football, or cared nothing for the outcome of their actions which would inevitably do so, stuff you. You can stay banned. I don’t want you back, nor do I care if you have an appeals process.

This is what disturbs me about banners proclaiming that everyone stands with the 198. I don’t. Nowhere near it.

I stand only with those among them unfairly charged and that have been denied the right to clear their name.

Just wanted to be clear.

Craig Foster

Football columnist


Olympiacos – Arsenal:Mesut Ozil stars in Arsenal’s Champions League match


“But Arsenal are in a group where a kid friend of mine is the manager of Olympiakos and it would be fantastic for the kid’s career to go through”.

There are no grey areas for the Gunners and nothing that happens in the other game between Bayern Munich and Zagreb will have any bearing on whether Arsenal qualify for the next phase or not.

However, following further tests, Wenger revealed last night that while the injury doesn’t need surgery, Coquelin is now likely to be out for 12 weeks meaning he won’t return until mid-February. “Both did it well and it gives us a chance”, Wenger said.

“We have providers. Alexis Sanchez, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla all have quality while Mesut Ozil is not just a provider now – he likes to get on the end of things”. “I don’t know, but I believe we can do it”, he added.

“We know the task and for us this task has one big advantage – it is very clear what we have to do”.

“We definitely can do it. We played handsome football against Dinamo and scored three goals”.

And BT Sport pundit Gerrard believes that decision will continue to cost Arsenal and their chances of silverware. This time we need to qualify. “It will be tough but we have to believe we can do it and I believe we can do it”.

“You have to trust UEFA and the organisation over there to ensure it is handled well”.

Arsenal gave their campaign some hope after they defeated Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 at the Emirates and confirmed themselves a place in at least the Europa League.

Arsenal won their second game in the Champions League this year and also benefit from the loss of Olympiacos to Bayern Munich.

“The season is always very long so sometimes you have to accept being on the bench but sometimes you have the opportunity to prove you can still play in the Arsenal team”, he was quoted as saying by British media.

“And Campbell as well had a little calf problem, so I will have to assess all that on Friday, latest Saturday”.

“I would have loved to rest Sanchez tonight but I had two different options, once it was 3-0 you don’t need him to track back”.