Elina Psykou • Director
“It is a game of metaphors and symbols”
by Vassilis Economou
- We got the chance to talk to Greek director Elina Psykou after the world premiere of Son of Sofia at Tribeca, where it won the Award for Best International Narrative Feature
Four years after her well-travelled debut feature film, The Eternal Return of Antonis Paraskevas [+see also:
interview: Elina Psykou
film profile], Elina Psykou returns to her beloved dissection of Greek society with her sophomore feature, Son of Sofia [+see also:
interview: Elina Psykou
film profile]. Her film is an abstract fairy tale set during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and tries to explore the end of its hero’s innocence as well as the collapse of prominent Greek illusions. We got the chance to talk to her after the world premiere of her movie in the International Narrative Competition section of the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Award for Best International Narrative Feature.
Cineuropa: How would you describe your film? It displays elements of both reality and fantasy. Do you feel that the viewer will focus more on the personal story or the social environment that the story takes place in?
Elina Psykou: I like to explore realism via fantasy, so the movie is kind of a story of magic realism. The social environment comes after the personal story, so for me it is just a tool for the audience, not the story itself.
As was the case in your debut film, in Son of Sofia you still focus on Greek social status. Why do you have the urge to make these references?
I like to set my stories in specific sociopolitical backgrounds. This way, the personal becomes universal and the universal personal. But my stories don’t start out this way;first come the characters and then the era. First, I have the structure of the main story, and then I search for the context. The social references give the viewers a different point of view, helping them to understand and feel for the characters. It is a game of metaphors and symbols that I really like to use.
By setting the story during the 2004 Olympics, did you also wish to emphasise the social precursor of today’s situation or just the peak before the downfall?
I found the Olympic Games context a very interesting background to set the story in. The 2004 era was just as innocent as Misha. What follows this period is something totally new and very tough for Greece, which is what Misha also faces when he arrives in Athens. Both Greece and the young protagonist live in an illusion, an illusion that will come to an end very soon. Setting the story during the Olympic Games is just a metaphor for the end of illusions, the end of childhood and fairy tales, and their replacement with a coming of age, whatever this may bring.
Why did you choose to focus on the immigrants from Eastern Europe?
Firstly, for realistic reasons, as in Greece most female immigrants come from these countries. But secondly, I felt that the culture and the sociopolitical history of Eastern Europe drove me down a very interesting cinematic path. So I explored songs, the communist background, the Olympic Games and TV programmes, and I finally used a lot of traditional elements from the region.
Do you believe that the question of so-called “national identity” has become more prominent today?
If the film has a topic, it is identity formation. Part of this identity is the national one, together with the sexual, the linguistic, the religious and the political ones. Of course national identity is very prominent nowadays, but just as prominent as the religious or the political one. We live in such a transitional period, and all these kinds of things are so confused in our minds. Are we Europeans, are we Greeks, Christians, Muslims, left, right, gay, straight, or are we just human beings?
One of your lead characters used to be a TV star during the dictatorship; do you feel that TV actually formed Greece’s social reality?
For me, TV is like a personal obsession. I like to use it in most of my works. Of course, I don’t believe that TV is “bad”, but I strongly believe that TV in Greece was used in the wrong way. Right from its beginnings, when it was used as an ideological mechanism, up until today, most of the TV programming has been trash. So yes, I believe that Greek TV has to assume a great deal of responsibility for the social reality of our country. We have watched so many beauty pageants, soap operas and trashy news items, and it seems normal to dream of a life built from this kind of material.
Will Son of Sofia be taking part in any upcoming festivals? Also, do you have any other plans for the near future?
A lot of festivals are coming up following Tribeca, but unfortunately the only one we can announce is the Jeonju International Film Festival in South Korea, where the film is also in competition. Concerning other plans, I am in development with my first documentary, To Live and Die in Europe, which has already been supported by Creative Europe and Eave, and I’m writing the script for my third fiction feature.
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