“The energy of adolescence”
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2014: Cineuropa met up with Greek director Panos H Koutras to talk about Xenia, popular in the Certain Regard section of the 67th Cannes Film Festival
Already observed at the big international festivals, the Greek director Panos H Koutras (The Attack of the Giant Moussaka, Real Life, Strella [+see also:
film profile]) has this time entered with Xenia [+see also:
interview: Panos H. Koutras
film profile], unveiled at the 67th Cannes Film Festival, in the Un Certain Regard section, a realistic fable full of charm about two Albanian brothers in modern-day Greece.
Cineuropa: Xenia is a film that is very rich in themes. Which theme would you like to prioritise?
Panos H Koutras: In all of my films, I want to talk about a lot of things at the same time. When I begin, I have the idea for a theme, then I think of another idea that I had, and then another, etc. In the end, I choose one of them and I try to include all of the others in the scenario. That’s what happened for Xenia. I wanted firstly to talk about my adolescence because I’m nearing 50 and was afraid of forgetting my youth. Then, I wanted to make a film about brotherly love, not just by blood, but also by choice with a very deep friendship. I also wanted to talk about this generation in Greece of around 200,000 children who are stateless because the right of blood does exist, but territorial rights do not. These people were born in Greece, went to school in Greece, speak Greek as their first language, but are not Greek and can never become Greek. And yet, during this time of crisis, it is this generation that will have to bear the burden, and we do not acknowledge the essential point: to be able to choose the country to which it belongs.
You tackle these themes through a mix of genres: psychological drama, thriller, musical, comedy, fantasy, etc.
That’s my incurable cinephile side. I try to put all the films I like into one film. I know that sometimes it’s dangerous, but if it doesn’t work out, too bad.
Why did you choose two non-professional protagonists?
As one of the characters is 16 years old and the other 18, I really wanted it to be credible. I didn’t want a 23-year-old playing a 16-year-old character, because I think that’s ridiculous. I searched, but there are very few professional actors of that age. And I also wanted them to be second-generation Albanians. But I was certain that among those 200,000 youths, there would be two handsome, talented boys ready to embark on an adventure. And we ended up finding them at the end of a year and half of casting all over Greece.
Where did the idea of the fantasy element of the rabbit come from?
Initially, I thought it was quite an unremarkable idea because it’s a child’s classic imaginary friend, something incorporated in particular into horror films where the child has an imaginary friend which finally reveals itself as a ghost terrorising the whole family (laughs). Lots of children have dolls, teddy bears to which they talk for hours. And Dany is a bit of a traumatised child, a sort of Peter Pan who prolongs his childhood. In fact, that’s when the turn in the film occurs and when Dany understands that if he wants to survive in the forest, he has to kill his imaginary friend.
What were your stances on direction and lighting in the film, which were quite particular?
Usually, I don’t think too much about that. I prefer for everything to work around the story and the characters. My idea was to make a film seen through the eyes of Dany, through the energy of adolescence. The lighting and colours are as those that Dany would see. There’s also the lighting of Greece, which is not that easy to film because it’s sometimes a bit overwhelming. My idea was not a fairy tale, but a story told by a child, with the imagery that a child might have.
How difficult has it been to produce this ambitious film?
It was hell. It was quite an expensive film, and my producers agreed to kick off because the children were growing up. Next, we had really bad luck when the public broadcaster ERT closed in the middle of shooting with its financial support, which then disappeared. It was really hard up until a few weeks ago, with the birth of a new broadcaster that will take over the project. It was a battle.
(Translated from French)