“The sense of growing up and approaching middle age stuck with me”
by Paraskevi Karageorgu
- Greek director Argyris Papadimitropoulos talks about his film Suntan, a recent winner at Edinburgh and Brussels, compelling juries with its portrait of one man's passion and desperation
The past weekend was a tremendous success for the Greek production Suntan [+see also:
interview: Argyris Papadimitropoulos
film profile] by Argyris Papadimitropoulos, as it received the Award for Best International Feature Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the UPS Cinephile Award at the Brussels Film Festival. Previously, the film had also been selected in competition at Rotterdam. A reflection on the parallels between youth and coming-of-middle-age, the film immerses the audience in a haunting, erotic thriller.
Cineuropa: The film represents a fairly "dark side" of what you describe as a "coming-of-middle-age" story; what inspired you to adopt this perspective?
Argyris Papadimitropoulos: Actually, this tagline was one of the first things I already had in mind along with my original idea for the film, before writing the script. After reading Michel Houellebecq, the sense of growing up and approaching middle age stuck with me - even if one could say it was a bit premature, at 37. However, these are the issues I struggle with these days - and many of my friends and peers do, too. As a former wild child who would be out and about constantly, collecting new experiences and exploring all earthly pleasures, I am now gradually trying to fit all of that into the life of a father, a partner, a creative collaborator. And it’s not always easy!
The island you have chosen works very well visually and metaphorically; how did you choose Antiparos, and what was it like shooting there?
I’ve been going to Antiparos since I was 16 years old. It’s my go-to vacation place, as I have rarely ever missed a summer there. I know all the places and the people there, and they know me back! So shooting the movie in Antiparos and its stunning landscape was a no-brainer for me, and the island embraced it. The difficult thing was that we went there in August, at the peak of the tourist season, and we had to shoot on an island that was literally packed with people. But I believe we managed to capture that special summer frenzy and the island’s vibes.
You make some very bold aesthetic and writing choices, such as the eyeball scene and the appearance of the title with the seasonal shift in the film. Could you tell us something about the creative process of co-writing the script with Syllas Tzoumerkas?
Actually, I never work with a fully written script, or with proper dialogue, etc. I only write something like a synopsis of every scene, and then I improvise with the actors during the rehearsals and the shoot. With Syllas, we have known each other since film school, and we are very close friends. He is a great director, and we each know very well what the other one likes. So writing together was the easiest thing ever, although he was in Berlin and I was in Athens. We had something like ten Skype meetings and we came up with the script, and then I made a few changes later on during the rehearsals.
Suntan is a very visually challenging film, contrasting youth and middle age, as portrayed by Elli Triggou and Makis Papadimitriou. Was the casting process difficult for these roles, which are both very complex?
I had been thinking about the lead role for quite some time. I had Makis’ face in my mind, but I had never met him or worked with him before. After our first meeting, I knew he was the one that could take on such a demanding role, carrying it through exactly as I had it mapped out in my mind, while at the same time bringing his own energy and ideas to the project. Anna’s casting was more complex in the sense that I needed a young girl who had never been on the big screen before, was comfortable with nudity and was extremely talented. I saw hundreds of girls, but Elli immediately stood out. And gradually, casting after casting, she became the obvious choice. I could not be happier with their performances, but I am also a lucky guy to have assembled such a strong and talented cast in all of the roles.
Bearing in mind the financial situation in Greece, Suntan is a 100% Greek production. Was it challenging to receive support for the project?
As a matter of fact, it was. The Greek Film Centre did not support the movie, and we did not have any public money up until the last week, when ERT announced their new film funding scheme and embraced the project. It was all completed thanks to the faith and persistence of our co-producers: they offered funding, labour, equipment and everything else they could come up with, in order to make this film happen. But to be honest, it has been an extremely painful and difficult process - I am not sure that Greek filmmakers will be able to work like this for much longer.