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Vardis Marinakis • Director

Action needs sacrifice


- After studying with Stephen Frears, Vardis Marinakis is the newest talent to arrive on the Greek film scene and did not become one of the FoG movement’s frontrunners by accident

Vardis   Marinakis  • Director

Cineuropa: What is Black Field [+see also:
film review
interview: Vardis Marinakis
film profile

Vardis Marinakis: Black Field is a period piece that takes place in the 1600s in a convent. A wounded janizary arrives at the convent and is harboured and nursed by the nuns. While there, the janizary falls in love with one of the nuns and they run off together.

The film has a twist that has already been leaked. It wasn’t our intention to make a film around the twist anyway, but the theme is actually the coming together of two people who are two sides of the same coin. It’s not so much a historical piece – it has more to do with sexual identity, identity in general and the freedom to express one’s individuality. The historical aspects of the film are more of a backdrop to an archetypical, character-driven story that focuses on people, feelings, senses and imagery.

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How did you decide to make a period film? It’s not that customary in Greek cinema.
I don’t know, I just can’t get myself to tell a story that takes place in our times. Every single idea I’ve had are films that take place in a magical sort of environment. Whether that may be the past, or the future, it’s definitely not the present. They’re all set in weird, solitary environments. I can’t think of anything urban or modern. I don’t know why that happens, but that’s what’s happening for the time being.

Do you feel a certain fondness to period films in general?
No, period films are not something I’m fond of. There have been period films from Greece in the last few years, I haven’t seen them – the idea of watching them has always been scary to me. The reason I picked a period setting to tell my story is that it helps make the fairy-tale aspect of it become absolute. And because the extremity of the situation was only plausible in that era, due to a historical prerequisite that’s no longer valid. In general, period settings don’t really do it for me. The way they’re usually handled feels kind of stale. But as a concept alone, it sort of takes me places. It helps me buy the story.

Did the fact that you’d have to recreate a whole era put you off in any way?
The practicality of it didn’t scare me – there are set designers, costume designers, people who do that for a living. We actually brought in an excellent set designer, Yorgos Georgiou, who also did the costumes, and we followed a Pasolini-esque sort of approach to it, which is to say a very minimalist approach that would stay clear of theatrical set overload, and we also avoided all the funny costumes with the feathered hats and all that. If you look at a janizary’s costume, it is the most ridiculous thing you can think of, they had these hats that went all the way up to the ceiling, filled with colourful feathers and stuff like that.

We didn’t want that, we wanted a more refined aesthetic approach. But obviously we had people check the script and see if it made sense for the period, whether the story was plausible. We had a scholar of Byzantinology come in and help us with the nuns’ hymns, and we did [everything] we needed to make sure we wouldn’t come short on accuracy.

How does it feel for your film to have topped a screening week as unconventional as the FoG Films screenings?
Yeah, well, it’s not the way I’d imagined it. I’d imagined I’d have gone to Cannes, won the prize…. [Laughs] I’d had the whole fantasy of being discovered by the world before I was even finished with the film – no, I’m just making a joke at the expense of Yorgos Lanthimos [director of acclaimed, Un Certain Regard winner, Dogtooth [+see also:
film review
interview: Yorgos Lanthimos
film profile
). None of that happened of course, but let’s be honest, starting off with a big festival is what we all dream of.

But what I discovered here I feel has opened up my heart a whole lot more. All of a sudden, I’ve stopped feeling alone in this. I’ve come together with people, with filmmakers I wasn’t even on speaking terms with, not because there was any sort of animosity but because we’re all so alone with our fantasies of careers here, like the Cannes dream, for instance. So, all of a sudden, we met each other, started exchanging ideas, we actually built something together, which for me is immensely touching, probably more fulfilling than getting a prize from a committee. Not that I wouldn’t want the prize, obviously. But there is a sense of sacrifice in there and I feel that any action needs some sacrifice for it to amount to something. You need to shed some blood.

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