Sofia Exarchou • Director
"The derelict Olympic Village mirrors a great deal of the Western world’s mentality"
by Joseph Proimakis
- One of the most well-travelled films to screen at Thessaloniki, Sofia Exarchou’s feature debut, Park, truly haunted the International Competition
One of the most well-travelled films to screen at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, Sofia Exarchou’s hauntingly realistic feature debut, Park [+see also:
interview: Sofia Exarchou
film profile], followed up on its San Sebastián world premiere (and its subsequent endless list of festival appearances around the globe) with a slot in the TIFF’s prestigious International Competition, where it sought to rid Greek cinema of its “Weird Wave” label with its in-your-face directness.
Cineuropa: The press kit presents Park as a film about a lost generation, which it very much is, but it also feels like a film about the aftermath of an era long gone from Greece, which is embodied in the Olympic Village that serves as its main location and which even feels like a main character.
Sofia Exarchou: Well, the premise for it started with the kids. I wanted to tell a story about a group of boys living in this isolated, hopeless place. I was trying to figure out where to do it, and I knew I needed a space that would have this out-of-time quality, with no links to any contemporary reality. I couldn’t find anything until I heard of the Olympic Village and how it has essentially turned into this wasteland, and I immediately felt that it represented exactly what I was aiming for because in a way, it mirrors Greece’s recent history. It has indeed charged the film with a certain current, but as I’ve found from the festivals it’s screened at so far, it sort of strikes an ecumenical chord as well. I feel it mirrors a great deal of the Western world’s mentality in general. We are seeing the same thing happening with Rio de Janeiro just this year: immense spaces constructed to stage a huge party, only to be turned into modern-day dystopias, not due to some war or force of nature, but due to a vast celebration. I feel that’s very telling of how the Western world works nowadays.
One very unsettling theme that feels topical, however, is the one driving the second part of your film, when your couple of youngsters travel to the edge of town, where the party is being staged at the seaside, only to feel estranged and unwelcome amidst their own country’s finest of natural gifts.
What I was mainly aiming for wasn’t so much the antithesis you mention, but rather the similarities between the people inhabiting these completely different worlds. By contradicting the vibrant resorts with the barren Olympic Village, I’m trying to outline the fact that, in the end, we may be living in microcosms of our own, but we’re all constantly seeking escape: the couple tries to escape from its daily life and travels to a place where people are living in their own ephemeral bubble, which they have devised in order to escape a stifling routine that they themselves travelled away from.
At certain points, Park is reminiscent of old-school Constantine Giannaris and feels like an updated version of From the Edge of the City. Yet it’s been heavily referred to as a Weird Wave entry, even though it both stylistically and narratively tries to stay clear of those mechanisms.
If you ask me, the film has some really intense realism, very raw, very in-your-face, which I wanted to accomplish by all the means available to me – the cinematography, the acting, the sound mix, everything – but at the same time, I wanted to maintain these sorts of observant moments where the viewer would feel that this is all fiction, that it’s not some sort of documentary approach. So there are moments where this heavy realism turns into something quite lyrical, but I certainly wasn’t going for the “Weird Wave aesthetic”. I’m afraid that we won’t be able to shake that label off anytime soon, though; it’s actually haunted us, and it’s going to continue doing so for the next couple of decades, even though there have been many different approaches to filmmaking evident in Greece, and even the people who gave birth to it as a narrative style have actually moved on quite a lot.
Any thoughts on what your next project is going to be?
I’m in the very early stages of developing an idea, so I don’t really have anything to talk about yet, but I hope it will move along soon.
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