Greek filmmaker's Bengali influence

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Greek filmmaker's Bengali influence

As a child, Greek filmmaker Maria Douza was emotionally moved while watching Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, the pathos-filled story of a young boy, Apu, and his elder sister, Durga, growing up in a derelict village in Bengal.

When she went to film school, Douza’s love for the Ray brand of cinema only increased as she got reacquainted with his work during her years of training. His style and seemingly instinctive ability to flawlessly capture the essence of his homeland and its people resonated with her sensibility.

In her directorial debut, The Tree And the Swing, therefore, Douza did something similar: she took the classic Greek theme of family, migration and homecoming and used them in a contemporary context and setting. In the process, she created not just a strong script that centred on mothers and daughters, but could also present the beautiful Greek countryside to perfection.

Eleni, the protagonist of the film, is a strong-willed Greek woman, who has been living and working in the UK for the last 15 years as a doctor. Upon hearing the news that her husband is re-locating to China for work, she resolves to go back to her homeland with her daughter and straighten things out with her estranged father, Kyriakos, with whom she hadn’t had a conversation in years. When she returns, she is surprised to find a Serbian woman, Nina, and her daughter living in the family home with her father. This was not the only secret that he had been keeping from her.

Through the film, Douza has attempted to showcase the movement of people since time immemorial, whether by force, desire or necessity. She says, “For me The Tree And the Swing primarily deals with a homecoming that forces Eleni to challenge her notions of identity, her sense of belonging and home.” Being a Greek raised in Australia, Douza completely identifies with this subject and has used cinema, the one medium she knows best, to effectively reach out to different audiences to tell a story rife with the movement of people.

It was her father who had introduced her to the joys of the motion picture. A civil engineer, he loved watching movies and, in fact, introduced international films in her life at a young age. “He imbued in me a deep love for cinema and supported my decision to study and work as a filmmaker,” she reveals.

Of course, Douza has to break through several stereotypes associated with her profession. She initially made inroads into this predominantly male-dominated industry as creative screen writer. But once she had established herself as a master wordsmith, she went on to direction to tell the stories that inspired her. “Cinema has given me immense joy; it has introduced me to many different people and varied life experiences,” elaborates the talented director, who is a graduate of Athens University and the National Film and Television School in England.

A multi-layered tale of one family’s estrangement, The Tree and the Swing is based on real-life circumstances. And, according to Douza, a part of the credit for the heartfelt rendering of emotions like acceptance, love and repentance, should go to her actors. “I like to work with actors whose films I have already seen, so that I know beforehand what they can contribute to my film with their experience, professionalism and quality. Myrto Alikaki, who plays the lead character of Eleni, is an actress I have worked with in the past. She had previously played strongly etched roles as lover, sex icon, object of desire. In The Tree and the Swing, she is a career woman and mother, and I liked the femininity she brings to the character.”

Casting for the other pivotal role — that of the father — was something Douza had planned at the scripting stage itself. “I wrote the Kyriakos character with Elias Logothetis in mind and, incidentally, he was the first to come on board. Getting Mirjanna Karanovic, the Serbian actress who plays Nina, was a dream come true. Karanovic is really gifted and I have seen her in Emir Kusturica’s films. I had never imagined that one day I would work with her,” she adds. Interestingly, the filmmaker is not only happy to work with international stars, she loves to watch world cinema as well.

Douza has a long list of films that have attracted her, “When I was at the India International Film Festival in Goa, I did get to catch up with some great movies. There was, for instance, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Uttara and Rituparno Ghosh’s Satyanweshi, both of which I liked for different reasons and in different ways. Then there was Bakhtiar Khudionazarov’s Waiting For the Sea, which struck me as an extraordinary film with crazy energy and real poetic quality. I am now hoping to get the chance to see the film set in Mumbai, Lunchbox.”

Many influences and interests have fuelled Douza’s imagination, helping her evolve as a filmmaker. The Tree And the Swing, which has been screened at major film festivals around the world, including the Athens International Film Festival and the India International Film Festival, has earned her rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.

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