‘Nikos Koundouros was a versatile, multitalented Greek film director who was considered one of the biggest personalities of 20th century world cinema. Koundouros, born in Agios Nikolaos, Crete in 1926, was a multifaceted personality, but also an everlasting Greek myth who over the years sought for beauty and splendor in his Byzantine iconography, his paintings, sketches, photography, his motion pictures and his writings. His artistic affluence is inspired by an amalgamation of Byzantine iconography and the beautiful bodies and landscapes exposed during the Renaissance period. In his career as a director, he directed every frame through the eyes of the painter.
‘From a young age he came face to face with fascism, violence, and his exile to the island of Makronissos due to his political beliefs and his independent and revolutionary character who was willing to say ‘no’ and keep his head up high with pride. This way, his creative proposal became a need: from one point a political one, for what his youthful mentality dictated and from the other his aesthetics, because beauty – he believed and still believes – is the only answer to the vile of human beings and the leveling of death.
‘At the age of 28 he decided to follow a career in cinematography, and started his career as a director of the film ‘Magiki Polis’ (Enchanted City) (1954), where he combined his neorealist influences with his own artistic viewpoint. After the release of his complex and innovative film ‘O Drakos’ (Draco) (1956), he found acceptance as a prominent artist in Greece and Europe, and has acquired important awards in various international and Greek film festivals. His directorial career climaxed in 1963 when he received the Best Director Award at the Berlin Film Festival, for the film “Young Aphrodites”.’ — collaged
Nikos Koundouros @ IMDb
Nikos Koundouros – Big exhibition at the 60th TIFF
Opening of the exhibition “The unknown artist Nikos Koundouros”
Nikos Koundouros // Images for a Country
NK @ MUBI
NK @ letterboxd
NK @ SensCritique
Chapter 3. Nikos Koundouros and the Cinema of Cruel Realism
Film of the month: The Ogre of Athens
Book: Nikos Koundouros : A Retrospective
Film Director Nikos Koundouros passes away at the age of 90
Tribute to Nikos Koundouros
Moving Faces | Nikos Koundouros
Nikos Koundouros art exhibition
Poet Andrea Dimitriou talks of Koundouros’s “The Orge of Athens”
“So, what are your questions?” he asked, and started responding himself without a second thought, and with a passion in his speech as if he was a teenager, our interview commenced!
“SURPRISE! After all these years, the stubbornness and the persistence of a very good friend – the Professor of the Arts – Manos Stefanidis – convinced me to exhibit my paintings for the first time! I’ve been painting for the past 60 years, I was born a painter! I studied iconography, I learned the art of iconography and as the years past by, I slowly detached myself from the discipline which is required for performing iconography, Byzantine iconography which contains rigor and asceticism. Because the iconographer is an ascetic being; it’s him, the wood, his colors and the silence. For years I respected this procedure the only thing I did not do is fast; fasting is a rule for the iconographer. I respected everything else… but I never fasted!
“As the years passed by I was irritated by sparks of suspicion for non-iconographic painting and I slowly pursued orthodoxy of another kind, which was renaissance. As we all know Greece did not enjoy the affluence of the renaissance period as it was under the occupation of Turks. But Crete and the Ionian islands somewhat experienced the renaissance, through these channels we slowly understood what renaissance painting meant. I had started to feel the joy and the charm of the naked bodies; renaissance disregarded the Puritanism of the church and set free the human body which was glorified and offered to the people of Europe.
“The naked body whether male or female, was no more a secret! It was a naked body, which was stunningly beautiful! We see paintings of the 16th-18th century which glorified the body and the landscape. As you have notice Byzantine iconography has no landscapes apart from some houses just to make reference to the space. Renaissance paintings brought the landscape in first place, second painting-wise, but the viewer saw the wonderful forests, the mountain range, the hills, and he saw landscapes and the human body on the equal terms. So basically this was the second phase of my studies… I learned how to draw!”
What is your relationship with God?
“We’re friends! (smile) We chat sometimes. I might have never been a Christian but I loved the orthodox ceremony, I disliked Catholicism, I disliked the way that the Pope and the Cardinals tried to impose the religion of love, which was the religion of God. What I didn’t dislike was Orthodoxy, the peace, the tranquility, the love and the interpretation of love; love the others so you could love yourself. I belong to that religion. I liked the church, the incense, the smell of the incense! I ran after every epitaph with humbleness, with respect and with that chill that the Holy Week ceremonies prevail. I never became a Christian, and I say it with some sort of pride! I never wanted the subjection of a Christian!”
And the exhibition?
“Part of this romantic renaissance is expressed in my painting but only for the one who has the knowledge to understand the roots, and those roots are no other than Byzantine iconography, and I don’t want to hide it! What I want to say is that I am a child of Byzantine iconography who is identified with the enthusiasm of the European painting culture.”
And you … ?
“I was born in a period under great pressure, moral, spiritual, mental, every sort of pressure. I am a child of oppression. I lived the dictatorship of Metaxas, I lived very severe situations! My father was a democrat who was sentenced to death; he made it and survived at first. I lived the Greek-Italian war and the reign of the Germans . I don’t remember a time in my life where I feel asleep carefree, I was like the old thieves, with one eye open, waiting for that knock on the door, that painful knock, being afraid that they would catch me! A constant state of nervousness and anxiety! Ex post facto, I am not objecting it as another way of life, I wanted it, I made it mine and I lived with it! I befriended this agony of the door knock; that is how the years passed by.”
11 of Nikos Koundouros’s 19 films
The Magic City (1954)
‘THE MAGIC CITY is the fantastic debut of Nikos Koundouros, one of Greece’s most iconoclastic postwar filmmakers. Blending Italian Neorealism with a personal stylistic sensibility that anticipates Jean-Pierre Melville’s gangster chic, THE MAGIC CITY stars Giorgos Foundas (also of STELLA) as Kosmas, a young man scraping by in the slums of Athens trying to make an honest living–while carrying on with a married woman and bumming around with hoods in the underground clubs and arcade alleys of “Magic City.” When the bank threatens to repossess his truck—source of his pride, a benefit to his community, and lifeblood of his labor—he reluctantly takes a smuggling gig in hopes of making his payments — but learns he’s in for a little more than he bargained for. THE MAGIC CITY crafts a new urban poetic realism that champions the working poor while delving into modern issues of moral complexity. And it’s every bit a brilliant first film — exuberant, perhaps overly idealistic, and brimming with the discovery of a new national character in cinema.’ — Spectacle
The Ogre of Athens (1956)
‘The film “O Drakos” is about a mousy, timid, bespectacled guy in Athens who sees a newspaper photo of a fugitive criminal mastermind called “The Fiend”. It’s the spitting image of the harmless nerd. A gang of starstruck crooks sees our hapless hero, mistakes him for the Fiend, rescues him from imminent arrest and more or less forces him to lead a desperate criminal scheme they’ve got going. And finally, the poor little man becomes enamoured of the idea, decides for once in his sad life to be a tough guy and a hero. He surrenders to his bizarre destiny, to be “The Fiend of Athens”… O Drakos is brilliant: a dark, satirical noir masterpiece… is like a French New Wave picture crossed with a British Ealing comedy, with something of Fellini in its zinging energy, and Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out and The Third Man. The stark, dramatic key-lighting in the “arrest” scene gives the imagery a Weegee-type crime-scene aesthetic…’ — letterboxd
The Outlaws (1958)
‘Filmed illegally at Meteora and under the fear of the censorship, that had not allowed the making of this film, Koundouros’ “The Outlaws” handled a topic that incarnated the absolute taboo of those years. The Civil War had ended a decade ago and its effects were still everywhere to be felt – with the silencing of any leftist voice dominating in the society. The film does not concentrate on the Civil War itself though, but on the time before its outbreak when the Nazis had just left Greece and the resistance fighters were forced by the state to hand over their weapons. The fighters of Elas, who did not agree, went back to the mountains and were hunted by the police. Koundouros described his film as a film of wrath against the violence of the new police state that emerged after the war. Expectedly, “The Outlaws” survived only one day in the cinemas before being banned by the censors. The Outlaws is also a beautifully filmed film, with strong characters and a perfect soundtrack by Hadjidakis.’ — salty_jim
Young Aphrodites (1963)
‘Sexual discovery from a tale told in 200 B.C. looks primal and yet so innocent. Every moment is shot with a poetic energy and it feels as though we have traveled back in time to witness male and female behavior first hand. The two couples, one much more mature than the other, seem to struggle through some barbaric behavior but upon further thought, it resembles much of what we see and hear in modern day by use of minuscule expressions: clipped wings and man building fire. Perhaps the origin of perceived gender roles/identification.’ — Mr Taylor
‘”Vortex” is a very bizarre and experimental Greek film; with a style thats reminiscent of Bergman, Antonioni, early Polanski, Jodorowsky and Arrabal. To be honest, it’s really hard to describe. “Vortex” is a movie within a movie and is shown out of sequence with repeated takes. The story gets interrupted repeatedly with the click of the director’s marquis. He yells “Vortex, Take 20 etc. etc. etc.”! So it’s hard to decipher if a story is taking place or if your watching behind the scenes of a movie. What’s surprising is that the film was made in 1966 and contains both frontal male and female nudity, a lengthy sex scene and even the use of the F-word. (the only version I know about exists in English) It was hard to tell what the exact plot was; the story also had something to do with the Greek myth of Medusa. It seemed to be about friends on vacation and going on a sort of boating trip. One man asks the girl if she has seen his brother? Then the film has a flashback of the brother’s sexual encounter with the beautiful lady while in England. They then here news that the brother is now dead. Scenes keep repeating themselves over and over, but along the way we’re treated to a good looking Greek cast, bizarre images and beautiful architecture . The film is shot in black and white and images appear to jump right out because of the chiaroscuro landscapes. The film’s music is haunting and mystical. Among the scenes that I remembered the most were; the skull on the scarecrow, face painting while the performance of bongo drums, and the female actress reattaching the leg of a creepy doll in the water. “Vortex” was very ahead of its time in its on screen portrayal of sexuality. “Vortex” is very unique; I wonder why it has seemed to of faded into obscurity?’ — NateManD
The Songs of Fire (1975)
‘A political concert filmed by the director Nikos Koundouros in 1974 (“Ta tragoudia tis fotias”), just after the end of the dictatorship.’ — creteisland
‘The revolutionary Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is famous for being the first president of Turkey and is credited with being the founder of the Republic of Turkey, formally established in 1923 after the Turkish War of Independence, which was initiated by Atatürk himself along with his colleagues in Anatolia. Said war took place between 1919 and 1923, being extended from the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by the Allies during World War I to the declaration of the Republic of Turkey. During this period, Greeks and Armenians located in Anatolia were forced out of their territories by Turkish resistance movements led by Atatürk.
‘Koundouros’ film is based on the autobiographical novel by Greek novelist Elias Venezis (a pseudodym for his real name Elias Mellos) entitled “Number 31328”, where he describes his experiences during his 14-month stay in a hard-labor concentration camp. The number in the novel’s title references the number he was assigned as a prisoner. The film consists on the development of personal tragedies of three different characters – a wife’s merchant, a professor and a 17-year-old adolescent – against the backdrop of the displacement of more than one million Greek Orthodox Christians.
‘Koundouros’ scope is nightmarishly haunting, utilizing a wide lens and a number of panoramic and first-POV tracking shots that accentuate every single atrocity committed by the monstrous Turks against the inhabitants, making them even more emotionally impactful. The film is furiously denunciating the violent means used against the inhabitants in Anatolia, which were entirely unarmed, and takes an extremely personal stand. A whole introductory chapter is dedicated for presenting the three different protagonists in the middle of a terrified town emotionally attached to the place they and their ancestors were born. Ergo, a full background is presented for the characters before we are taken to endure their personal hardships, but never losing focus on the victimized populace, which feels betrayed by the Greeks, given that it was the Greek government the one who authorized the expedition in Asia Minor.’ — Edgar Cochran
‘During the overthrow of the Ottoman occupation of Crete in 1897 (and its impending reunification with the Greek mainland), a hooker from Marseilles starts a brothel in Hania, Crete, which establishes itself as the place of sexual pleasure as well as clandestine diplomacy.’ — MUBI
Byron, Ballad for a Daemon (1992)
‘Koundouros’ uncompromising preoccupation with themes from Greek history do not aim at hagiography, but rather, at a mythical penetration into the chthonic dimensions of people and leaders in social upheaval. Here, in this claustrophobic and rainy setting -at odds with a philhellene’s vision of Hellas- Byron (an astonishing Vakousis) is glorified as lewd, animal-like, mystic visionary of the revolution. Captivating.’ — dionysus67
The Photographers (1998)
‘In a nonaligned country, where a civil conflict is raging, a team of photographers follows a mercenary war lord, whose men wreak havoc among enemies and innocents alike. The story is a modern version of the tragedy Antigone, in a time when TV and the other media present unrelieved visions of war and bloody mayhem.’ — letterboxd
A Ship to Palestine (2012)
‘“The Magic City” and “The Ogre of Athens” aside – the two films he made in the 50s – Nikos Koundouros’ body of work has been very consistent to his filmmaking style for the past seven decades. “A Ship to Palestine” marks the end of a 14-year hiatus, as the 86-year-old director hadn’t made a film since 1998. “A Ship to Palestine” is the natural progression of “The Photographers” and a distant relative to “Byron, a Ballad of a Man Possessed” and “Bordello”, featuring Koundouros’ trademark style, a quasi-experimental approach to historical narrative that might have been considered innovative in the 80s but is totally outdated in the year 2012. His once elaborate vision now seems redundant and artless, like a parody of his own oeuvre.’ — Flix
p.s. Hey. ** Ferdinand, Ha ha, thank you so much again, man! It was a hit! My eternal gratitude! ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. I don’t see the wannabe Andy thing at all. There’s been decades of water under that bridge. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. ** Dominik, Hey!! Cool! About the pizza. It’s a date. Yeah, I guess I imagined you proof-reading fiction. That’s where my head immediately goes, unsurprisingly, I guess. Frisk made it into the Halloween slave round up. How could I not? Slightly disheveled love is definitely the best kind. Love that turns every glass of water you drink into a wishing well, Dennis. ** Daniel, Daniel! Always, as I probably always say, a joy to see you here! Oops, about the scrubbing. Orville Peck?! The Orville Peck? Yikes. I, of course, didn’t see that ‘JT LeRoy’ movie for the obvious reasons. But I’d love to see a screengrab of that back cover. That’s wild. How’s life? Immensely interesting despite it all, I can only assume, what with you being you? ** Steve Erickson, Hi. I still, after many Zoom convos, have to ask the person I’m Zooming with to set up the Zoom meeting because I’m a klutz. New word-based stuff by you! Everyone, Steve has a couple of new things penned by him for you to read. Steve: ‘Here’s my review of Pietro Marcello’s MARTIN EDEN, with a paragraph on his 2009 film THE MOUTH OF THE WORLD. (Film at Lincoln Center starts streaming all 4 of his features Friday). And here’s my review of Dorian Electra’s MY AGENDA.’ I vaguely remember ‘Aura’. Not well though. I wonder if some enterprising someone would de-produce the 80s-isms out of that album and see what results. ** Jeff J, Hi, Jeff. Oh, I like the new Julien Calendar EP. Especially the last two tracks. Those were the ones that stuck/hit the most for me this time out. I’ve only seen a couple of Yvonne Rainer’s films. I can’t remember their names as it’s been a while. I definitely don’t remember being blown away by them. I vaguely remember thinking I liked her performance work better. But I’d be curious to revisit her films. Hm. Thanks, man. ** chris dankland, Hey, Chris, buddy boy! I’m doing fine. Oh, yeah, it was nice to be able to read Blake’s novel bit in that video. It was a nice project. I miss that guy. I have a lot of friends who teach, and not one of them, wherever they teach, is post-Zoom yet. I’m glad yours are going okay. Not every teacher I know is so happy about theirs. Yes, do something for Halloween! The world’s greatest holiday is so starved this year. Wait, you’re in Phoenix, right? Am I remembering correctly? If so, you do have a few haunted house attractions open there this year, a couple of which look pretty cool, if you’re into that sort of thing. Here’s a list. Yeah, I’ve seen Sunn0)))) live four times, I think. Amazing show, and, yeah, very very loud. A particular kind of loud. They play really low notes, so it’s not the kind of loud that screeches and rips up your eardrums, it’s more sort of a full body effect, like your body is experiencing an hour long biological earthquake or something. Highly recommended if they get near you. Man, I so miss live music shows. And there’s no sign that they’re coming back here anytime soon. In fact, tonight France is going to get harsher new COVID restrictions, and no one knows what they’ll be, and we’re all kind of fearful. You have a spectacular morning out there in the drylands, good sir! ** Brian O’Connell, Hi, Brian. Thanks, man. I would be surprised if you don’t really like ‘The Conformist’. I’m a giant fan of Visconti’s German trilogy. Weirdly, I just yesterday read that Bjorn Andresen, who played Tadzio, ‘the world’s most beautiful boy’, in ‘Death in Venice’ has a small part in ‘Midsommar’, and, wow, is he unrecognisable. Have you gotten into Antonioni at all in your Italian film exploring? He’s pretty amazing too. No rambling, perish the thought, just reading pleasure, sir. A fine day to you. ** Right. I’m guessing that a lot of readers won’t know the films of Greek director Nikos Koundouros, or maybe I mean you might not know his name. Very interesting stuff. And even though it’s not really covered in the post itself, he’s also interesting because he went being known and respected as a hard left director/activist to being a xenophobic nationalist guy/activist in his last years. Strange. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the post. See you tomorrow.