Saturday, 22 April 2017


By Dimitri Keramitas

As the issue of identity becomes an increasingly global one, filmmakers are delving into how characters navigate troubled cultural, national and economic divides to remain true to who they are - or merely to fit in.

Family Member, Cyprus’ contribution to the recent “Week of Foreign Cinema in Paris”, is one such film. It has been making the rounds at international festivals, where the questions it raises have resonated with audiences. 

How does one fit in? A scene from Family Member.
Interestingly, none of the characters in Marinos Kartikkis’ movie is in fact “foreign” within the context of that divided country - they’re all Greek-Cypriot.

The catalyzing figure is an old man who worms his way into a Cypriot family (in Greek, the word for foreigner, xeno, can also refer to any outsider or stranger). Theodoros perturbs the family’s ways at first, and is barely tolerated. But gradually he makes himself accepted and liked, becoming a genuine “family member” (and also humanizing the others, who’d all seemed wrapped up in themselves).

The film begins as grim domestic and social tragedy. Yorgos (Christopher Greco) is a convenience shop-owner struggling to survive in a depressed economy. He tries to be lenient towards customers who can’t pay right away. In any case he doesn’t have much choice: He can either hope for deferred payment, or do without their business altogether.

Yorgos’ wife, Sophia (Yiola Klitou), tries to hold the family’s domestic economy together, but her children nag her for cash or the material things that Western kids normally take for granted. The family gets by with the aid of her aged father’s pension. The father lives with the family, which means that aside from the monetary contribution, he can help care for Yorgos and Sophia’s young son. One day he dies peacefully in his bed, which is not only a personal loss but a financial one - the precious monthly pension.

Out of desperation, Sophia gets the idea to keep the pension money coming by pretending that her father is still alive. After the unrelenting social tone, Kartikkis surprises us by sliding into blackly humorous melodrama, sort of like Shallow Grave or any number of prankish indie films. But the social context makes the plot creepily plausible. Sophia tries to persuade her husband to go along, and his horrified reaction lends more plausibility before he agrees to take the old man’s body to the cemetery for a secret burial. Even the children are brought into the family plot (in every sense of the word).

When Yorgos later catches an old man shoplifting, he pounces on him like an avenging angel but relents from turning him over to the police after the old man’s pleading and the compassionate urging of Sophia. She also sees in the man another way to further her scheme. Soon the old man is staying at their home, not only assisting in the pension scam, but trying to be useful or at least keep out of everyone’s way. The relationships between Theodoros and the family members become more complex, sympathetic and human. But questions about his past life arise, the family plot thickens, and the narrative moves in unexpected ways.

Family Member’s director, a US-trained painter and art teacher, films in a careful way, sometimes stately, other times nearly static. The four-square style plonks the camera in front of the action, which is framed in relative close-up. It’s an austere technique recalling the French director Robert Bresson, except here the aim isn’t spiritual or iconic, but rather brings out characters pressurized by external constraints. One shot feeds into the next fluidly, keeping the film from feeling oppressive, although oppressiveness is the dominant tone.

A "family" dinner in the movie.
The director’s sober filming eventually wavers (which comes as a bit of a relief), with a few headlong pans and vertiginous angles, but he never loses control. The Cypriot setting lends itself to his style. 

Although the island is situated in the Mediterranean’s southern reaches, geographically more Middle Eastern than European, with palm trees decorating the landscape, the urban backdrop seems austere, evoking the island’s history as Crusader bastion, Frankish fief, and British colony. This is also reflected in the characters, all solidly portrayed by a talented cast. Christopher Greco and Yiola Klitou especially bring restrained power to their put-upon characters.

In the end, Theodoros turns out to be more foreign than he first appeared - not just another Cypriot retiree, but someone who’d spent much of his life in England. He comes to represent a different financial reality, from more normal times (just as Sophia’s father, with his pension, had). For people in countries struck by burst bubbles and failed austerity policies, economic normalcy has become a paradise lost. The characters in Family Member find some material consolation, but more importantly they regain their humanity in the process.

What the director illustrates in a cogent manner is how the prolonged economic crises in Cyprus and Greece have stressed not only society and family bonds, but the sense of identity. Parents unable to provide for their families, forced into degrading or dubious undertakings, see their self-image as breadwinners or proper middle-class people fray. Likewise, one’s acquaintances, colleagues, and customers become transformed into adversaries. The most banal government officials are seen as nefarious oppressors. Although Family Member doesn’t deal explicitly with migrants or refugees, the film is a powerful depiction of how in a time of crisis everyone becomes an Other - even oneself.

Production: AB Seahorse Film Production. Distribution: Homemade Movies (Cyprus). 

Dimitri Keramitas is a legal expert and award-winning writer based in Paris.

Saturday, 15 April 2017


The “musically vibrant and culturally rich city” of Havana, Cuba, will host the main concert of this year’s International Jazz Day, to be celebrated worldwide on April 30, according to the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In a joint announcement, the agency’s director-general Irina Bokova and American jazz musician Herbie Hancock (a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador) said that the Day will culminate with an All-Star Global Concert presented at the Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso.

The Gran Teatro de La Habana Alicia Alonso
The show will take place under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture of Cuba, the Cuban Institute of Music and the Cuban National Commission for UNESCO, and it will be live streamed by the UN agency.

Hancock and legendary Cuban musician Chucho Valdés will serve as the artistic directors of the Global Concert, while U.S. pianist, arranger and composer John Beasley and Cuban pianist Emilio Vega will be the musical co-directors. The show will also feature an “extraordinary array of artists from around the world paying tribute to the international art form of jazz”, UNESCO says.

The list of performers include Richard  Bona, Kenny Garrett, Marcus Miller and Esperanza Spalding of the United States; Till Brönner of Germany; A Bu of China; Igor Butman of the Russian Federation; Takuya Kuroda of Japan; Dhafer Youssef  of Tunisia; and many others.

“UNESCO is proud to be associated once again with the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, as well as with the Instituto Cubano de la Música, to raise the flag for jazz, for freedom, for creativity, for diversity and for unity,” Bokova said in a statement. “This year’s focus on Cuba is testament to the power of jazz to build bridges and join women and men together around shared values and aspirations.”

The Global Concert's Musical Co-Director John Beasley.
(Photo: Eric Wolfinger)
The aim of International Jazz Day - now in its sixth edition - is to highlight the “power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity”, UNESCO says.

It also seeks to "promote intercultural dialogue through respect and understanding”, and to unite people from “all corners of the globe”.

Throughout the day, numerous musicians and educators from Cuba and around the world will participate in a range of free jazz performances, master classes, improvisational workshops, jam sessions and community outreach initiatives, the agency says.

“Programs will take place at schools, arts venues, community centers, jazz clubs and parks across the city of Havana and throughout Cuba beginning on Monday, April 24th and leading up to the festivities on April 30th,” according to UNESCO.

The organizers said that these programs “will be among the thousands of International Jazz Day live performances, educational activities, and community service programs taking place in more than 190 countries on all continents”.

A scene from last year's Jazz Day.
(Photo: S. Mundinger)
Speaking about the day and Havana’s role, Hancock said: “Afro-Cuban jazz and its rich history have played a pivotal role in the evolution and enrichment of the entire jazz genre. The incomparable trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie along with beloved Cuban musicians Mario Bauzá, Machito and Chano Pozo, infused American jazz with Afro-Cuban rhythms to create a brand new, energetic sound that defined modern music.”

The Havana show comes five months after the death of former Cuban leader and revolutionary Fidel Castro, and after that of jazz vocalist Al Jarreau who performed in earlier events.

Last year, the Global Concert took place at the White House, hosted by then President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

For an article and interviews about the 2016 event, please click on the following link to INPS news: