Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

El Greco gets wrapped in the Greek flag. A film review

Thessaloniki FF, 2007
It’s never easy to move when you’re wrapped up in a flag, so it’s no wonder that El Greco is lifeless and boring. The poor guy deserves better, but he’ll have to wait a bit longer to get it.
El Greco is one of my favorite artists, one of the unique geniuses of Renaissance art whose paintings seem amazing modern today. I was eager to learn more about his life, as his biographies are full of dark corners and enigmatic situations. However, the expense (most costly Greek film ever) and the hype should have given me a fair warning regarding what I was about to see. It was the big event of the Thessaloniki festival, there were posters and hourly wage earners handing out flyers on the street, interviews on TV and newspaper articles, and in a country where nationalism takes on religious fervor, what could that mean?
El Greco’s story has been squeezed into a patriotic straightjacket that has more to do with modern day Greek chauvinism than with the cosmopolitan life of the great artist. The screenplay, based on the novel “Greco – the Painter of God” by Dimitris Siatopoulis, is weighed down by an uncompromising series of silly scenes and wooden dialog that is an insult to the audience’s intelligence. The film begins with Greco (or Domenicos Theotokopoulos) living on Venetian occupied Crete, where he is torn between his art and the revolutionary freedom fighting activities of his father and brothers. When the beautiful daughter of the Venetian governor takes an interest in him and visits him in his atelier, Domenicos greets her with the line, “First you Venetians invade my country, then you invade my bedroom! What will be next?” (hmmm, I don’t know, maybe give you a wedgie?). This first section is pure fiction and merely meant to pander to the tastes of modern Greek audiences. El Greco wisely makes his escape.
Domenicos decides to give further expression to his distaste for Venetian imperialism by moving to Venice to study

His portrait of Nino de Guevara as Grand Inquisitor

His portrait of Nino de Guevara as Grand Inquisitor

under Titian, where he meets a young Spanish priest, Nino de Guevara, played very well by Juan Diego Botto, who takes an inexplicable interest in him that can only be described as lust. Domenicos is the heroic macho in this film, so he notices nothing, but then by some strange coincidence, ends up living in the Spanish priest’s hometown of Toledo, where he continues to be puzzled by the priest’s attentions. There he moans on endlessly about the beauties of his native Crete, yet for some unknown reason, he never seems to find the time to ever visit the place. It is a dangerous epoch, and many people end up on the wrong side of the Spanish Inquisition. One would imagine that Domenicos, with his extraordinary painting style and his common law marriage and child, would also have a few worries in this regard, but his inexplicable admirer happens to become Toledo’s Grand Inquisitor. However, Greco valiantly continues to spurn Guevara’s attention, and is eventually brought before the Inquisition, where he responds heroically and absurdly, admitting to blasphemy in the name of freedom. Naturally, this panel of fanatical judges, who would send other citizens to the torture chamber on the basis of rumors and a sideways glare, wilts before the righteous Greek, and is won over by the bravery and superior intelligence of our hero.

The acting is only moderately successful, with Greco, played by Nick Ashdon, showing different emotions by simply raising his voice, and Lakis Lazopoulos, who plays his Sancho Panza type sidekick, mugging relentlessly for the camera. The sets are also dismal, they look closed in and made for TV. This film is not particularly recommended, unless you have an interest in staring at Ashdon’s pretty mug for a fairly endless 117 minutes.

May 9, 2009 - Posted by | cinema | , , ,

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