2011 Greek Film Festival Review: Knifer
Seconds into the opening shot of Knifer you know you are watching cinema of exceptional quality. It's immediately apparent: the texture, the tones, the lighting and the framing of the image before you. Yes, it's in black and white, but it's so captivating to look at. Gritty, but sumptuous for all that.
Niko (Stathis Stamoulakatos) lives a hopeless life. An ambling shuffling pointless existence. He doesn't have a job. Or direction. Or anything meaningful. His time is spent on the things that occupy many an empty life. Alcohol, TV, football, machismo. Life wasting away. Niko's father dies. His father's brother, Aleko (Vangelis Mourikis), wants to take Niko back to suburban Athens. A place to stay. A job.
Against his better judgment, he agrees. What else is there do? The problem is Aleko is an abusive tyrant. Niko moves into the studio downstairs from Aleko and his wife Gogo (Maria Kallimani). His job is to take care of the dogs, two Dobermans who look more than capable of taking care of themselves. Aleko has a pathological certainty that they'll be baited by 'the Albanians', neighbours with whom Aleko has some kind of long-running dispute. It's easy to imagine Aleko as a man who makes enemies. He's a nasty piece of work. Cruel, arrogant. Overbearing with a sadistic streak.
Gogo attracts our immediate sympathy as Aleko treats his dogs with more affection than her. So when she unexpectedly initiates an illicit liaison with Niko, it seems perfectly understandable. And very worrying too, for them both. Directed by Yannis Economides (who co-wrote the screenplay), Knifer has the look of the early Jim Jarmusch films. This is classic cinema; stories told with pictures. You could watch it without sound, it would make as much sense and be almost as satisfying. It's minimalist and full of space.
The writing is deft and spare. There is no music. There are long, lingering moments of stillness, prolonged to the point where you wonder if the film hasn't stuck. This allows time for contemplation, of the controlled and restrained performances and tempo, and the meticulous construction and arrangement of the frame. It's a delight to watch in this respect, every shot has been painstakingly composed.
The lighting is consistently exquisite, the editing is spare, moving unobtrusively within and between scenes. The narrative is open-structured, there are loose threads everywhere, allowing the audience to muse on the possibilities beyond what we know for certain. Characters drift in and out with no strict logic, and there's a most curious textural shift, almost dreamlike, which occurs just prior to the denouement. Who is Niko, really?
Knifer is showing in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney at The Greek Film Festival: www.greekfilmfestival.com.au
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