Lost on Kythera

Combining absurdity and beauty, Greek-Australian director James Prineas brings delicious chaos to a tale of romance, adventure, and nostalgia

From the opening credits of Lost on Kythera – the fourth feature film from award-winning Greek-Australian director, James Prineas – it’s clear that this is going to be a movie about love. The trouble is, you’re not quite sure what kind of love and between whom.

The film’s chaotic structure – four intertwined plots that flit between Earth-bound mortals and the Greek gods above the island’s cloud cover – complicates the pursuit of love, both for the audience and the film’s protagonists.

Yet complication is where this film finds hilarity and mystery. In fact, Lost on Kythera is a film that seeks to give its audience the exact feeling of discombobulation one feels when arriving in a small Greek town in which every narrow side street is a labyrinth and every well-meaning local’s directions only serve to make you more lost than you were before. This it achieves to great comedic effect, all while creating a genuine longing for languid island days with some breathtaking cinematography.

Greek icon of stage and screen Efi Stamouli plays the last village resident and possible ghost Aliki, who is never without her cigar. Photo: Supplied

Lost on Kythera tells the tale of two young lovers – Maria (played by Penny Boukouvala who makes her feature film debut in this role) and Louie (played by fellow newcomer Louie Betton) who, early into their relationship and debating their compatibility as a couple, decide to explore this small island off the southern coast of Greece.

Louie’s naive romanticism and Maria’s jaded cynicism are forced into confrontation when the blind taxi driver they hire to take them around the island (yes, there really is a blind taxi driver and he’s played by scene-stealing local hero, Giorgos Fatseas, who is famous on Kythera and beyond as a real-life driver) abandons them in a mysterious village with no exit.

Trapped in this village labyrinth, Maria and Louie have to confront more than their relationship when they meet Aliki, the village’s sole inhabitant and an old woman waiting to hear from a son who emigrated to Australia decades previously. Though seemingly harmless, Maria and Louie soon learn there is more to this sweet old lady than initially meets the eye and they find themselves embroiled in all kinds of trouble.

Still from the film. Photo: Supplied

As Maria and Louie grapple with Aliki’s hold on them – which is impressively portrayed by legend of the Greek stage, Efi Stamouli – another couple arrive on the island for completely different reasons. Kythera, as the rumoured birthplace of Aphrodite and the site of her holiest temple, is a treasure-hunter’s dream and ruthless archaeologist Nancy Filodoxopoulos and her somewhat hapless English assistant, Benson, are determined to be the first to find this important site. Unfortunately for them, another competitive and equally argumentative duo are committed to thwarting them at every turn: Aphrodite herself and her flamboyant right-hand man, Hymeros.

Prineas’ intermingling of real-world capers with the supernatural powers of the mythological heavens is typical of his outrageous and unconventional approach to his films. It’s further heightened by a cast that boasts A-list Greek talent and a bunch of charismatic islanders up for the fun of filming. From the adroit quips of Danae Mikalaki and Giorgos Papageorgiou who are expertly cast in the roles of Aphrodite and Hymeros and are themselves something of a God and Goddess in Greek film and TV, to the carousel of outrageous islanders whose characters bring an added charm and hilarity to the film, this is a movie that believes, like any good Greek meal, that more is always more and thus leaves viewers stuffed to the gills with plot twists, romantic liaisons and some slapstick comedy to boot.

Still from the film. Photo: Supplied

However, what you begin to realise, as the film sweeps you up in its propulsive rhythm, is that the real love story of Lost on Kythera is the one that exists between the director and his beguiling muse: the island itself. James Prineas has devoted much of his career, as both a filmmaker and a photographer, to capturing the rugged beauty and astonishing history of this tiny island that lies between Crete and the Greek mainland. His previous three films have all had the island as a titular and essential character (Kythera mon Amour (2016), Winter on Kythera (2018) and An Island named Desire (2020), and it’s clear that this isn’t from a lack of imagination. Instead, it’s obvious watching this movie that there is a magical magnetism to Kythera, as you find yourself being drawn into this place of isolation and vitality.

That Prineas has managed to capture the island’s stunning scenery on a tight budget and with limited equipment is a testament to his ingenuity and the film’s general air of endearing and captivating earnestness. It’s also a tribute to the advances of modern cinema, as this was shot with a tiny crew (recruiting locals, cast members and Prineas’ own family) in which the makeup department was also responsible for sound recording, the hair dresser did the continuity.

At a time when it feels like technology is advancing faster than we can adapt to it, Lost on Kythera feels like a welcome portal – a movie that shows what technology can do for cinema and how it can connect emigrants to their homeland, while also being an important gateway to the pleasures of the past and a grounding reminder of the importance of connectivity in a disconnected world.

Cynical demigod Hymeros (Giorgos Papageorgiou) and Goddess Aphrodite (Danae Mikalaki) watching imperiously over Kythera. Photo: Supplied

This is, in essence, the true love story of this surprising, rollicking adventure story-cum-romantic comedy. The love story between an island and its inhabitants, most of whom emigrated many years ago and sat around me as a diasporic community in a Sydney cinema one weekday afternoon. It’s clear Prineas views his work as a connecting link between homeland and diaspora, past and present, ancestors and descendants. It’s a link that felt urgently needed, watching the multigenerational cast evoke classic Greek archetypes and play wickedly with Greek mythology and the national passion for melodrama.

Summer might be only starting in Australia but with Lost on Kythera, you will most definitely leave the cinema feeling the heat.

Not giving up (yet): actors Penny Boukouvala and Louie Betton are determined to excape the wacky Greek village they are stuck in. Photo: Supplied

When & Where: Lost on Kythera will premiere at Ritz Cinemas in Randwick, Sydney on Sunday October 8, Palace Cinema Canberra on October 20th and New Farm Cinema Brisbane on October 22. It will also be shown in Melbourne as part of the Greek Film Festival on October 26 and 29.

Premiere Tickets:

CANBERRA: www.trybooking.com/CLAVQ

BRISBANE www.trybooking.com/CKXLQ

MELBOURNE www.tinyurl.com/lostkythera

SYDNEY www.trybooking.com/CJUAY

Still from the film. Photo: Supplied

About Kythera-Family.net

With the help of interested Kytherians worldwide, Kythera-Family.net aims to preserve and reflect the rich heritage of a wonderful island. Members of the community are invited to submit their family collection of Kytherian stories, photographs, recipes, maps, oral histories, biographies, historical documents, songs and poems, home remedies etc. to the site. Uploading directly to the site is easy, but if you wish you can also send your collections to us by email or post and we will submit them for you. Thus we can help make available valuable and interesting material for current and future generations, and inspire young Kytherians to learn more about their fascinating heritage.

Still from the film. Photo: Supplied