Look into the program of the Greek Film Festival of the past few years and you’re bound to see the name of Vangelis Mourikis coming up, featuring, or even starring in some of the most interesting, significant, critically acclaimed and viewer-challenging films. Frequently hailed as the ‘single most important actor in cinema today’, he famously refuses to work in theatre or television, focusing on his film work. One of his latest films, Athena Rachel Tsangaris’ ‘Chevalier’, “a buddy movie without the buddies” just completed its run in the Australian Centre for Moving Image (ACMI), where it has been screening, as part of the Melbourne Greek Film Festival – and it was also featuring in the Sydney Greek Film Festival. Which is a perfect opportunity for an interview.
It needs great strength, a vivid dream, a clear goal and, most of all, people who will be around, when you’re about to give up, so that they give you the push forward. That’s how the game is played today.
Did you anticipate ‘Chevalier”s international success?
‘Chevalier’ is currently traveling to many International Film Festivals around the world. The film has won important awards (Best Movie in the 59th International Film Festival of London, Special mention for Direction and Male Acting Award in the International Festival in Sarajevo and so on); it is also Greece’s official submission to the 2016 Oscars. Where it has yet to go and how much more it can be loved by the audience remains to be seen. We knew that there is something special about this film, but you can never be sure as to how any film will go; you are always on the lookout for the audience’s reaction. This movie has action, very interesting characters who are much different to each other, there is a kind of truth about it that makes it easy for the viewer to relate and enjoy – and most of all, it has a lot of humour.
Greek cinema is undergoing a kind of rebirth and in a way you’ve been instrumental in it, having played in some of the most significant films of the recent years (one could even say that you are ‘the face of Greek cinema’). What is your take on this issue?
True, Greek cinema has made its presence known in the international film map, lately. It’s like a rock band, that is exploding and it seems that it is going to be alive and kicking for quite some time in the future. It is not a case of one or two people. A film is an ensemble work, it is the outcome of collective effort, research, quest and of a difficult process to be completed and find a form and leave its mark. This sum of quests is, in my opinion, what links all these directors, who are not a team looking for the same things, nor a ‘wave’ representing anything. Each one of them comes from a different place and has something different to say. THis is the beauty of the moment. It is a need to express and create, in a time when, personal expression is threatened with extinction, more than other things that we are afraid are facing extinction.
What is expected by Greek films in international film festivals?
It is good to have pleasant, strong, genuine, expected and unexpected experience in the various film festivals. There was a moment when some things were presented in a fresh and different way and that appealed to festivals. We need to keep doing this, as much as we can, to surprise those who think that they’ve seen everything we have to offer and they don’t know what to do with us. They are waiting, as well, to go further along the road with us. When that happens, it is redeeming and liberating. It gives courage and urges you to move forward, make even more cinema. This is what Greek cinema offers to the world, to the art form, to festivals; it communicates themes that are common and relatable in the so-called globalization environment, so that some people can come to an emotional and cerebral, so to speak, contact with other people, who are at the same time so close and so far away.
What does it mean, being a film actor in Greece today?
That is a very difficult question. I don’t know. I do know that, whatever that is and what it means, you’re always looking for something new that will give meaning to your past, or subverse everything.
How has the current economic and political crisis affected Cinema and the arts sector?
I think it is common knowledge that, in times of crisis, art is among the first to pay the price. It is one of the first victims, as if it is to blame. So, everyone is struggling, at the moment, and cinema even more so, because it needs a lot of money to exist. There are solutions, but they may not be the best ones. Some will hold on, even barely, and believe me, this is not a pretty sight, it is a thriller. Crisis creates its own needs and its own ways to cope with it; this is what happened to us here. We did movies with next to nothing and these movies traveled the world to festivals and gained awards. They exist and they are a point of reference to us and to others, elsewhere. You have new motivation to create now and you wish, deep inside, for it to go well, so that what you missed in material gain, will come in some other form that will keep you alive, wishing that the next one will be better than the last one. It needs great strength, a vivid dream, a clear goal and, most of all, people who will be around, when you’re about to give up, so that they give you the push forward. That’s how the game is played today.
Looking back to your career, what would you have done differently?
I should have been more careful about some things, but I’m not sure that I’d have done anything differently. Not because I did not make mistakes, or anything. But because, that’s who I am, that’s how I’ve been thinking, this is what I did. In general, I’d say that I did what I wanted and what I liked. I don’t feel that I was wronged by anyone, or that I had to do things that I didn’t like. On the contrary, it was the others who saw something in me, they showed me my qualities and they put a bet on me. Obviously there have been some mistakes made, but I would not correct them, betraying something that I didn’t want to betray. Believe me, this gives me great satisfaction.
What part of your life in Australia do you miss the most?
I have the fondest memory of Melbourne. It was there that I met people who really aligned their life paths with mine and so, I lived my life with their image in my heart and head. These are the people I miss the most. This city gave me the right to happiness, carelessness, education and exposed me to a world, gaining experience that has helped me immensely in my course of life, in whatever city I found myself, under no matter circumstances. I try to keep an open bridge to work there, because I am always connected to this part of the world, where I have dear friends and beloved relatives.
What is the image of Athens that comes to mind, when you think of the time you decided to settle there?
My long walks up and down Patission avenue, thinking “now what”? I follow the same route, this time driving. Which is a good thing, as I ‘dirty up’ the atmosphere. In any case, Athens is Athens, for me, then and now, it is a familiar place, somewhere I feel comfortable to move easily, not afraid that something I do will be misinterpreted and get me in trouble.
Who are your heroes?
Those who can stand my thoughts and feelings, the people close to me, my friends; and cinema.
If you could become part of any film in history, what film would that be?
A film that would speak of someone somewhere, sometime, who lived happily ever after.