Greek cinema has a long history, and interested viewers have a wide variety of options to suit their tastes. From the upbeat musicals of the ’60s and ’70s and the cult movies of the ’80s (the VHS era) through to the neo-noir films, Angelopoulos’ poetic cinema and the movies of the Greek Weird Wave, Greek cinema may not be as well known internationally as the film industries of other Mediterranean countries, but it does have more than its fair share of interesting movies that have proven popular with Greek audiences over the years.
Thanks to the English subtitling available on YouTube, you can now access some of the finest Greek films of the last quarter-century from any of your media devices. Below is a list that includes a road-trip comedy, a murder mystery, a romantic drama, and two films that throw light on 20th-century Greek history; these movies will help you understand a bit more about Greeks and Greece through the stories they present. Enjoy!
1. “Let the Women Wait” by Stavros Tsiolis (1998)
In 1998, the film director and screenwriter Stavros Tsiolis (1937-2019) made the film “Let the Women Wait” (“As Perimenoun oi Gynaikes”). Categorized as a “summer Macedonian comedy,” it was the second part of the director’s “Women” trilogy that began with “Please, Women, Don’t Cry” and would later conclude with “Women Who Passed My Way.” The 1998 film takes place in the area around Volvi Lake and the Sithonia peninsula of Halkidiki. Two middle-aged men who have set off on a trip to the island of Thassos meet a woman who changes their lives. The plot might seem a little too simple, and indeed, when the movie came out, it was a box-office bomb.
However, the philosophical and humorous dialogue referencing the rivalry between Athens and Thessaloniki, the clever comments on the political and athletic events of the ’90s and on the divisions within the country, the soundtrack of Greek “turbo-folk” music and the absurdly mundane world of the film’s protagonists were all appreciated by an audience of millennials years later. In 2015, the movie had thousands of views on YouTube, and its best moments became memes that are still popular today.
2. “Cheap Smokes” by Renos Haralampidis (2000)
The film “Cheap Smokes” (“Ftina Tsigara”) presents the unconventional side of Athens at the turn of the millennium. A modern free spirit flirts with a woman he’s just met in a phone booth in an empty Athens, under the full moon of a warm August night. Through their relationship, the director Renos Haralampidis attempts to find inspiration in the city’s empty roads, small cafés and graffiti-scrawled underpasses and captures this poetic side of Athens through his lens and in his script. This movie, too, wasn’t successful when first released, but it found its audience in 2015. Since then, it’s been a summer-must at open-air cinemas and private screenings on terraces and balconies.
3. “Christmas Tango” by Nikos Koutelidakis (2011)
The film “Christmas Tango” (“To Tangko ton Xristougennon”), which was released in 2011, is based on the novel of the same title by the prolific writer Yannis Xanthoulis. Set during the period of the Junta in an army camp on the Greek-Turkish border, “Christmas Tango” explores concepts of love and the courage it takes to approach a platonic love interest. The strict Colonel, his depressed wife, a lonely lieutenant and an introverted conscript all try to find what they desire through dance. It’s a simple, romantic drama that is often found on Greek TV schedules over the Christmas period.
4. “Little England” by Pantelis Voulgaris (2013)
Pantelis Voulgaris’ filmography covers aspects of Greek history that include the exile of Communist prisoners, the fate of resistance fighters captured during the German Occupation and the world of mail-order brides twenty years earlier. He looks at urban life in Athens and at the troubles of rural communities through film adaptations from anthologies, theatrical productions and books. One of his most recent films was made in 2013, when he adapted Ioanna Karystiani’s book, “Little England (Mikra Agglia)”.
Set at the beginning of the 20th century on the prosperous island of Andros, an island once famous for its shipbrokers and sea captains, this period drama is an epic tale of lost love. The movie also explores the relationship between the women of the island, and focuses on the sisters of a well-to-do family. The impeccable acting performances and its unique cinematography fascinated audiences, and it was submitted by Greece to the 87th Academy Awards for consideration as Best Foreign Film.
5. “The Other Me” by Sotiris Tsafoulias (2016)
Greece doesn’t have much of a tradition in the crime genre, despite the fact that Yannis Maris’ crime novels would make a nice source for a detective film series. In 2016, Sotiris Tsafoulias directed the crime film “The Other Me” (“Eteros Ego”). In a case involving Pythagoras’ concept of amicable numbers, a criminologist is called in to help investigate a series of murders in the Greek capital.
Soon after the premiere, Tsafoulias withdrew the film from circulation, as suspicions arose that the murder of a taxi driver might in some way be connected to the film, particularly after a spectator at a Q&A session with the director that followed a screening of the work asked some unusual questions. Two years later, Tsafoulias released his film on YouTube and, since then, over 5.8 million people have watched it. After its great success, two mini-series sequels followed, and there are rumours that the second of these will soon be available on the Netflix platform as well.