Giornate journal 2020: Pordenone post No 4

Now remind me, did I mention already that I was in Athens recently? Yes, Athens, the cradle of western civilisation. Well I was. And today I returned there via the magic of silent cinema …

Day Five

But first, an audience with the maestro. I was lucky enough to catch the masterclass today and so I spent a happy hour listening to Mr Neil Brand discussing his career and approach to silent cinema accompaniment. His explanation of how to read a scene backs up my theory that the musicians have all the best critical insights when it comes to silent cinema. It’s all about close reading, and rolling with the narrative punches. Still, catch up with this for yourself if you can – Neil has far more interesting things to say than I do.

Tonight’s main event was my long-awaited return to Greece (it has been daaaaays), with Oi Apachides ton Athinon (The Apaches of Athens, Dimitrios Gaziades, 1930). This is apaches in the Parisian underworld sense, like Ivor Novello in The Rat. But in Athens, beautiful Athens, which in 1930 reveals all the famous sights of the city (we open on the Acropolis, and from there to the markets of Plaka) but without the traffic and crowds and new buildings that make the city centre so busy.

It’s a comedy, this film, one that the festival described as a precursor to neorealism, which is to say that it has location shooting, including some pretty raw documentary-style images or urban poverty, as well as a picaresque charm. Petros (Petros Epitropakis) and his pals in Plaka call themselves The Club of the Empty Bellies and are living on credit and their wits. Petros has a certain panache though: in the neighbourhood they call him Prince. Which may be a premonition as much as a nickname.

There must be a romance, of course, so enter Titica (Mery Sagianou-Katseli), the orphaned florist who is besotted with Petros. But sadly, there soon comes along a more well-heeled rival for his affections, Vera (Stella Hristoforidou). Ah, me! I meant to say, if you hadn’t guessed, that this film is adapted from an operetta. There was a delicious tension throughout between the confection and artifice of the plot and the stunning, authentic backdrops of 1930s Athens. As found in all the best silent melodramas if you ask me. The plot may not engage the intellect, but all your other senses should be seduced.

Oi Apachides ton Athinon played with a recorded orchestral and sung score that did justice to the grandeur of the environment as well as the lightness of the comedy. This was how the film was intended to be seen – a combination of music and the moving image. A traditional Pordenone midweek show-stopper.

• Intertitle of the day: “Is it not the duty of a rich man to be generous with his friends?” That means the next round in the Posta is on you, moneybags. The print of Oi Apachides ton Athinon was discovered in a Paris fleamarket so all its title cards were in that elegant hand-written script we associate with gorgeous French silents, too.

• Heartstopper of the day: during Jay’s intro, that glimpse of the Verdi, with the sun streaming into the foyer, gave me a lump in my throat. The online festival experience can be a bittersweet one.

• Sport of the day: Another new one on me, the “stone fight”. Not sure the rules are terribly strict.

• Star cameo of the day: Did you spot the Chaplin postcard in Petros’s room? That Tramp gets everywhere.

• Visit the Giornate website for more information.

• Silent London will always be free to all readers. If you enjoy checking in with the site, including reports from silent film festivals, features and reviews, please consider shouting me a coffee on my Ko-Fi page.

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