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Greece 1983
Directed by
Costas Ferris
148 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Rembetiko tells the story of one of Greece's most popular rembetiko singers, Marika Ninou (played by Sotiria Leonardou), born in 1917 and, along with 2 million other Greeks deported to Greece from Smyrna, Turkey in the mid 20s where she lived a ghetto life which saw her drunken, abusive father accidentally kill her mother.

Director Costas Ferris and co-writer Leonardou interweave Marika’s story, which ends with her accidental death in 1956, with that of Greece itself, using archival newsreel footage to pick out the key events of modern Greek history. At both the levels of the personal and political it is often crudely elliptical skimming across the surface of things and seeming to assume that the viewer is familiar enough with the details in between which if you are not is somewhat frustrating.

Rembetiko, like Portugal’s fado, or Spain’s flamenco is a deeply plaintive form of music (in its latter stage there is also a telling comparison made with Chicago blues) that originated in the migrant ghettos of Pireaus and Thessaloniki in the early 20th century and brought musical influences from Asia Minor. The music is simple in form, each song, passionately performed by both male and female singers, repeating a figure over and over but with an hypnotic intensity created by its synchronized playing by a relatively large ensemble of violins and fiddles as well as Middle Eastern instruments such as the saz (a type of lute), the bouzouki and, its smaller relatives, the tzouras and the baglamas (there are only a couple of old songs in the score, most of which are new songs composed by Stavros Xarhakos). As we find out in the film, in the 1950s rembetiko gave way to a form known as laika,incorporating more mainstream Greek music. Needless to say rembetiko has since been revived and is alive and well in Athens. It’s terrific stuff and you’ll want to hear more but this film is an excellent place to begin.

DVD Extras: Intreview with the director; Outakes; Theatrical Trailer.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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