Review by Dane Marti
There is something about our view of WWII history and how it is presented on the silver screen. For me, it is a glimpse into a dark but ultimately redemptive time. In present time, each day, many of the soldiers that fought bravely in the World War are passing away. There is still a close connection with this time in history. After all, it’s only a few generations’ back, so the era seems to live and breath for modern folks in a way that the Medieval Age might not.
So many books and motion pictures have been written about this turning point in the history of mankind, that one often wonders if there is anything that hasn’t already been covered in depth.
As far as the War in Europe is concerned, there is definitely more material. With the evil inherent in Nazism, it is easy to find new moral elements worth analyzing, stories of how victims and collaborators lived and survived in these tumultuous times. There are films which cover the same relative territory, that show how innocent people dealt with the Nazi menace, but each one is like a small jewel—very unique.
This is one of those films. 1943 Athens:
During WW11, in Athens, a blond haired, Arian Nazi Officer—Captain Kalter– needs a place to stay as his headquarters. What’s he do? What do you think? He simply moves in with a middle-class family named Helianos. Suddenly, what had once been there abode, is no longer theirs! Somewhat symbolic of all Nazis, he takes over the household without a second thought. The humble husband and wife have a young son, who is always coming up with ideas for resistance of the German regime. Also, the couple has a young, pretty daughter who is entering puberty.The Nazi leader notices her immediately.
The family becomes very frightened and submissive to the tyrant living in their house. The main word here is INTIMIDATION. This foreign film is quite good at subtle tension. The audience is always expecting the worst to occur—and it finally does, but not exactly in the same way a Hollywood film would.
All the acting is great, but the young girl stood out, as did the intellectual father and, in particular, the Nazi officer, the epitome of sleek menace. Even when he pretends to act like a ‘normal person,’ a viewer can see how his sadistic nature is just under the surface. And this isn’t just because he’s a monster, but because the Nazi has a twisted ideology.
Throughout the movie, the cinematography is beautiful but understated. The framing of scenes is tightly controlled, as if the filmmakers wanted the audience to feel the tension: glaring into a microscope of a nightmare existence. The exterior shots of the city do not focus on scenic, postcard splendor, but the ancient, crumbling architecture—what the war has sadly brought into existence.
Reminding me of a Roman Polanski motion picture such as ‘The Pianist,’ the filmmakers analyze the wiley, clever and subtle power of evil. And like many of Polanski’s films, it also has a psychological aspect.
Directed by Ruggero Dipaola with powerful yet restrained elegance, this is a movie that anyone would be proud to have made—including Polanski. This is a definitely worth viewing. We must never forget.
APARTMENT IN ATHENS plays as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival Friday, November 16th at 4:45pm at the Plaza Frontenac Cinema