TH.L. It’s nice up here. Away from the smog.
N.N. ‘’To be more precise, I live in the cloud as well, but in its cleaner side.’’
TH.L. How often do you go to the city center?
N.N. “I haven’t been downtown in six months. I go there once a year; I tidy up five-six chores and I vanish.”
TH.L. Don’t you miss the city life?
N.N. “The truth is that from childhood I’ve abhorred crowds. I had the pleasure of living in Athens in the good old days, in the fifties and sixties. It was truly a very fine city.”
TH.L. Are you a born and bred Athenian?
N.N. “From Exarchia. I was born there in the family home. I grew up in Kallidromiou St. and lived there until I was eight, when we moved to Ipirou for another seven years. It was a good time…”
TH.L. What did you think of the TV screening of ‘Sweet Bunch’?
N.N. “It was good. As a cinematic production it is a very serious piece of work. However, I insist, it’s not the film that represents me the most.”
TH.L. Which film does?
N.N. “Probably the ‘Wretches Are Still Singing’ and perhaps the last one. I am more sentimentally attached to the ‘Wretches’. The plot is closer to me. It’s a far more personal story. Of course, the ‘Bunch’ is a personal story as well, but…”
TH.L. Are all your movies autobiographical?
N.N. “I can’t make any that aren’t personal. Which is why I cannot borrow someone else’s script.”
TH.L. Are there times when you wish for the ‘Wretches’ gang to be reunited?
N.N. “If I did, I would have made the reunion happen. The plot started off for strictly internal reasons. It wasn’t meant to be shared nor to become a nostalgia, we were living it. That’s what was important. It’s just that later I had to talk about forbidden matters of that time – which perhaps still are forbidden to this day.”
TH.L. How did you get involved in all of that?
N.N. “I went through some weird stages. The fractured 50s era, rock and roll, chicks, being seventeen with my mind scattered all over the place.”
TH.L. What did your father do for a living?
N.N. “He was mucking about in the Ministry of Coordination.”
TH.L. Why are you laughing? The ‘mucking about’?
N.N. “Precisely, he was mucking about. He never became a civil servant. He was ‘out there’. My mother, for better or worse, died when I was four. So, we were two dudes, my brother and I, left alone with my father.”
TH.L. Why do you say he was ‘out there’?
N.N. “The man was unfit for work. He’d get up in the morning for work and drag himself around. He’d continuously quarrel with everyone. They’d fire him. He’d then appeal to the state council and get reinstated.”
TH.L. How come they didn’t fire him for good?
N.N. “At the time, he was the only one to speak two languages in the Ministry – no one, not even the directors knew languages. My father did everything in the newly established Ministry of Coordination. He was very abrasive in general. He’d let them have it with both barrels. He’d had a generalized French education and was after me to read Bergson by the time I was 7-8 years old. As you might imagine I could never sit down to it. He’d make me learn poems by heart as punishment. But I liked the poems. Punishment was the reason I was introduced to poetry at the age of four.”
TH.L. Would you say that we live in an antipoetic time?
N.N. “I can’t tell. We must judge from the poets that will emerge.’’
TH.L. Does that mean that there are poets who haven’t shown up yet but are out there somewhere writing verses?
N.N. “Yes, I’m convinced that at this moment wonderful things are being written that we might never get to see.”
TH.L. Leading to something exceptional being lost?
N.N. “Of course. I have a tremendous novel in my drawer. So what? Will it explode and come out by itself? Will it walk and knock on the publisher’s door? Not a chance. On the other hand, if you force me to take it out, I won’t. It bores me.”
TH.L. Do your thoughts turn mostly to what you’ve lived through so far or do they focus more on what you’ve yet to experience?
N.N. “There’s nothing I wished to experience and haven’t, either in real life or in the land of fantasies and dreams.”
TH.L. Did you ever consider the cost of your decisions?
N.N. “I always pursued what interested me without considering the cost. I think that if life is worth living, it is to satisfy our every curiosity.”
TH.L. Do you get obsessive thoughts?
TH.L. Is there one that is predominant in all your movies?
N.N. “Absolutely. There’s the obsession of safeguarding my personal space from an outside violent attack or intervention. If you’ve noticed, all my films have a house which is under siege.”
TH.L. In both “Eurydice” and the “Wretches”, the house isn’t under siege.”
N.N. “But there is a gathering. They lock themselves in. There’s always a space that I’m trying to salvage by any means necessary. Even ‘Morning Patrol’ which takes place outdoors, is actually a larger enclosed space. A city under siege.”
TH.L. What is it you really want to protect inside these personal spaces?
N.N. “Ideas that need defending.”
TH.L. A great filmmaker whose name escapes me at the moment, used to say, ‘Only obsessions become good films’.
N.N. “Films can arise from obsessive thoughts and from what’s been lost, and we wish to live through again. Things that are inherently ours.”
TH.L. Tell me one thing you used to do before making movies…
N.N. “Rock and roll dancing. I also attended a school because I had to finish one.”
TH.L. Does rock and roll dancing qualify as doing something?
N.N. “When I used to, important things were happening in dance – which is not the case anymore.’’
TH.L. Why did these things change?
N.N. “Listen, I’m not enough of a serious person to answer all that. When I see something that’s not as it used to be, I don’t question it, I merely say ‘It’s not for me anymore’. If what is now lost was important to me, I will find a way to address it through a movie. I don’t sit moping about why it changed – I’m too lazy for that. The only thing that concerns me is that I must remain unaltered, that I must not let them change me.”
TH.L. Is cinema a way of life?
N.N. “Not the only one. There are two ways to experience life. Standing up and lying down. Reality and fantasy as they say. Both offer very powerful experiences.
TH.L. Sometimes, however, the two get mixed up along the way.
N.N. “So much is imposed, anyway. We mustn’t erect barriers between these two ways. Between reality and fantasy, that is.”
TH.L. Perhaps success lies in mixing the two?
N.N. “Maybe. Of course, no one knows the exact dosage. Usually, mixing the two leads to men in crisis, hysterical women and few tender moments. In any case, these operations don’t happen in laboratories. More like in a madhouse.”
TH.L. Do you consider yourself successful?
N.N. “As an individual I’m fragmented, all over the place. I can spend two days in a garden, conscient of my surroundings, but not taking in anything around me, not registering a single image. Since I’ve been through such situations many times, I’ve put pressure on myself from an early age, I’ve been harsh because I knew that if I were to let myself go, I’d end up doing nothing.”
TH.L. If you let yourself go, what would you like to do all day?
N.N. “I’d love to have ten screens playing movies, listen to music, eat from time to time, sleep, wake up, lose track of time and instantly teleport, like in the movies, from where I am to anywhere, miles away.”
TH.L. What are you lacking right now?
N.N. “Same thing as always. Money to make films the way I want to. I started all my films from what I don’t have. For example, not having money, no set, no crew, no locations. So, I mold the script to ensure it doesn’t need any of that. All my movies took shape through what was missing instead of what was needed. That’s why my movies are a trailer of the movies I’d make if I had the means.”
TH.L. A movie needs money to be made, even if it’s a small amount. Where do you get it from?
N.N. “My previous film finances the next one. All my films have turned a profit. Not much but enough to live on for a year / a year and a half.”
TH.L. Earlier you were telling me that your films are personal endeavors. Would you take money from someone else to realize a personal vision of yours?
N.N. “If a sucker can be found to contribute so that I can indulge my private madness, why not?”
TH.L. So, you’re saying that ‘The Greek Film Centre’ is a sucker?
N.N. “It sure is, haven’t you heard? And occasionally, it’s a lucky sucker, he gets some money back.”
TH.L. Are there anyone else’s movies that you like?
TH.L. Name a few.
N.N. “I enjoy peculiar films. There’s a director who’s done marvels. Aldridge. I admire him immensely. He’s made great films.”
TH.L. Which filmmaker you’d like to meet in person?
N.N. “I’d like to meet all those who made one great movie and then faded away or went on to make a bunch of crap. I would have liked to meet Peter Collinson but unfortunately, he died. I saw ‘The Penthouse’ and was one of those who considered it a great film. I would have liked to meet Peckinpah as well. And all those failures who have a million things to say but are lacking the means.”
TH.L. Are there people in cinema that you would not like to meet?
N.N. “Kazan. What for? Or Antonioni. I would probably die of boredom if I met them, even though I consider them great directors. I would like to meet Kurosawa, because he’s the great failure. He couldn’t get the shots, the material, he never captured what he wanted. He always edited in a preset way. He never had the opportunity to shoot the same scene from fifteen different angles. Yet, despite the obstacles he’s managed to make amazing films.”
TH.L. Is there a Greek director you admire?
N.N. “To be honest, I admire ‘parts’ of their work. I partially admire Panousopoulos. On the other hand, I rail at him. That man could do great things. However, he is the most complete filmmaker in our country. He can do it all. He directs well, he’s a very good cinematographer, a great editor, tremendously organized and, lately, good at managing money! I accuse him of a few things because I’m so interested in him. ‘Honeymoon’ is just shy of being a masterpiece of Greek cinema. I also think Tassios’ ‘Paraggelia’ is an excellent movie. I know that if he’d had the money and tranquility to proceed with the second part the way he had with the first, it would have been even better. I also saw parts from Psaras’ last movie and admired him. The first twenty minutes of the movie are very powerful. Coutsomytis, too, has set up a scene in a rural town of the fifties fantastically well in one of his films. He got very close to the era’s atmosphere which is a very difficult thing to achieve nowadays. Generally, I do believe we have a cinematic vision in Greece. Maybe in other conditions in terms of production, we could be making very interesting movies.”
TH.L. How come you don’t like Angelopoulos?
N.N. “There is one of his movies I do like a lot, “The Hunters”. I consider it a very ambitious and unfinished experiment. Beyond that it’s cinema that leaves me cold.”
TH.L. What about Tarkovsky’s work. Do you like it?
N.N. “I liked ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ and ‘Andrei Rublev’. Then he started to disappoint me. I stopped going to see his films. When something doesn’t grab me to begin with, I lose interest. I won’t even spend time thinking it over, to see what I don’t like, what should’ve been done.”
TH.L. Are there films where you leave halfway through?
N.N. “That only happens to me with Wenders’ films.” (laughter)
TH.L. Don’t you like them?
N.N. “Wenders is a man who loves cinema, especially American cinema. That isn’t enough, however, to make good movies. He irritated me profoundly, I wanted to beat him senseless after I saw the film which records Nicholas Ray’s last moments. Conversely, I’m carried away by that film by Herzog with the ship that goes over the mountain. ‘Fitzcarraldo’, if I’m not mistaken. Wherever I see it playing, I go in and watch it again.”
TH.L. Is there a movie that you wish was yours?
N.N. “The one that was supposedly attributed to Elaine May. Peter Falk and Cassavetes are probably the joint directors. ‘Mikey and Nicky’.”
TH.L. Do you like Cassavetes?
N.N. “A lot. He has many weaknesses, but through his flaws one finds great interest.”
TH.L. What do you think of ‘The Angry Balkan’ today?
N.N. “I can’t criticize my own work. The only thing I can say is that it was written for the screen and ended up a book.”
TH.L. Why wasn’t ‘The Balkan’ made into a movie?
N.N. “It needs a lot of money. We would have to evacuate Exarchia from Kallidromiou to Themistocleous street for Fanis to walk alone. It has certain parts that you must keep, they are integral to the story. Since it cannot be done, I had to do other nonsense.”
TH.L. Your latest film, “Singapore Sling”, is that nonsense?
N.N. “It’s a script that was written after ‘Eurydice’. I tried to shoot it then, but I hadn’t found people willing to expose themselves to the extent that the movie needed to be filmed correctly.”
TH.L. And how come you went back to it now?
N.N. “From the beginning, there was something in the core of the material that became the script. It was a film which I owed. I had to do it.”
TH.L. To whom do you usually owe your films? (laughter)
N.N. “To friends I’ve lost years ago. To myself, to that atmosphere, that era, those dreams, those expectations. And to some nutcases that insist on following my work…”
TH.L. Do you owe any film to the Greek Film Centre?
N.N. “It probably owes me. But I’ve made my decision: no one can forbid me from making movies. Not the Film Centre, not the Greek State, nor the gang which controls the cultural dynamic of the country. When I want to make a film, I will.”
TH.L. Do you keep on shooting commercials while making a film?
N.N. “No, I find it impossible. To me a commercial is a cinematic event. The moment I stop seeing it that way, I think I’ll starve to death.”
TH.L. Do you live from commercials?
N.N. “Essentially, yes.”
TH.L. Why did you return to the Thessaloniki Film Festival after saying you wouldn’t?
N.N. “I was the first to say that the festival needs to be shut down. However, some of my collaborators wished to show their work at the Festival. Many of them had almost worked without remuneration, just for a percentage of the profits. They wanted to show their work, to win some award that they believe they deserve.”
TH.L. Thank god, ‘Singapore Sling’ did well.
N.N. “I’m not interested in awards. The distributors, however, are.”
TH.L. Why aren’t you interested in awards?”
N.N. “Awards only mean something when you’re a nobody. Then you need them, if ever. But, unfortunately, I quickly learned how the game is played. ‘Eurydice’, which should’ve been awarded, wasn’t…”
TH.L. Why not?
N.N. “Because it was competing against a colossus.”
TH.L. Who was the colossus?
N.N. “There’s only one colossus!”
TH.L. Is there someone who could ideally be at your side in life and at work?
N.N. “Kilaidonis is a man with whom I could do a lot. I think that I could go a long way with Konstantinos Tzoumas, Alkis Panagiotidis and Christos Valavanidis, the old ‘Wretches’ gang in other words. With those three guys we could get our heads together now and plan a film in twenty minutes. Those three blokes are the best scoundrels that ever crossed my path. They knew it and I’d told them too. They were made for cinema. Afterwards, they faded, which is understandable since they aren’t the easiest people to understand… They need guidance.”
TH.L. Which foreign actors would you like to work with?
N.N. “I’d like to make films with Peter Falk, Rod Steiger, Jeremy Irons, before he became famous. Now everyone likes him.”
TH.L. And women?
N.N. “All the old ones.”
TH.L. And nowadays?
N.N. “None of them are worth a damn. Take Meryl Streep for example. I can’t stand her at all. She’s a very ugly woman. She may be a very good actress, but I don’t care. I can’t stand the sight of her, that’s what counts.”
TH.L. When you were younger, were there people who seemed legendary to you?
N.N. “I grew up around legends, which was very good, because I had these heroes who performed risky things. They were either totally dedicated to one woman their entire lives or they had seven affairs at once – take your pick. My legends believed in friendship and lost causes.”
TH.L. And what kind of woman were you on the lookout for?
N.N. “I grew up looking for solitary women who didn’t spout nonsense every time they opened their mouths.”
TH.L. Name one movie that really made an impact on you at a young age.
N.N. “’All the King’s Men’. I saw it when I was fourteen and it shocked me to the core. I started to focus my interest in that direction. It revealed things which I couldn’t have imagined in my innocence.”
TH.L. What is it that makes someone a hero?
N.N. “His great contradictions and his vices, as well as a sense of resignation about certain things. At least those were the heroes I loved.”
TH.L. And heroines?
N.N. “Only the ‘film-noir’ dames, tall ladies with long legs and a hoarse nicotine laden voice.”
TH.L. Does the camera lens show the truth or the dream?
N.N. “The truth. And indeed, it has the uncanny ability to record what’s underneath and not just the surface. It records when you’re at your best. It’s impossible for anyone to hide from the camera. Redford is a nasty piece of work, for example, and so is De Niro. No matter how you choose to film them they’ll appear as bad, just as they are in life.”
TH.L. Is there a period you wish you’d lived?
N.N. “The one I lived in. The fifties. The whole of Greece was emerging from the war and inevitably there were high spirits. There was a young generation out there but only one proper hang-out; ‘Green Park’. Any restless piece of ass, any pimpled brain, you’d find them in there. And all-in-all there were sixty rebel spirits around. Athens was a small city, quiet, erotic, sweet. It smelled of spring, with very few cars, and purely erotic behaviors. Flirting could last a month or two before a relationship began – the slow dream-like process that no longer exists nowadays. In that place – in which I’d like to shoot a film one day – a weird bunch would gather, high-class hookers, petty car thieves who’d steal a joyride then drop it off with a note of apology. I became a part of that bunch as I looked older than my age. I was fourteen-fifteen. I was impressed by the fact that the elders looked out for me. When they would go fuck faggots for money, they left me out of it. We used to dance the blues as well. You’d hold the girl’s hand and the contact would send surges through you, you’d tremble, bodies would touch bodies for the first time, and you’d try and read the signs: Is she yours, is she not, when will she be and stuff like that… Back then we had all these women teasing us. Lots of them.
We’d also had our first rebellion within the family. Don’t forget that in those days the family would go out and the daughter would wear the same suit as her mum, the same handbag, shoes and gloves, the same hairstyle from the salon, and the dad would buy a little extra fabric to get a suit cut for the son. There were such stereotypes then. And one day, the whole thing blew up. When “Rebel Without a Cause” hit the scene, we were already over it. There were some rules laid down about love, friendship and quarrels that have disappeared today. We’ve lost the art of the process. Things basically don’t get going now, they finish before they even start.”
TH.L. Girls were indeed prettier back then.
N.N. “Very beautiful, gut-wrenchingly so. Girls with moist eyes and measured movements. Friendly without excesses, but with pointy bras and heavy scents.”
TH.L. How do you view girls nowadays?
N.N. “Today you walk around and see a long line of ones who pretend to be ‘cows’ but can’t even manage to moo… It’s not entirely their fault, however…”
TH.L. What was the dream back then? Did you want to go to the States?
N.N. “No. Our dream was the ‘Foreign Legion’.”
TH.L. And now? What’s your dream today?
N.N. “For ‘Singapore Sling’ to be a great cocktail.”
TH.L. I’ll taste it and let you know. (laughter)