Vera Storozheva: Greek Holidays (Grecheskie kanikuly, 2005)

reviewed by Alyssa DeBlasio© 2006

Vera Storozheva’s Greek Holidays was gala-premiered at the XXVII Moscow International Film Festival on 22 June 2005. Storozheva graduated from the Moscow State Institute of Culture (1983) before studying at the VKSiR, the Advanced Courses for Scriptwriters and Directors (1993, workshop of Aleksandr Mitta). In addition to Greek Holidays she has made twenty-five TV documentaries, acted in Kira Muratova’s The Asthenic Syndrome (1989), co-wrote the script for Muratova’s Three Stories (1997), and has directed three feature-length films: Alive Pushkin (Zhivoi Pushkin; documentary, 1999), Sky. Plane. Girl. (Nebo. Samolet. Devushka., 2002), and The French Guy (Frantsuz; TV, 2003).

In her article on the ninetieth jubilee of the Gor'kii Film Studios, L. Lobanova describes Greek Holidays as the tale of Daphnis and Chloe told from a modern-day perspective. Daphnis and Chloe, a Greek pastoral elegy attributed to the poet Longus in the late second or early third century, tells the story of two foundling children who grow up together on the island of Lesbos (illus. below). In the most psychologically sophisticated of all the Greek romances, Longus narrates the trials and tribulations of these shepherds as they fall in love, combat pirates and seducers, and eventually marry, all the while guided by “the Nymphs, Pan, and Love” (4.39).

 Daphnis and Chloe: Frontispiece, Marc Chagall (Lithograph, 22 x 15 inches, 1961) [1]

On the level of plot, Greek Holidays is mildly reminiscent of Longus’ tale, though it is overly ambitious to call the film a modern-day adaptation as Lobanova does. At the start of the film, the relationship between Ippolit and Sonia appears to mimic that of their literary counterparts. Of his hero and heroine, Longus writes: “These babies grew apace, and in them was to be seen a beauty too fine for the countryside. … You would have sooner seen the sheep and the goats parted from one another than Chloe from Daphnis” (1.7-9). In Greek Holidays, a flashback scene to their childhood affirms that Ippolit and Sonia too have been inseparable since childhood. They, however, are already married, are spending their summer vacation in Greece working as street performers in Athens (see illus. on the right), and are undertaking other odd jobs in order to make enough money to support themselves and return back to Russia in time for the fall semester. The setting of the tale alone is a considerable departure from the pastoral surroundings of Daphnis and Chloe. The bonds between both plots disintegrate further when Ippolit meets Paris and the film takes on a detective-like quality: Paris, a Greek tempter, offers Ippolit a job on a mysterious project, and Ippolit departs with him for a secret location and an indeterminate amount of time.

With Ippolit gone, Sonia goes on her own journey to locate him, finding herself on the Grecian island of Kefalonia. This idyllic Greek setting, a seismically unstable island in the Ionian archipelago, was where much of the film was shot (the rest was filmed in Athens, except for a few scenes shot in Moscow). While for the young hero in Valerii Akhadov’s Greenhouse Effect (Parnikovyi effect, 2005) Greece is the ideal destination toward which all his scheming is directed, Greece (particularly Kefalonia) in Storezheva’s film is a world merely of appearances. The seductiveness of the image, for Plato, can easily deceive the viewer into believing that the image is ontologically equal to (or even prior to) its original, and Storozheva plays with this notion by blurring fantasy with reality on Kefalonia. During Ippolit’s stay on the island, Storozheva interjects several illogical scenes that play with the viewer’s ability to distinguish between diegetic appearance and diegetic reality: Ippolit’s music/video-like commercial, his encounters with strange women in the woods as he is costumed and wears heavy eye makeup, and his mysterious encounter with the god Pan at the end of the film. The mixing of appearance, myth, and reality in Greek Holidays takes the form of aesthetic beauty and erotic temptation, and it is this temptation that ultimately leads Ippolit and Sonia down very different paths: paths different from each others and different from those of Longus’ Daphnis and Chloe, who are happily married by the end of the tale.

Temptation in Greek Holidays comes not only in the form of beautiful women, but like any good Greek novel, beautiful men as well. After several adventures, Sonia finds Ippolit living in Paris’ mansion with other men. When confronted by Sonia, he claims to work as a chauffeur. Although it is insinuated that he is working as a prostitute for women, the focus of the time he spends in the mansion is on his interaction with the men in the house. The exact details of Ippolit’s escapades are not elucidated, but it is clear that the business of the house is sex and that there is no chauffeuring going on. Ippolit’s relationship with two men in particular, Paris and Orfei, allows for another connection to be made between Greek Holidays and Daphnis and Chloe. The tycoon Paris and his lackey Orfei both play a role comparable to that of Gnathon, the seducer in Longus’ tale. In Daphnis and Chloe, the lovesick Gnathon serves as a comic character, who, in his grotesque (and foiled) attempts to seduce Daphnis, serves as Eros’ instrument in revealing Daphnis’ true identity (4.16) (see illus. below). In Greek Holidays, Paris succeeds in seducing Ippolit away from his wife and to Kefalonia after seeing him naked, while Orfei provides one of the film’s lighter moments by sneaking up on Ippolit while he is in the bathtub (see illus. on the right). Again, however, similarities between the plots of both texts are only superficial. While Gnathon’s attempted seduction reveals the identity of Daphnis’ birthfather, the Greek tempters in Storozheva’s film reveal nothing to the viewer: they only add to the mystery as to what is actually going on in Paris’ mansion—something that the viewer is left to guess on his own.

 Daphnis and Gnathon, Chagall (Lithograph, 21 x 15 inches, 1961)

Although the plot of Greek Holidays is more unlike Daphnis and Chloe than it is similar, Storozheva’s aesthetic goal is similar to that of Longus’. In the prologue to his work, Longus compares his task to that of the painter. He would have certainly analogized himself to the photographer, had he not written his declaration almost two thousand years ago:

I looked and I wondered, and a desire seized me to respond to the painting in writing. I found someone to interpret the picture, and have labored hard to create four books, an offering to Love, the Nymphs and Pan, a possession to delight all mankind, which will heal the sick and comfort the distressed, stir the memory of those who have been in love, and give preparatory instruction to those who have not. For certainly no one has ever escaped Love, nor ever shall, so long as beauty exists and eyes can see. For ourselves, may the god grant us to remain chaste in writing the story of others.

Storozheva attempts to create the same “snapshot of Eros” that Longus strove for and this is apparent not only in Shandor Berkeshi’s cinematography, which captures the magnificence of the Grecian coast. The character of the amateur filmmaker, Pasha, for instance, attempts to document love on camera and charges a small fee for patrons who wish to experience it. Similarly, the abovementioned “snapshots” of Ippolit seducing women catch him in puzzling, anachronistic moments of lust. In one of these scenes, Ippolit is dressed like a shepherd and is seduced by a nearby shepherdess (see illus. to the left). This scene recalls Lykainion’s sexual edification of Daphnis and, thus, his betrayal of Chloe. The most striking example of Storozheva’s aesthetics, however, occurs in the first scene of the film. As the opening credits roll, Ippolit rubs white paint on Sonia (see illus. on the right) and the camera captures it from several different angles against the backdrops of Grecian ruins. This segment is reminiscent of the numerous sequences in which Longus’ lovers wash each other, wanting to consummate their relationship but not knowing how to do so (see illus. below). During Storozheva’s “bathing” scene, the film is silent for more than a minute, allowing the spectator to focus on viewing the idyllic picture that she paints. Ippolit and Sonia are dressing themselves in imitation of Greek romantic heroes and a special white-light filter (chosen specifically by Storozheva for the initial frames of the film) gives the illusion of tranquility and a dream-like bliss.

Daphnis and Chloe beside the Fountain, Chagall (Lithograph, 22 x 15 inches, 1961)

For Mikhail Bakhtin, Daphnis and Chloe exists as the single exception in his project of classifying the chronotopes of ancient Greek literature in “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel.” On the surface, Daphnis and Chloe appears to be classifiable as a pastoral idyll, a genre conventionally governed by what Bakhtin calls the pastoral-idyllic chronotope. Traces of the pastoral-idyllic chronotope are present in the first scenes of Greek Holidays, where Storozheva’s white-light filter reinforces the blissful union of Ippolit and Sonia. Bakhtin notes, however, that the temporal and spatial structure of Daphnis and Chloe is one “riddled with decay, its compact isolation and self-imposed limits destroyed, surrounded on all sides by an alien world” (103). In Longus’ work, thus, the typically unproblematic pastoral-idyllic chronotope is infiltrated by “adventure-time,” a temporality in which all plot functions occur “suddenly,” “at just that moment,” and “by complete chance.” The overwhelming majority of the narrative action in Greek Holidays occurs in just this way. The logic of the film’s storyline “is one of random contingency, which is to say, that is, a logic of random disjunctions in time” (92). Ippolit just happens to be walking naked (and uninvited) in an apartment where Paris is a guest; Sonia suddenly sees Ippolit on a television commercial, from which she ascertains his secret location; while looking for Ippolit, Sonia finds one hundred Euros on the street, which causes her to meet, again by chance, a Russian (Sonia speaks no Greek) who helps her on her quest to find her husband. “Should something happen a minute earlier or a minute later, that is, should there be no chance simultaneity or chance disjunctions in time, there would be no plot at all, and nothing to write a novel about” (92)—or in Storozheva’s case, nothing to make a film about. The primary difference between the time-space relationships in both works is the teleology of the lovers’ relationships. According to Bakhtin, adventure-time in Daphnis and Chloe moves from the lovers’ first meeting to their marriage, detailing their unchanging love along the way (89). Storozheva’s Greek Holidays must, then, be classified as a negative-adventure: the film starts with a snapshot of a happily married couple and as the plot progresses, their relationship deteriorates.

At the close of Greek Holidays, Ippolit encounters the mirage of Pan along the road. Pan taunts him with the loss of his wife while praising him for his recent promiscuity (see illus. on the left). In Daphnis and Chloe, Pan plays a more benevolent role and guides the hero and heroine safely through their adventures; he functions as both the protector of shepherds and their flocks and as a representation of male eroticism (see illus. below). According to Storozheva (XXVII Moscow), the film presents the antithesis of Pan in the character of the Priest, who is Sonia’s patron. Upon meeting Sonia on a ship to Kefalonia, the Priest tells Sonia the legend of Pan: having accustomed himself to the love of the women on Kefalonia, Pan drowns himself when he hears that a monastery will be built on the island. He throws himself into the sea, “unwilling to accept that there is a different kind of love” outside of the Dionysian Eros that he has come to know. The telling of this myth foreshadows the role in which Sonia will find Ippolit once she happens upon him on Kefalonia, sets up the idyll-reality dualism that Storozheva attempts to capture, and confirms that the two different types of love Ippolit and Sonia are looking for are incompatible with one another.

Pan’s Banquet, Chagall (Lithograph, 21¼ x 15 inches, 1961)

Greek Holidays, like Daphnis and Chloe, is a story about the sexual and emotional coming-of-age of two individuals. Although Greek Holidays does not project toward a wedding but away from it, it attempts to convey aesthetic and moral lessons similar to those of Longus’ tale, according to Storezheva’s own comments about the film at the XXVII Moscow International Film Festival. It is up to the viewer to decide whether Storozheva achieves this successfully.

Alyssa DeBlasio
University of Pittsburgh


Works Cited

Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981: 84-258.

Lobanova, L. “Gorky Film Studios: 90th Jubilee.” Russian Culture Navigator (3 October 2005).

Longus. Daphnis and Chloe. Trans. J. R. Morgan. Oxford: Aris & Phillips, 2004.

XXVII Moscow International Film Festival. Greek Holidays. (22 June 2005).


Notes

1] The Chagall images of Daphnis and Chloe come from a series of lithographs he made during two trips to Greece after being asked to illustrate the novel.


Greek Holidays, Russia, 2005
Color, 100 minutes
Language: Russian, English, and Greek
Director: Vera Storozheva
Screenplay: Iraklii Kvirikadze
Cinematography: Shandor Berkeshi
Art Director: Sergei Filenko
Editor: Al'bina Antipenko
Music: Andrei Antonenko
Cast: Iurii Kolokol'nikov, Anna Arlanova, Chulpan Khamatova, Adonis Kafetzopoulos, Viacheslav Razbegaev, Anagiros Emanuel, and Marios Ioanu
Producer: Ekaterina Filippovna and Stanislav Ershov
Production: SLON Studio and Gor'kii Film Studios

Vera Storozheva: Greek Holidays (Grecheskie kanikuly, 2005)

reviewed by Alyssa DeBlasio© 2006

Updated: 14 Jul 06