A young woman from a broke aristocratic family has to leave her bed-ridden lover (most probably due to tuberculosis or any other chest-related disease) to marry a richer, older man to save her family from debt and scandal. Sound familiar?
Well, if you have been living on this planet in the past century, the answer should be yes. This story and variations of it have served as the nucleus of numerous screen and stage adaptations of Russian, French and English literary classics.
From the first few scenes, “Oi sklavoi sta desma tous (Slaves in their Bonds), the Greek entry in the international competition of the International Film Festival, sounds like Alexandre Dumas’ “The Lady of the Camellias meets Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina, sans the subtle symbolism and powerful social undertones that had enriched these classics.
To top it off, an overdose of melodrama kills whatever potential this old story could have possessed.
It’s apparent that great effort was put in décor and costumes to evoke rural Greece at the turn of the 20th century. But soon, the conventional storyline that unfolds renders all this effort useless.
Based on Konstrantinos Theotokis’ 1922 novel of the same name, the film is rife with unoriginal characters and literary and cinematic stereotypes.
It’s difficult, however, to determine whether this is the fault of the novel or the result of superficial adaptation.
The film, which also represents Greece at the Oscars, follows the Ofiomahos aristocratic family. With the change in social order in Greece, the family has lost its powers and is now in debt. The father of course is a gambler and his debts and the interest rates are accumulating. The rest of the family isn’t any better.
The youngest son, Spyros, is a replica of his father, gambling and getting deeper in debt. His older brother, Giorgis, seems to have chosen a better path in life. But he remains inexplicably helpless. His affair with the married, soon to-be-widowed Aimilia doesn’t help him emotionally or financially.
The younger daughter, Louiza, is carefree, and at one point escapes with her boyfriend, who in turn leaves her behind. With the population of the small island knowing about the relationship and with no marriage, the family is disgraced and tries to hide her.
All hopes are on the older daughter, Evlalia. She’s in love with her childhood friend Mimis, but he, as mentioned earlier, is ill, although the nature of his illness is unknown. But the couple, who form the most normal relationship in the story, must separate. Evlalia has to marry the richer, older Aristeidis Steriotis, who is haplessly in love with her. As part of his political and social aspirations, he also wants to cover his humble origins by marrying an aristocrat.
The marriage is loveless and the misery that seeps through every subplot overwhelms them. After losing hope in his marriage, Steriotis seeks an affair with now-widowed Aimilia, who is heartbroken after Giorgis left her.
The inexplicable developments in the plot, mixed with overacting and forced climaxes, fortunately come to an end, when, years later, Evlalia takes what appears to be her son to the place where she used to meet Mimis, while remembering his last request that she seeks happiness.
The final scene, like the rest of the film, doesn’t offer any fresh perspective to this overused story.
Many classics have been adapted to the screen, and have been warmly received by critics and audiences, whether due to the directors’ choices to adapt the story in modern times or add their vision and personality to the plot in its original setting. Without having read the novel, it’s obvious that veteran director Adonis Lykouresis (credited as Tonis Lykouresis) hasn’t done either.