Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Mina Orfanou in "Strella" [2009 Greece]

I've had the DVD of this Panos H. Koutras drama, "Strella" [Eng. Title: A Woman's Way] for well over a year now. It is also one of the most poignant and radical films I'd seen during the time, one that I'd been itching to post but whose time has probably only just about arrived...

It's films like these that make European cinema every once in a while so unique and revolutionary. In terms of story and screenplay, it certainly covers new ground by tackling a subject that's taboo in most cultures with great sensitivity and care. And it is also refreshing to see a film like this made not in the traditional heartland of European cinema like France, Germany, or Italy, but a largely conservative Greece. No wonder it raised a few eyebrows there when it was released. This post is also a coming-of-age of sorts for the blog - while I'd discussed films dealing with transsexual themes before, this is the first one that doesn't involve a female actress playing the part - this is as kosher as they come!

It is a challenging task to write a storyline for this without giving too much away - there's nothing like discovering this strange story by yourself as the film progresses, experiencing its shocking twists and turns, and then reflecting back on what you just saw to realise how well the film has actually been conceived. But I shall try. ;)
Yiorgos arrives at Athens after serving a fourteen year sentence for murder. Along with the world outside, he too has 'adapted', but had lost contact with the only member of his family, his son who was nine before he was sent to prison. Through directory enquiries, he goes around cancelling out every person in town who has his son's name to try and locate him. Meanwhile he meets Strella (a nickname for the name 'Stella' mixed with the word 'Trella' which means madness), a transsexual prostitute at his hotel, falls in love, and pretty soon moves in with her. When he eventually meets his son, the reunion will be quite beyond what anyone would have hoped for. Yiorgos will yet again have to adapt and learn to find peace and love under altered circumstances...

More than anything else, this challenging but deeply moving film is about exploring how broad a brush could be used to describe 'love'. How important is paternal love, and what is it that a child expects the most from his father. There are some lines from the film that will make you see things in different light, they will be challenging, but are also magical and deeply touching. The film is very well done, and it may come as a surprise to some that the extraordinary performance by the transsexual actress playing Strella, Mina Orfanou had never acted in film before. Perhaps for women like her, acting on film must only be an extension of their everyday lives, thinking and living like someone they weren't born as. Notwithstanding her undoubted skills, what makes her character in the film that spectacular however is the fine direction and careful editing, one that you'll appreciate when you watch it for the second time with full knowledge of the story. Not unlike Almodóvar and Fassbinder before him, Koutras has treated a subject concerning a people who are typically stereotyped and used as fodder for jokes with dignity, focusing on their rarely shown humanity and inner beauty. This gem of a film will only go unappreciated by the narrow minded and frivolous. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon DVD Link
English Subtitles

Compilation: Mina Orfanou and Yannis Kokiasmenos
I've kept the graphics relatively low-key as it may otherwise be misleading. Those who can follow Greek may encounter some major spoilers here. I also hope people read the full post before deciding on watching it..! :)

Mina Orfanou and Yannis Kokiasmenos in Strella

Scene Guide:
  • While staying at a motel, Yiorgos gets invited by prostitute Strella, for a drink in her room. He realises that she's different from other women but nevertheless decides to goes 'all' the way. Strella is played by a beautiful Mina Orfanou, and Yiorgos by Yannis Kokiasmenos.
  • The director scores some creative points by showing Yiorgos' recurrent dream of a squirrel - we'll discover its significance later in the film. Meanwhile Strella wakes up to see Yiorgos sleeping naked next to her, but she had to leave in a hurry.
  • No nudity, but nevertheless an interesting pass of play where Strella asks Yiorgos what is it that he likes about her the most.
  • This is magical scene - romantic, erotic but also touching - when Yiorgos surprises Strella by fixing a lantern that wouldn't work until then. When Strella approaches to thank him, he asks her to take off the towel.
  • An argument ensues while Strella prepares to leave to see a customer. Yiorgos wants her to stop pursuing her trade. She refuses. The conversation is outrageous but I can't describe it as it contains important plot give-aways.


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