Review: ‘What If’ at the Greek Film Festival
No-one knows how to celebrate quite like the Greeks, and considering Melbourne has one of the largest Greek populations outside of, of course, Greece, the opening of the 20th Greek Film Festival was indeed a spectacular event. The opening night had sold out, and there were around 1000 people in attendance. Naturally, they couldn’t fit into one cinema, so it took seven to accommodate the audience. It was a huge event – opening speakers included the Federal Member for Higgins, Kelly O’Dwyer, and the CEO of Delphi Bank, which was the primary sponsor, turned up and gave speeches. Even though Kelly’s attempts at the Greek language were amusing, the point was made that the evening, and indeed the entire festival, was a celebration of Greek culture and heritage.
Before the movie, unlike most other film festivals I have attended, there was a fair few advertisements, a good portion which were in Greek, without English subtitles. While it was confusing for someone who doesn’t speak Greek, it was still enjoyable, allowing a glimpse into the world of the Hellenic minority in Australia, especially Melbourne. What they ate, how they celebrated their customs and heritage, and the strong sense of identity it brings those of Greek descent living in Australia, especially Melbourne. Aside from the ads, there were also speeches from the event organisers, in English and Greek, as well as the previously mentioned Kelly O’Dwyer and the CEO of the Delphi Bank. It was a suitable opening to a festival with 20 years of history, with a well established reputation.
The movie itself was a good opening for the festival. It was a healthy mixture of humour and tragedy, and had a lot of interesting scenes and thought provoking lines. What If, directed by Christophoros Papakaliatis, focuses on the life of advertising director Demetris, an independent bachelor living in Athens at the cusp of the GFC. However, the film creates two storylines based on the concept of choice: the ‘what if’ scenario. The story flips between the two ways his life would have turned out based on one seemingly inconsequential choice: whether he takes his dog Lonesome for a walk one night. If he does go out, he meets the love of his life, Christina; otherwise, he doesn’t. It is very similar to the movie Sliding Doors, insofar as the parallel storyline is concerned. It even has a haircutting scene, which helps the audience identify which story is which.
One of the major themes in the film was the nature of fate versus happenstance. A person’s fate is not set entirely in stone – everything hinges on certain actions, which is the main issue explored here. There are consequences for tiny, seemingly minuscule choices. So that’s one point for free will. Another point is the Greek Chorus (pun intended): the old grandfather narrator dismisses the idea of “fate” and claims he believes in happenstance, quite happy to dismiss fatalists as silly. On the same note however, the movie does have certain aspects which are the same regardless of the choice that Demetris makes. As an example, in one alternate universe, Demetris impregnates Christina with his daughter while in the alternate universe, she is with her fiancé’s son. The overall fact is that the pregnancy is “fated” to happen, along with numerous other actions that occur during the film. As an interesting aside, although fate does sort of win out over free will as a concept, neither universes are shown to be inherently worse than the other. Whilst both choices have both positive and negative consequences, overall both end positively, which is a pleasant thought and reflection on life.
Another interesting thing about the movie was the setting. It is set in Greece from 2009, at the start of the GFC, and finishes in the present day, where Greece is still falling apart. Whilst it is difficult in Australia to appreciate the effect of a huge financial crisis due to our relative economic sturdiness (the reasons are still up for debate, and shan’t be discussed here), Greece, especially Athens, is shown to be absolutely destroyed by the economic crisis. Whilst the Greek Chorus notes that older Greeks have experienced poverty before (primarily due to the ravages of war and unstable government), younger Greeks were largely unprepared for the economic crisis, and thus it has affected them the most. The crisis was always in the background, and the turmoil in Demetris’ life would often be reflected by the events around him. The pathetic fallacy was also brilliantly done in regards to the weather. In one of the alternate timelines, the couple walks through the seasons. As they do so, and Christina’s belly swells with child, they discuss potential problems in their relationship. Whilst this happens, the weather turns sour: it gets colder, and snow starts falling. However, when they begin to turn to potential solutions to these problems, the weather begins to improve.
In conclusion, the film was a great watch, and certainly was very suitable to the opening show of the Greek Film Festival. After the movie, there was an after party. It was a highly enjoyable, with traditional Greek food and beverages which were consumed happily by all involved. On top of this, the atmosphere was fantastic, with a trio of musicians playing some thoroughly pleasant traditional Greek music onstage. The after party was a wonderful conclusion to a brilliant evening. Overall, the 20th Greek Film Festival was a resounding success, and a true tribute to the Hellenic culture and heritage.