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Film review of Constantina Voulgaris’
Συγχαρητήρια στους Αισιόδοξους?
(“My Regards to the Optimists?”) (2012)
by drs. Efthimia Dilpizoglou
(c) 2014 all rights reserved

NOTE: THIS FILM REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

Every single Greek friend of mine who had already seen the movie warned me about it, with comments ranging from “the worst movie ever made”, to “meh”, to the following:

example of the types of comments I got about Constantina Voulgaris movie.

example of the types of comments I got about Constantina Voulgaris movie, Συγχαρητήρια στους Αισιόδοξους?
(“My Regards to the Optimists?”)

While certainly not a terrible movie, Constantina Voulgaris’ award-winning 2012 movie Συγχαρητήρια στους Αισιόδοξους? or “My Regards to the Optimists?” (the more commercial working title of which apparently was “All You Need Is Love” while the film-maker was still fundraising on IndieGoGo) suffers from the relative inexperience of the film-maker herself, hence why I would give it a 6 at best, and that’s pushing it. I felt like I was watching an average movie about a young Greek woman reluctantly participating in a fringe movement in Athens, while learning little to nothing about the movement she was participating in. My personal introduction to anarchist thought or ideology, other than discovering the American punkrock fanzine Maximumrocknroll at the age of 12-13, was the book The Philosophy of Punk. Later as a university student I read the Anarchism FAQ and was shocked at the intellectualy close relationship of anarchism to the hardcore freemarket libertarian ideology of a Milton Friedman or an Ayn Rand, which in itself led me to reject anarchism. Again a while later, as an unemployed postgrad on welfare with a seemingly worthless Media Studies degree, I ended up reading every text on lifestyle anarchism on the CrimethInc website and ordering one of their publications, the controversial Evasion book by the later convicted American animal rights extremist Peter Daniel Young, more out of curiosity because 1) it was a contemporary American book that was being effectively blacklisted across libraries in the US, and 2) curiosity at this new, openly parasitical, anti-political or even anti-activist turn that anarchism had taken as it became a lifestyle. One of the student groups I was involved with had ties to the squat scene as well as the leftwing activist scene in Amsterdam, but I had no idea whether anyone of them identified as anarchist. One of their more active members went into the municipal Green party, another person who told me that CrimethInc’s other best-selling book, Days of War, Nights of Love, was his favourite activist publication, that guy (after getting himself a worthless humanities degree in Western Philosophy) went into one of the elite business schools in the Netherlands, supposedly to learn how to become a leader, a business-leader that is. With this basic background knowledge that I already had about contemporary anarchism, I really don’t feel like I’m learning anything about the ideas or ideals of Athenian anarchism specifically by watching Voulgaris’ movie. I am not learning how Athenian anarchism differs from or is similar to American lifestyle anarchism. My impression from this movie is that Athenian anarchists do the same things American anarchists do, just with a local twist: they participate in marches where they chant slogans, they occupy vacant lots or buildings, and then they will have a Reclaim the Streets party with Greek clarinet music instead of yet another glitchmob ripoff group. Or, they will have a Food not Bombs potluck where they serve Greek pastitio instead of stirfried vegan whatevers like their American counterparts. I find this global standardization of lifestyle anarchism rather strange for a movement that supposedly holds personal expression and individuality in high esteem. I suppose that the people who awarded Constantina Voulgaris’ previous feature film, Valse Sentimentale, at the Thessaloniki Film Festival felt like they were watching a movie that perfectly captures the Zeitgeist, while bringing the documentaristic tendencies of contemporary fictional cinema to bear on Greek reality, but there is a difference between doing that versus making a movie that is itself a sign of the times – I would only award the latter and this movie has no ambition in that sense. As for capturing the Zeitgeist, there are several Greek movies I could mention (Το Γάλα, 45m2, at least a dozen shorts I have seen at the Short Film Festival of Drama over the past editions) that have come out since the economic depression that I feel capture the Zeitgeist in Greece better in their weakest moments than this movie does in its strongest moments. We can forgive those who might mistake this movie for a great movie, or as one that deserves to be awarded, because while cinematography isn’t exactly its forte, seduction is one thing Constantina Voulgaris’ movie does pretty well.

Part 1: “I don’t know what to tell you, people are very demoralized.”

The title of the movie ia derived from a scene where a Greek radio-host is reading a news-item about the rising inflation in Greece which continues to rise (to his day) aloof of all the austerity measures. He finishes off the item by commenting ironically: “To those who still remain optimistic, I offer my regards.”, just as a group of anarchists storms into his studio to make a public annoucement on the radio about a jailed comrade. (Added 15SEP2014:) The person shown in this scene is an actual news-reader in Greece by the name of Paylos Tsimas in Greece who works for one of the big commercial TV channels, the MEGA TV-channel. The appearance of this man in a movie about anarchists aroused the anger of several leftists online, because they consider this news-reader a mouthpiece of vested interests and couldn’t believe he would ever agree to appear in such a movie.

Fair-skinned and red-haired (and what is it about the Voulgarises always putting fair-skinned red-haired women in their movies?!) Athenian anarchist Electra is the female protagonist of this movie. She wears the standard sheer black anarchist uniform with steel-toed boots and t-shirts of The Clash, Joy Division, and Steven Spielberg’s E.T, subtlely referencing the tendency amongst contemporary 30something Greeks to nostalgically romanticize the 1980s. Her shit-talking ‘progressive’ mother comments on Electra’s new flowered dress with the plunging neckline: “You must be stuffing your money to be able to afford such a dress. Your tit might slip out as you bend over. I am just telling you.”.

Electra wears a bold black Latin questionmark tattoo on her neck. She draws watercolours, incorporating a questionmark such as the one she wears into each painting, which she then has printed onto stickers that she stickerbombs all over town, reminiscent of the comic book character The Question. Electra bears a generous shit-eating grin for everyone around her, but there isn’t much in her own life to smile about: her fiance and anarchist comrade Manousos Afendakis has been arrested for armed bankrobbery and illegal gun procession, but is facing 25 years due the compounding charge of belonging to a terrorist organization as a result of Greece’s more stringent anti-terrorism laws. This movie is not a court-room drama though, and mostly focuses on Electra having to adjust, emotionally and politically in terms of her beliefs and ideals, to living alone with her fiance in jail for the longrun. She self-mutilates with her razor while shaving her legs in the shower and cries all alone.

During a pre-trial jail visit her fiance asks her whether people on the outside are still holding strikes and marches to protest Merkelism. “People are very demoralized”, she says, “Don’t want to get involved with organizations or collectives.”. She hands him an indie publication by their comrades and asks him whether he has been writing his own Gramscian Prison Notebooks. Later in the movie he delivers a Peter Daniel Young-esque statement in court while his comrades chant “Passion for freedom is stronger than any cage”, basically the Greek equivalent of the American “1, 2, 3, 4, open up the cage door”. Constantina Voulgaris seems to have liked the idea of the loner with a dog who befriends a child from her brother Alexander Voulgaris’ 2006 Pink, and hence we get several scenes of Electra alone with her dog. (Added 09SEP2014:) The name of Electra’s dog Durruti is not Hellenized “Dorothy” from The Wizard of Oz, which was my erroneous guess: “José Buenaventura Durruti Dumange (14 July 1896 – 20 November 1936) was an anarcho-syndicalist militant involved with the CNT, FAI and other anarchist organisations during the period leading up to and including the Spanish Civil War.” (source). It is customary for Exarchia anarchists to pay tribute to “revolutionary” historical names and memes when naming their pets, another example of this would be a dog named “Ernesto” after Che Guevara’s real name.

Durruti

Durruti

Electra peripherally participates in the Athenian anarchist movement, more out of habit than sincere passion. Her real interest is patisserie, and she tests out her desserts on the boy she is taking care of in the wealthier Athenian suburbs, whose working mother is never shown because ever absent. She takes the boy to the Zoo, plays him Athenian hardcore and teaches him how to mosh, instead of bed-time stories she reads him artistic manifestoes and tries to explain lifestyle anarchism to this young and pliable mind (“The author is saying that his life itself is his art”). This is the diet coke or child-friendly version of anarchism that the prepubescent suburban boy is introduced to, not the good ole hardcore extremist anarchism of bombings, robberies and sabotage. For some reason I am thinking here of that flashback scene in the American feature comedy Malibu’s Most Wanted (one of the few American comedies that sincerely made me LOL throughout the whole movie) where the Malibu jew-boy B-Rad discovers hip hop music through the black housemaid who is listening to hip hop on the radio as she’s cleaning up the house, while his overworked Jewish parents who might have steered him away from hip hop culture are away from home.

Constantina Voulgaris tries to capture in an almost documentaristic style the New Normal in Athens and how Athenians have pushed this New Normal to the edges of their everyday perception so that it won’t drive them crazy: walking past collapsed junkies in the streets who might or might not have overdosed, walking past red tape because of (mainly fake) bomb-threats all over the city (I experienced this myself in 2009 when the subway station near the Pireus harbour was cordoned off due to a bomb-threat; we, the stranded tourists, were sardined into a bus and only got to sight-see more red-tape pulled around public parks on our way to another station far away from the habour and the presumed bombs), riot police patroling the streets, being so poor that you have no spare change on you to give to beggars on the metro and trying to seem invisible as you turn your mp3 player up while avoiding eye-contact so they won’t come up to you, drinking water from a PET bottle because the Athenian tap-water is not only undrinkable – it always was – but is now harmful to one’s health, having to learn to bake your own treats because you no longer have any semblance of a disposable income to be able to afford store-bought cakes (and are offended when your parents do), the pointless marches and the formulaic slogans. This is the New Normal in Athens that everyone sees and recognizes but tries not to notice too much. Much of this documentation of the New Normal is ruined though by the lackluster cinematography, mainly scenes that linger on longer than necessary for no reason. Wasting the time of your audience is not artsy-fartsy, it is annoying and amateurish. If I were a film-teacher instead of Alexander Voulgaris watching porn with the kids in class, I would have my students edit scenes from this movie as a montage exercize.

For me the most interesting and ambitious part of this movie was the use of what looks like actual protest footage where all the protestors’faces are blurred, not to mention blurring the lines between staging fiction versus documenting reality. Curiously the faces of the riot police are not blurred. I don’t know which media or privacy laws in Greece have prompted this manipulation of the footage, I am sure Constantina Voulgaris would say she feared for the safety of the protestors more than the privacy of the riot police, but I would like to query this footage a little more. I guess working with release forms in a protest setting is impractical, and for some reason the film-maker opted against staging a fake protest. Or maybe it really was a fake protest and she blurred the faces of her extras to suggest a documentary approach? It certainly has sensible things to say about protest marches becoming nothing more than a performance that activists themselves have become fed up with. However, the decision to blur out protestors’ faces is related to the concept of privacy which is legally defined in terms of property rights, or the ownership of one’s likeness. Property rights are opposed by the anarchist movement, so it would be nice to hear the film-makers’ ideas about granting property rights to her fellow protestors over their likeness, versus granting no such rights to the riot police. I for example opted to not add any stills from the movie to this review because I seriously worried Constantina Voulgaris might exploit my use of stills to take down an unsympathetic review, in other words, I worried that she might invoke her own property rights in order to effectively censor my article. I have had people posing as anarchists pretending to oppose property rights opportunistically invoke the same rights they claim to oppose in order to censor me and my work, and because of my personal experiences I find this kind of opportunistic hypocrisy to be pretty typical of the anarchist movement and its sympathizers. Also, how can the anarchist movement, or anyone sympathetic to their ideas as this film-maker appears to be, support the concept of privacy or image-control of protestors, when this concept is based on legal and economic concepts that the anarchist movement essentially opposes, such as property rights, the idea of secrecy, and the commodification of the self-image as a valuable/sellable object? This footage basically says: “Privacy for me, but not for thee.”. Are we really making the world a better place like this?

Part 2: The oikogeniocratic board meeting

Electra says: “While I was being raped at 15 by a 28 year old truckdriver, my parents were in the room next to mine watching Jean Luc Godard movies, doing absolutely nothing to step in and stop it, supposedly out of discreetness.”

Efthimia says: “I am not surprised this happened in a household where de facto criminal and banned child pornography such as Maladolescenza is considered suitable viewing material. Speaking of which, why don’t we ask Alex and Romanna, woops, I meant to say why don’t we ask Vassilis what he and Snezana were up to in her bedroom with those cock-shaped stuffed socks on the wall and that decapitated human-sized doll touching its crotch in the right corner of the room, while her mother was in the next room storing away in the fridge those treats he had brought.”

The scene at the dinner table is by far my favourite of the entire movie, and I sarcastically refer to it as the oikogeniocratic board meeting. Electra’s progressive culture-vulture parents might as well have been Constantina Voulgaris’ own, but I would say that this scene is fairly typical of other families as well, at least based on what I have seen at Greek households in leftwing circles over the past few years. The father-figure, who is apparently a respected book author, at one point makes an overt reference to the location of Grammos and “the female snipers of the revolutionary army”, which is one of the locations in Northern Greece where Constantina Voulgaris’ dad Pandelis Voulgaris shot the film Deep Spirit about the Greek civil war in the aftermath of the 2nd World War (a movie I went to see twice when it came out; my grandfather worked as a first-aid nurse on the side of the National Army fighting the Communist rebels. The hectic scene in the nursing tent with a man screaming “It’s a massacre, a massacre!” over the phone had particular resonance for me because of the work of my grandfather in that conflict.). I guess this reference to Grammos  is meant to communicate to the viewer that we are watching a scene at the Voulgarises. (Constantina Voulgaris said in interviews that the movie was “personal” but never disclosed which aspects were fictional and which based on her own life.) Electra’s parents also seem to be dealing with the onset of old-age dementia, because at several points in the dialogue it is suggested that the parents are becoming forgetful (Electra: “But dad, I was going to bake the dessert, we discussed this on the phone 3 times!”, dad: “Oh? We did?”, and the mother keeps forgetting people’s names with Electra filling in the blanks.)

Electra’s parents make a living packaging and selling Greece’s turbulent past. Immersed as they are in their little cottage-industry of all things rebellious and bygone, they do not seem to notice the shifting values of their daughter’s generation, 30something Greeks who do not want to be academics or artists, both government-backed professional fields where vested leftwingers are overrepresented in Greece, but instead Electra’s generation wants to be “happy” (I suppose this includes being the Happy Terrorist robbing banks to finance your far left terrorism, the Greek version of the pursuit of happiness, apparently :/). These well-connected parents exploit their connections in the left-wing culture industries to get their daughter little projects (“The museum needs a new video promo”, suggests the mother) and accuse her of squandering her expensive education abroad. But like many Greeks of my generation, Electra too is just as disillusioned with both academia and the culture industries as with anything else that represents civil society. She wistfully thinks about escaping from hellhole inner-city Athens to the country-side and working as a waitress (to which we say: good luck girl, because the movie doesn’t mention that in contemporary Greece a waitressing job means 25 euros under the table/uninsured work for a full workday with the added bonus of unpaid overhours.).

It is here that the movie becomes seductive again, and it is because of this: there is a huge difference between rejecting academia and the arts world, because despite having all the right degrees you never managed to get a foot in the door because you lacked the right connections and hence were unable to market yourself, versus being someone like an Electra, someone who thanks to her well-connected parents is already an insider to the milieu and needs no introduction because she belongs the right family brand anyway. What is particularly disturbing about the Electra character is that she addresses her parents as the insiders, while lacking the self-reflectivity to recognize herself as an insider like her parents, suggesting that she is an outsider, if only compared to them (yeah right, like getting 100 000 euros in government funding -which Constantina Voulgaris claims she never received- for this film and having won an award at the Thessaloniki Film Festival makes you an outsider in relation to your parents, keep dreaming girl, keep fronting it like that.) As I said many young Greeks with worthless humanities degrees are disillusioned with academia and the arts like Electra is, but for completely different reasons and she is just not representing them and their reasons. The disillusionment of an insider is never the marginalization of an outsider, yet the film wants the outsider to conflate his disappointment with that of someone who is already part of the system. Insiders simply do not understand how incredibly insulting and offensive it is to outsiders to watch someone like an insider reject a position in academia or an artistic project simply because they can. Insiders who become frustrated with the system that they are already a part of are generally frustrated because of their personal cowardice, because they are afraid to shake things up, because of the policeman in their own heads. Outsiders who were never part of the system and were kept marginalized, they have no such fear because they are generally too unselfconscious to think that way, they don’t have that policeman in their heads that insiders have. These outsiders were never made part of the system because those who want to maintain the status quo knew these outsiders would have no personal qualms about not merely shaking things up, but blowing things up and rocking the academic and the arts establishment to its core. I for example know that I, or anyone like me, will never be the boss of a museum or a gallery, because I know that if I was ever given control over such an institution I would be tempted to just sell the overwhelming majority of all that overinflated art garbage, which is often just a tax-evasion or offshore vehicle for the filthy rich to engage in more tax-evasion than they already do (since assets in the form of art are often not taxed at all, or taxed very little compared to other long-lasting assets that the rich use to store value like precious metals or real estate, this being the primary reason there is a professional art market and the main reason why the filthy rich transfer the value of their assets into pieces of art), and use the money to buy housing/shelter/food for all the homeless in Greece and to help them pay off their debts. On the other hand, a frustrated, self-aware insider like Electra would turn down the job at the gallery or the museum that I was never offered, saying that they don’t want the “enormous responsibility” of looking after all that art-garbage (as if there is any difference between looking after rich people’s kids versus looking after their tax-evading art-garbage, is a curator really that different from a nanny?). That is the difference between a frustrated insider and a marginalized outsider.

My main criticism of the film in terms of story-telling is that I didn’t exactly understand the significance or symbolism of much of what I was seeing. As I said above, this movie is not a very good introduction into the anarchist scene in Athens, despite the film-maker maker’s claims about targeting a lay audience unfamiliair with the anarchist milieu. Take for example the following scene: After her fiance Manousos is convicted, he is hurriedly dragged away by guards and Electra unfortunately doesn’t get a chance to hand him a little sundried starfish she is holding in her hands that was clearly meant to be a parting gift. What is the significance of the starfish to this couple? Is it a reference to the starfish parable? Something else altogether? Does the starfish have special symbolic significance for Athenian anarchists? For example, is it supposed to be a Greek reference to or version of the pagan star used by both the communists of old and by contemporary anarchists as symbol of “the armed struggle”? No explanation is given, and that is just lazy story-telling.

In another scene Electra walks into what to me looks like a bar or a restaurant, with harp-shaped iron bars before the windows, where every person is sitting alone at a table reading a book. Electra walks into this bar/restaurant, sits at a table, orders something and then looks around the room annoyed or worried, as if she was waiting for someone to show up who didn’t. (I even suspect that one of the extras in that scene is her brother Alexander Voulgaris bent over a book, but I could be mistaken). I don’t understand the significance of that scene either. Is this a bar she and Manousos used to frequent? Is she looking around habitually because she was expecting Manousos to be there? Were her comrades supposed to be there? If a bar is restful and peaceful, and Greek bars rarely are, what on earth could be wrong with people seeking out that one rare Greek bar that is quiet for the purpose of reading a book? Are the harp-shaped bars before the windows meant to suggest that art/music/literature/culture is a prison? Or is this scene saying that there is something anti-social, according to anarchists or according to the film-maker herself, about someone peacefully reading a book at a quiet bar as opposed to going out and smashing shit up? If that’s the suggestion, that book-readers are more anti-social than someone smashing shit up, as an avowed bookworm I take serious offense to that suggestion. Everyone who reads books knows that the truly interesting people on this planet, the people you would otherwise never meet or speak to, are writing books about their adventures so that they don’t have to tell the same story over and over and thus have the time to go out and have more adventures; it’s the assholes doing nothing with their lives getting by on their hard-luck stories that are trying to chat up to you at a bar.

Bookworm

Bookworm

I also didn’t understand the maker’s decision to use music only at the very end of the film. At several points in the movie Electra is listening to music through her earphones (which she uses to distance herself from her surroundings) but the viewer is never made privy to what she is listening to (maybe the bands whose t-shirts she’s wearing? The Clash? Joy Division?). Music in this film is mostly environmental, as in the scene where Electra is  listening to avant garde strings at home as she’s backing a dessert, or buskers hustling for change on the metro (the only moment Electra removes her earphones to listen to the buskers instead of her own music). Only at the very end of the movie when Electra is dancing at the potluck with her anarchist comrades does the viewer partake in the music of a live band playing at the potluck. IMO the film really sufferend from a lack of music, and another excercize I would do with my imaginary film-students – if I were the film-teacher instead of Alexander Voulgaris watching porn with the kids in class – would be to add music to specific scenes of this movie. I am sure this would have improved the movie considerably, as music seems to feature prominently in this subculture or at least in the life of Electra herself.

I bet that all the Athenian hipsters who love this movie must’ve noticed that none other than Alexander Vouglaris himself is in the movie. He’s one of the anarchists at the Food not Bombs/Reclaim the Streets potluck at the end, and also appears as one of the guys greeting Electra and her dog in the scene where she sits alone having a bottle of beer on a public square because she cannot afford to buy a drink at the cafeteria with the empty seats. His contributions to the end scene are particularly intriguing because Alex is shown holding up his, um, carrot, and then a bearded guy comes up and touches the tip of Alex’s carrot (whaaa?!). There’s another shot of Alex at the table grating the carrot, and then he’s dancing with his hands in his pockets along with the crowd with a guy walking up to Alex and groping him from behind. Not to be missed 😉 I also noticed that Constantina Voulgaris’ mother Ioanna Karystiani was one of the court judges during the conviction scene, which is fitting given that her mother was once a law student herself, and was arrested and tortured as a student activist by the military dictatorship in the 1970s (source). Ioanna Karystiani is a former card-carrying member of the Greek Communist Youth (KNE) and the Greek Communist Party (KKE) (source ), and predictably she did an interview just a year ago defending the absence of a culture of civility and self-restraint amongst Greek protestors. If you’re a small businessman in Athens with a cornershop struggling to make the rent, next time your shop is smashed and burned out during a protest, you can thank leftwing intellectuals like Karystiani for suggesting it’s OK to engage in mindless vandalism at a protest, because being poor is supposedly an excuse for such behaviour. Also predictably, Karystiani herself no longer even lives in inner city Athens (and neither does her daughter, source) she and hubby Pan have moved to greener pastures to live out their old age in peace (source), so you can rest assured Karystiani herself is safely removed from the inner city violence she is intellectually exculpating in interviews. You won’t even see this violence that Karystiani is intellectually providing cover for in daughter Constantina’s movie, because there it is simply covered up. There is not even one single shot, not even simulated or staged, of anarchists actually engaged in property damage or vandalism, firearms assembly or training, or the making and planting of bombs. This omission is not cinematic neorealism (as in “hey, we lifestyle anarchists here in Athens actually do something other on a daily basis with our lives than plotting who to bomb next”), this is seduction.

Part 3: “Realistic movies do real damage to people”, or the cinematic anarchism apologetics of Constantina Voulgaris

In order to understand the context in which this film was conceived we first have to address the connections between members of the Voulgaris household and elements of the extreme left in Athens. These associations are a matter of public record and are openly spoken of by the Voulgarises themselves. To give but one documented example, Alexander Voulgaris disclosed on his (then still open to the public) Facebook wall that the person addressed as “Mrs. X” in the 5th song on his 2011 album Ηλιοθεραπεία, a song mysteriously titled “Κυρία Χ Αλήθεια Λέω” (“Mrs. X I speak the truth”) is actually the mother of an “acquaintance” of his who went to jail on charges of “terrorism”, this being the actual word Alexander Voulgaris himself used on Facebook.  Alexander Voulgaris also stated, in the same post, that the rest of the album Ηλιοθεραπεία, specifically the opening song of the album titled Cut the Hand, was inspired by the rounding-up of an extreme left organization in Athens that is considered a terrorist group, called “Επαναστατικός Αγώνας” or The Revolutionary Struggle. This acquaintance is only referred to as Άρης (“Aris”, the Greek equivalent of the Gawd of war Mars in ancient mythology) in the song. I instantly wondered: could it be that the character of the far left terrorist Manousos in Constantina Voulgaris’ movie is actually based on the same “Aris” referred to in Alexander Voulgaris’ song? In the end credits of Constantina Voulgaris film there is a dedication to a deceased person, “in the memory of the anarchist Kostas Seirinidis”. Researching this lead, I discovered that according to several online sources, the late Kostas Seirinidis is actually the father of the Aris or Άρης Σειρινίδης in Alexander Voulgaris’ song. (Added 15SEP2014:) Kostas Seirinidis was orginally a Greek military officer during the junta dictatorship who ran the underground Communist network from within the military, and was expelled from the Greek Communist party after his involvement in the military was discovered. He was once a card-carrying member and municipal candidate of the Greek Communist Party who had authored several anti-Imperialist books on topics such as the revolutionary utopia and American military presence in Greece; disillusioned with the Communists under the influence of the Russian Stalinism, he eventually came out as an anarchist in the early 1990s.  Constantina Voulgaris does not dedicate her movie to Aris Seirinidis, instead dedicating the movie to his dead father, who according to the articles I read died of a heart-attach at 72 while failing to cope emotionally and physically with the detention of his son. This is all significant with regards to the movie, because at one point during the jail visitation scene Electra informs her fiance Manousos that she visited his family in Crete and that his father’s mental health is deterioraring, “He’s no longer eating, he doesn’t even perceive us.”.

Given the attention that the arrest of Aris Seirinidis and the subsequent death of his father Kostas Seirinidis received at the time, I have to wonder why both Constantina Voulgaris and her brother Alexander Voulgaris are so reluctant to admit that they really were acquaintances of Aris Seirinidis, with Constantina Voulgaris playing it safe and dedicating her movie to the dead father instead of the living son. Having first disclosed in an interview that the movie was personal and that the female lead bore aspects of the film-maker herself, Constantina Voulgaris was then asked, she was asked about the timeline of the movie. She said she first conceived the idea in 2008, trying to make it seem as if the movie was longer in the making than any IRL events related to Aris Seirinidis or his father that may have caught up with the movie. As for Alexander Voulgaris, to my knowledge he has never publically admitted that the Aris referred to in his song “Κυρία Χ Αλήθεια Λέω”  was a veiled reference to the arrest of  Άρης Σειρινίδης, but coupled with the dedication at the end of his sister’s movie, it should be obvious that this is the man and that it is safe to assume that the Voulgarises knew the Seirinidis family and knew of their trials and tribulations. Is it that Constantina Voulgaris opted to dedicate the movie to the dead father instead of the living but convicted son, because she was worried about appearing to be too much of an outright advocate of far left terrorists? I leave it up to the reader to decide for themselves on the basis of their own politics, activism, ethics and conscience. (Added 09SEP2014:) according to this online article, Aris Seirinidis was eventually acquited of the initial charges in 2011.

I myself have denounced people who associate or support, morally or financially or otherwise, terrorists of any kind only to cowardly distance themselves from an outright association with terrorism when authorities or journalists come knocking on the door. There are people who are hardcore, who stick to their guns, literal or symbolic, and admit they truly and wholeheartedly support terrorism. These people are small in number. Then there are these in-denial moral cowards, much larger in number, who have never seriously considered the true ethical implications of supporting terrorism, who only associate themselves with terrorism to earn themselves coolness points in some hipster underground where flirting with terrorism is apparently considered as cool as flirting with pedophilia.

I am obviously not suggesting that the Voulgarises are themselves far left terrorists, or that just because Alexander Voulgaris has an “acquaintance” who was convicted (but eventually acquitted) “for terrorism” he’s about to start planting bombs himself (I myself have a friend who was once with the Minutemen in California and has long since denounced them, so I resist the fallacy of guilt by association), I am merely laying out the familial as well as the larger social milieu in Athens which would inspire a government-funded film-maker like Constantina Voulgaris to make a movie that is sympathetic to the so-called “armed struggle” of the far left in Athens — because just as it’s never called terrorism when the far reichwingers do it, it’s likewise never called terrorism when the far left does it. Anarchists and their apologists always claim that you cannot conflate leftwing terrorism with rightwing terrorism, but really, does the person who is subjected to terrorism care about the political reasoning or unreasoning of the individual who’s pointing the gun at their face when they are a hapless bystander to an armed robbery at a bank or witness to a bomb explosion? Also, I just don’t see the point in targeting the bedroom of the daughter of an ambassador. That’s not “the armed struggle”, it’s macho bullying and thuggery towards a woman. The Voulgarises certainly seem attracted enough to the romanticism of far left terrorism to want to maintain ties to extremist elements, and to want to dedicate a movie and a song to their far left associates when these are caught by authorities. Suffice to say, the average citizen who has a gun pointed to their face at the bank or survives a bomb explosion doesn’t know shit about the politics of the person yielding the gun or placing the bomb, all they know at that point is that they are witnessing a violent crime while having their lives personally threatened simply for being a hapless bystander, and hence will co-operate with authorities in the detainment of the bombers or bank-robbers, who might or might not be revolutionaries whose politics the hapless bystander might or might not share.

That said, as a feminist I do think it’s incredibly sexist to perpetrate the gender stereotype of anarchist men fighting the class war while anarchist women do not seem to differ all that much from other Greek housewives, as they’re apparently mostly at home baking cakes and taking care of the kids (or rich people’s kids in absence of their own). There are Greek women involved in far left terrorism, and no, they are not merely “the partner of” as in the case of the fugitive Paula Roupa “standing by her man”, who I would assume is the only Greek female far leftist that the public knows by name, as opposed to about a dozen of male Greek far left terrorists who have become household names. (Don’t believe me? Do this as a test: get a Greek person and ask them to name a far left terrorist. They will name more than one, all male. Now ask them to name a female far left terrorist. They will name Paula Roupa at best.) Would Constantina Voulgaris have received film-funding, not to mention a film-award if she were making a movie about a female far left terrorist, as opposed to a movie about a woman who doesn’t differ much from the average frustrated self-mutilating Greek housewife of her age, if it weren’t for her fiance being in jail for terrorism, her stickerbombing, her tats and lip piercing.

For me Constantina Voulgaris’ movie primarily brings to mind an obscure American 2010 movie called Bold Native by the director Denis Henry Hennelly (IMDB) which I have studied in the context of my research into American animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists, a movie which featured actual American animal rights extremists, animal rights attorneys and convicted extremists playing themselves alongside the actors. Unpredictably, Constantina Voulgaris once said that she would like to make a movie about animals: “Αν ζούσα σε μια φάρμα στην Ανδρο θα έκανα μια ταινία για…ζώα».” (source). Bold Native too, like Constantina Voulgaris’ movie, addressed the reality of the broadening legal definition of terrorism under new anti-terrorism laws resulting in harsher sentences. Bold Native too, like My Regards to the Optimists?, had a familial drama strand weaved into the narrative. The main character, a young white American upper-middle class animal rights activist who is becoming inceasingly radicalized, is essentially rebelling against his conservative father, who later in the movie has no choice but to infiltrate the subculture of animal rights extremism and eco-terrorism, if only in order to locate his missing son who has gone underground because he is planning a massive eco-terrorist operation. Bold Native too blended the documentary with the fictional, by means of short inserts of covertly filmed animal abuse footage. But rather than explaining or showing what it is that truly drives animal rights extremists (other than the prospect of polyamorous sex arrangements), Bold Native ended up being just another sensational movie about American fringe lifestyles and the phenomenon of “intentional communities” – which apparently habour eco-terrorists. Arguably the movie did end up contributing to the law enforcement hysteria that resulted in the pre-emptive raiding of such intentional communities a few years later, whether these communities had ties to the eco-terrorist underground or not. I am all for catching violent terrorists who are plotting serious harm and destruction, but I am also against movies that perpetrate the stereotype (to which law enforcement is very susceptible) that every intentional community is part of the eco-terrorist underground and hence deserves to be raided. Constantina Voulgaris’ film likewise suggests that there is a far left terrorist behind every harmless Food Not Bombs or Reclaim the Streets collective in Athens, and the consequences of such a depiction might only become apparent a few years later, as happened with the movie Bold Native in the US.

I don’t think people outside of Greece have any idea how encompassing the wave of extreme left terrorism in Greece was in the years 2008-2011. Going through the list of attacks it is pretty clear to me that competing terrorist groups were engaged in a petty (and as a feminist I have to say very stereotypically macho MALE) game of oneupmanship, with younger terrorist groups seeking to impress the older, more experienced terrorist groups while seeking to be incorporated into them through acts of daredevilry that might impress the older terrorists into recruiting a particularly promising terrorist-aspirant. Because of the involvement of these younger groups, planting bombs alongside the older groups, many of the targets were clearly merely opportunistic and the work of newbies. Some of the targets were obvious: the Greek police, the court of the city of Thessaloniki, the notoriously inhumane Koridallos jail (that houses many terrorists themselves), 14 bomb-packages were sent to embassies and the leaders of several European countries, the offices of the Greek secret service, the offices of the minister of National Defense, the offices and residence of the viceminister of Internal Affairs, the residence of a district attorney who later became the boss of the Greek secret service, the offices of political parties on the center left and the right. Eventually they began targeting Greek orthodox churches and even placed a bomb in a garbage-can outside of the Greek parliament that is frequented by many pedestrians during the day. At the same time as the offices of the Golden Dawn were bombed, a bomb went off at the residence of the vicepresident of the Greek Pakistani Community. Overtime the targets became increasingly ridiculous; why anyone would bomb the embassy of Chile in Greece is just beyond me. Suffice to say that none of this violence has done anything to make life better or easier for the much maligned people of Greece, yet Constantina Voulgaris feels the need to make a movie that is targeting the average Greek person who has no connection to the anarchist milieu, yet is a direct or indirect witness to all of the above, and to make them somehow sympathetic towards violent anarchists, because look, their girlfriends are just like your average Greek housewife.

Another aspect of anarchist terrorism that this movie doesn’t capture, because it mainly focuses on the couple Electra-Manousis alone, is the effect that anarchist terrorism had on anarchist communities themselves. In some cases up to 18 people were arrested and thrown in jail at once, while 34 others around them were detained and charged (in other words for every arrested terrorist at least one other person was sucked into the penal system), which is enough to destroy any extended community. I guess the idea behind the last scene where Electra is dancing with her friends is to suggest that “one of us may be gone but the rest of the gang is still together” and hence “the people united will never be divided”, but with sentences of up to 34 years some of these “Γλυκιές Συμμορίες” are united only inside the notorious Koridallos jail (where part of Constantina Voulgaris’ film was actually shot), not partying and planting trees at an occupied vacant square.  In response to these sweeps that accompany the rounding up of every terrorist group and inevitably affect any communities or extended networks the terrorists associate with, some anarchist groups in Athens have explicitly distanced themselves from terrorism and violence. How is the average Greek person supposed to become sympathetic towards anarchist terrorists when anarchists themselves are getting tired of being swept up in raids even when they’ve kept their distance to the true epicenter of the action? It is a huge error that Constantina Voulgaris’ movie doesn’t show Electra herself being detained and interrogated by the authorities about her fiance and whether she was covering up his activities or stashing his firearms, eventhough this would have been the most logical course of action in the context of the events depicted in the movie. The movie thus maintains the illusion, or rather the delusion, that lifestyle anarchists can maintain a respectful distance from their more radical bretheren, a tactical distance that puts themselves out of the way of investigating authorities but nevertheless allows them to come out as terrorism-sympathizers. I myself have dealt with the same type of delusional mindset in the American eco-terrorist milieu that I have been researching, and I can tell everyone right now that it’s a delusion to assume you can be a terrorism-sympathizer while washing yourself clean of any direct involvement in terrorism. Authorities just don’t see it that way, and hence the fallacy of guilt by association is very much how the penal system goes about investigating and prosecuting assumed terrorism related cases. It is in this sense that Constantina Voulgaris’ movie is seductive and dangerously so. In her cinematic universe you can be the fiance of an anarchist terrorist facing 25 years without ever becoming a suspect yourself. The simplicity of the narrative is compounded by the film-maker’s reluctance to address or answer through narrative means any truly challenging questions the discerning viewer might have about her characters and their milieu.

I am thinking of Alexander Voulgaris claiming, in the 2013 Youtube interview I transcribed for my essay about him, that “realistic movies do real damage to people and the most dangerous film-makers are those who claim they are making realistic movies; because of these movies, that pretend to depict reality, people start to persue a cinematic reality in their own lives that doesn’t exist anywhere”. I was infuriated by that statement, because 1) Alexander Voulgaris never considers the hardcore S&M pornography or the de facto criminal and banned child pornography Maladolescenza he praises on his Facebook wall as examples of “realism that damages real women and children”, and 2) the few feature movies I do enjoy (because I am the kind of person who prefers the documentary genre over a feature movie anyhow) are all hardcore political neorealist-style movies, and I certainly haven’t suffered any discernable “damage” for preferring such movies over the rest of the shlock and pablum that passes for cinema these days. Could it be that Alexander Voulgaris had made that peculiar statement about “realistic movies doing real damage to people” because he had just seen his sister’s movie?

References:

Trailers for My Regards to the Optimists? (2012) by Constantina Voulgaris:

Facebook page for My Regards to the Optimists (note the A.C.A.B. or “All Cops Are Bastards” acronym, popular with both the far left and now also the far right in Greece, in the title of the Facebook page, which the film-maker tongue-in-cheek translates as “All Cats Are Brilliant”):
https://el-gr.facebook.com/acabmovie

Athens Indymedia discussion about the movie (in Greek):

Μια Συζήτηση Με Την Κωνσταντίνα Βούλγαρη – Indymedia
https://athens.indymedia.org/post/1488389/

Much of this discussion is a typically sectarian and inquisitorial “clash of the mind(se(c)t)s” (I LMAO at the older and better-read anarchist who is sceptical about the movie admonishing the younger anarchist defending the movie that he needs to “learn the difference between signifier-signified”, that was a riot right there you guys :D), that focuses on topics such as the presentation of anarchism as spectacle to an audience not familiar with the anarchist milieu (the film-maker herself stating that this was her target audience), the means of production involved in making a government funded movie, particularly the division of labour that separates the so-called “professional” or government-sanctioned film-maker from her subject-matter, the cult of personality inevitably associated with a format such as the feature film, whether the historical documentary as a narrative format is more fair to the subject-matter of anarchism rather than the fictional feature as a narrative format, whether the claim made by the film-maker that “we need to reconcile contradictions within ourselves before we can overturn the system at large” has any validity in terms of radical practice, whether the depictions of anarchist practice in the movie are realistic or stereotypical, whether Constantina Voulgaris can represent Athenian anarchism in mainstream lifestyle magazines solely on the basis of having made a movie on the topic, while others more active in the movement are either marginalized or penalized or outright ignored.

Of particular interest is the following contribution to the thread, where an Indymedia reader calculates that the Voulgarises have received amongst themselves a total of almost one and a half million euros in goverment film-funding for their various film-projects since the turn of the century:

Παιδιά 1490401
από Παιδί. Σεπτ. 13, 2013, 2:22 μμ.
(Athens Indymedia disallows direct links to comments, so find the comment using the number 1490401 as a search string on the page itself)

Here I ask, why would the supposedly concervative Greek goverment be subsidizing movies about anarchism if the government didn’t want to promote a state of lawlessness in a certain section of the public, so that that the government can play Mighty Mouse and save the day from these anarchists? You really don’t need to be Greek to understand thesis-antithesis-synthesis, or a Marxist to understand problem-reaction-solution. There is lawlessness because government thrives under lawlessness. Remember, in a true police state the government doesn’t “catch criminals” or “keep the citizens safe from harm”, instead it creates ever more laws and regulations that turn ever more citizens into criminals and lawful activities into lawless ones, and thus the government itself creates and perpetrates an ever-increasing state of lawlessness, justifying the existence of government. This is how a supposedly concervative government that at every opportunity denounces the extreme left as “no different from the Golden Dawn” can morally justify funding movies about the same extreme left it supposedly tries to root out. “The devil has been the best friend the church has ever had because he has kept them in business all these years.”)

Trailer for Bold Native (2010) by Denis Henry Hennelly:

The full movie may be viewed at the Bold Native website:
http://www.boldnative.com/

Facebook page for Bold Native:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Bold-Native/

Το χρονικό της δράσης της «Συνωμοσίας των Πυρήνων της Φωτιάς». Τύπος της Κυριακής. 10FEB2013, page 28-30. (This article concerning a Greek far left terrorist group that carried out over 200 bombings over a period of about 4 years, resulting in the arrest of over 40 people, gives an overview and timeline of Greek far left terrorism since the advent of the economic depression that I used as a reference in the above article. As impressive as these numbers might appear, I stress that this article documents the activities of just one single group planting an average of a bomb a week continuously for four years before they were rounded finally up.)

The Facebook entry where Constantina’s brother Alexander Voulgaris admitted he had an acquintance in his neighborhood of Exarchia who was convicted of terrorism and to whom he dedicated a song is the following:

Το “Κυρία Χ αλήθεια λέω” γράφτηκε για την μητέρα ενός γνωστού απο την περιοχή μου που τον είχαν πιάσει τότε για τρομοκρατία.

(translation: “The song ‘Mrs. X I speak the truth” was written for the mother of an acquaintance of mine in my neigborhood who was arrested back then[=2010] for terrorism.’)

source (this Facebook account was public when I began my research, but has since become a private account, and you might have to befriend Alexander Voulgaris on Facebook in order to be able to read the above Facebook entry):

Youtube video for the song for the above song.

Greek to English translation of the lyrics (by yours truly):

“Mrs. X I speak the truth” (Κυρία Χ, αλήθεια λέω) by The Boy (Alexander Voulgaris)

certain nights I caress myself
other nights I caress
certain nights they are envious of me
other nights I envy myself
certain nights everything hides me
other nights everything reveals me
certain nights I am targed
other nights I am struck

leave the bullet within of me
do not disturb it
lull it to sleep, pain, with a song about you and me

2x
delivering letters
from your beloved son

mrs x i speak the truth
i dreamt of your beloved son

mrs x he does not object to
whatever is worthy and expensive

“my tears are made fun of in my cell”
he tells me, and he asks me about recent sports events

mrs x, the only thing i tell him is
“Mars, keep your head high”

and he bends over and cries
he no longer speaks to me
he no longer keeps me close

i am seeing dreams
(yesterday i received the first mark)
i am seeing dreams
(a cross laid next my neck)
from your beloved son
(it spreads all over my chest
and covers me with sickening camouflage colours)
i am seeing dreams
(it is the hatred that has increased within me)
i am seeing dreams
(it’s the miracle of Gawd, the soul-rapist)
from your beloved son

mrs x i speak the truth
just in case there was something to this submission

mrs x you never allowed your son
to feel for one moment like a child

this violence bursting out of my mind
was loudly cursing the pigs

mrs x, the only thing i told him
“Mars, cast your soul far away”
“and come closer”

3x
but he bends over and cries
he no longer speaks to me
he no longer keeps me close

4x
mrs x i speak the truth
4x
leave the bullet within of me
do not disturb it
lull it to sleep, pain, with a song about you and me

i am seeing dreams
from your beloved son
If you speak rhythmically they will never understand you they will not see you you will be able to fool them you will be able to laugh and to meet in secret inside basements your friends your rhythmic comrades and together you will dance of punishments and injuries to murmur murders and to manufacture bombs always singing rhythmically hyperoptical raunchy trackers of the wound of the hardness of the terrifying absence of faith and admission they will not see you they will not remember you they will not see you they will not remember you

Online articles regarding the arrest and conviction, and eventual acquittal, of the Exarchian anarchist Aris Seirinidis and the death of his father Kostas Seirinidis:

http://pontosandaristera.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/aris-2/
http://www.zougla.gr/greece/article/epistoli-kain-gia-ti-diki-sirinidi
http://prezatv.blogspot.gr/2010/07/blog-post_8873.html

 

***eof
Keywords, search terms:

Συγχαρητήρια στους Αισιόδοξους, My Regards to the Optimists, Congratulations to the Optimists, 2012, Βούλγαρη, Κωνσταντίνα Βούλγαρη, Constantina Voulgari, Constantina Voulgaris, anarchism, anarchist, movie, film, documentary style, Greek movie, Greek politics, Greek terrorism, Greek left terrorism, Greek anarchism, Greek anarchist terrorism, topical movie, Greek female anarchist, Greek female film makers, Greek female screenwriters, oikogeniocracy, Greek female anarchists, Greek protests, films about austerity in Greece, films about the Greek economic depression, early twenty first centry Greek films, potluck, reclaim the streets, occupy, stickerbombing, Athens, Exarchia, Exarhia, Electra, Ηλέκτρα, Εξάρχεια, Maria Georgiadou, Μαρία Γεωργιάδου, αναρχία, τρομοκρατία, Άρης Σειρηνίδης, Κώστας Σειρηνίδης, Κυρία Χ αλήθεια λέω, Durruti, José Buenaventura Durruti Dumange, Bold Native

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