1993, Atenas, Grécia
Nasceu em Atenas, em 1993. No seu percurso multifacetado, contam-se várias colaborações como actriz e performer em projectos não profissionais, muitas vezes baseados numa improvisação colhida do contacto íntimo com a natureza. A “Colheita”, co-realizado com Loukia Batsi, é o seu primeiro filme.
ENCOUNTER WITH LOUKIA BATSI AND MARIANNA STATHAKI
«Again Eros stirs my heart –
like that in the hills
the wind shakes the oaks.»
«For you, I would sacrifice the whitest
of the goats…»
“Fragments” of Safo, translated by Eugénio de Andrade, portuguese poet
“Harvest” is your first film, made together, following experiences in theatre, dance, poetry, performance, photography… When did you feel the need for cinema or the power of a film camera?
Marianna Stathaki: It may seem banal, but this is how it started. The first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020 found me confined in a small village in rural Greece. During this time, I felt the need to film just to make the time pass more quickly. I started to film various images – the windows of rural houses, my body lying on a bed, landscapes – and I communicated them with Loukia, who at the same time was working again on her poem. One day, she asked me if I would like to make a poetry-film together. I said yes without an afterthought.
The film was shot on the island of Tinos, Greece, and opens with a quote by Aleko Floraki, from the book “Once upon a time in Tinos”, an author who has written a lot about sculpture. It is, moreover, the island of Yannoulis Halepas, sculptor of “Sleeping Woman”, of “Herodias” and other strongly eroticized female figures, who sometimes resemble Marianna’s character in your film. The island is also known for the Miraculous Panaghia, with the religious festival of Tiniotissa, a kind of Fátima [in Portugal] or Greek Lourdes [in France], where pilgrims and the sick flock from all over to be healed. It is therefore curious, I say, that you made a film with a pagan bent in the home of the Orthodox saint and in one of the most Catholic corners of the Cyclades. But, after all, in the classical world there was already in Tinos one of the most famous miraculous shrines, dedicated to Poseidon and Amphitrite, and a fount famous for its cures. Did this classical, cultural, mythological or religious aggregation, basically “the spirit of the place”, influenced what we see in the film? Did you choose to go to that island or did she choose you?
M.S.: We certainly relate to Cyclades as both of us spent our young adulthood there. Our choice to shoot particularly in Tinos was a spontaneous choice, though. One day we saw some photos of the medieval villages of the island and we directly decided to shoot the film there. Some friends helped us to find a low cost lodging and in less than a week, we took the boat to Tinos. I believe that the place chose us as much as we chose the place.
L.B.: The books of Alekos Florakis, the sculptures of Halepas, the votive offerings (tamata) to Panaghia and further cultural elements of the place appeared to us by chance, during our stay, and certainly affected what we see in the film. In some cases, the influence is obvious; the position of our heroine while she is lying in the sheep shed is an exact copy of the position of the “Sleeping woman” of Halepas. However, in most of the cases, the influence is more subtle. We unconsciously shape our aesthetic filters in relation with the place. We have no control over how the place makes us dream.
How was your working relationship and what method did you adopt to film in a low budget production?
L.B.: Our shooting method was based on improvisation. That does not mean that we worked without a script or a specific timeline. On the contrary. Our time in Tinos with the cinematographer was quite limited and the 10 days we shot with him were intense. Even so, we were ready to quit our schedule anytime in order to try another emergent idea. The initial script was seen more as a stepping-stone to the documentation of certain reality. The choice of locations was crucial. Each one of them brought in new elements evoking new actions to the extent that almost all the scenes from the script had to be replaced. Our contact with locals was also critical. Their suggestions inspired new scenes and contributed to the production of the film. As you may imagine, this method, applied to a no-budget production, can provoke sentiments of disappointment and frustration to someone who is not used to working this way. During shooting, we were accused by the cinematographer for being clueless as to what we are doing, cruel in our ways of executing experimentation and unreasonably obsessed with aesthetics. And he was right. The way we worked with Marianna requires flexibility and adaptability, obedience throughout execution, and thoroughness. In sum, it requires absolute engagement. Postproduction was much more fluent and smooth. We did the montage in our own intuitive way and our collaboration with our sound designer, Kostis, was impeccable. His work in all respects was miraculous, considering the raw, low-quality recordings that we provided him with. He mixed them with extreme sensitivity, composing new, abstract soundscapes that totally corresponded to both the original islandic soundscapes and our feeling for the film.
How do you look at Marianna’s character? A nymph out of water that drinks from the sacred fountain? A tutelary goddess? Aphrodite? Demeter? Gaia, Mother Earth?
M.S.: Although we see the potential mythical dimension given to the character, for us she is simply a girl of that world who faces with doubt her transformation into a woman.
L.B.: The character is in fact lost in this process of transformation. She is more an anti-hero than a hero, an anti-god than a god. She is ruled by uncertainty, she is a human.
Did you add Loukia’s poem to the film or did you already know that it would be part of the film? Can you talk about this option for the poem in the voice-over, by the way beautiful, that we hear? I know Loukia’s fondness for “The Forgotten Woman” , a book of fragmentary and dismembered poems by Miltos Sachtouris, and also for “The Waste Land” , by T.S. Eliot… Is it a poem that, although moving on classic themes of archaic poetry, shares this rupture?
L.B.: The poem gave birth to the film. Literally, it gave birth to images, sounds, movements, emotions; it gave birth to the world of the film. Part of it, after, had to retire, for some moments to disappear, to be cut off, to give its place to other non-linguistic elements, in order for the film to exist. And again, after, it had to insist, to fight for its own place, to grow roots in the scenes, to fit in, to change. The poem passed through many transformations. It may seem rather brutal this process, and maybe it is, but it felt naturally necessary. As the poem gave birth to the film, the film in its turn gave birth to the poem. And both- poem and film- narrate in different ways the same memory of rupture; the rupture of an idealized Golden Age.
In this wandering of Eros, which Sophocles had already invoked in “Antigone” («Eros, you come and go beyond the point / and you wander in the sheepfolds of the fields»), the film is dispersed over some spaces, registers (mythological and supernatural blocks, sometimes realists and naturalists, sometimes everything coexisting), times, overlaps, states of desire that escape any interpretation, oscillations, but it seems to have its center in the montage of erotic drive between Marianna enclosed in a sheepfold (transfigured in a nymphs’ cave – where Daphnis and Cleó were related – and, later, in a sacrificial altar) and the shearing scenes, a drive reinforced at the time in which we will discover the character’s skin, as if the nymph in the white shirt has been “shorn”. Finally, the film seems to come from the bucolic or pastoral tradition of Alexandrian poetry, in particular from Theocritus, who is not unfamiliar with a certain baroque style in his “scenic paintings”, where rural marks (in this case the pastoralism in Tinos) are used to treat erotic or mythological themes (i quote a few verses from Theocritus: «The Muses took the sheep as a delight»; «the goatherd’s eyes moisten as he sees the goats ride, because he would like to be born a hole»; «I salute you, bucolic Muses»; «shear the sheep that is close to you, do not chase the one that runs away from you»). Pastoral poetry that, curiously, is considered by many as the oldest, born precisely from the activity of grazing herds in a remote golden age, which Loukia’s poem alludes to. Is the quietness of the fields suddenly stirred by desire?
M.S.: The naivety of desire that traverses the bucolic poetry in combination with the guilty pleasure brought out from baroque aesthetics appears to form a particular sensuality to the film. It is an eerie sensuality though, that only finds its pure form during the character’s exodus from this world.
Why did you choose the title “Harvest” when the most intense scenes are those of shearing? It’s curious, if you allow me to add, because since ancient times seems to be a relationship between harvesting and shearing, visible for example, considering the verses of Agathias, in the “Palatine Anthology” [Greek Anthology]: «if you don’t shear the goats, I prophesy that you will have a good harvest » .
L.B.: The original title of the poem is “Harvest” and we decided to keep it as the title of the film, in order to maintain the connection with the midsummer traditions that honor harvest and fertility. In reality, the element of sheep as a symbol was not even considered at all at the beginning and appeared to us by chance during the shooting days in Tinos. We got quickly fascinated by it during the shooting of shearing. I remember looking at the face of Marianna and seeing in it the same excitement. For the both of us the body of the sheep was as a field and its hair as wheat. Later on, we also found some surprising associations between harvest and shearing, documented in local literature. In the books “Medieval Tinos” by G.I.Dorizas and “Some time ago at Tinos” by A.E. Florakis, for example, there is the same reference about the harvester who cuts the last part of wheat. It was bad luck to leave wheat unharvested in the field and the one who stayed behind the others and cut the last wheat was perceived as the guardian of the fertile power of the field or as its enemy. In the latter case, the other harvesters used to address him as “the one who is licking the fat tail of the sheep”. Even more mysterious than this address was the response of the last harvester toward the accusation. He used to answer: “It is not the fat tail of the sheep (what I’m licking), but the tail of death”. The ambiguous figure of the last harvester, both as a guardian of the fertile power and as its enemy, created an alliance with our heroine. At the end of the film, the sickled is left forgotten in the sheep shed.
There are several shots of rocky and barren landscapes of this island, which is beautiful, rugged and irregular. From what I have come to know, the Greeks have a very lively feeling for nature, as an intimate and secret experience. Where does this fascination come from? A nature, not infrequently, that is obscure to us like an undecipherable oracle. Or maybe we are the ones who can no longer interpret what she tells us…
M.S.: The particular landscape of Volax in Tinos is extremely peculiar. The variation of its granite rocks are of plutonic origins that were formed 15-25 million years ago and eroded due to natural phenomena (temperature, humidity, wind, etc). The obscurity of the landscape has inspired many stories and myths among the locals, naturally, and some villagers strongly believe in its transcendental energy. Islanders, in general, seem to often engage themselves with their land through mystical urges, maybe because of their merry isolation. We perceive some forms as signs, as an effort to connect with our surroundings.
In the end, before the herd leaves the sheepfold (impossible not to think about the erotic connotation), we see a shot of the stream that reminds us the beginning, when we are first introduced to the character of Marianna with the ducks in the water (another manifestation of Eros, the oldest of the gods, “bastard” son of Heaven and Earth). Was it filmed in the same setting? Are you interested in returning to the liquid element, an uncontrollable fluid?
M.S.: Yes, both scenes were shot in the same landscape. The stream represents for us the stream of Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. This is where the stream meets the sea, where the control finds the release and the element of water returns to its immensity. There is the entrance/exit to/from this world.
I know you are preparing a new movie. What can you tell us about this?
L.B.: The new movie tells the story of a poor merchant who is repeatedly selling his daughter in the form of a farm animal, only to have the girl return home every night in the form of a woman. The plot was inspired by the ancient Greek myth of shape-shifter Mestra and her father Erysichthon, as well as by Roman Charity, the exemplary story of Pero and her father Cimon. In both cases, the daughter-father motive has been considered as an example of the first law of nature, which is to love one’s own parents, which allows us to speculate upon this theme.
M.S.: Another thing about this new movie is that we plan to film it in Portugal, and more specifically in Aldeias do Xisto, in one of the villages that are historically connected with the caravans of traders, like Aigra Velha. Besides its fascinating configuration that reflects its history, the landscape of Aigra Velha presents similarities with the Greek landscape and we believe that interesting experiments could arise from this fact.