Wednesday, 15 October 2014

LONDON FILM FESTIVAL: Oxi: An Act of Resistance (2014)

This short review appeared on The Upcoming website here as part of their coverage of the BFI London Film Festival.

Oxi: An Act of Resistance is an essay film by Ken McMullen and it takes a unique and experimental view of the economic turmoil in Greece.

The film strives to draw a parallel between Greece’s economic problems and the tragedies of Sophocles and Aristophanes, suggesting that Greece, and the EU in general, have departed from the values of the past and that this is what has lead in the current crisis. The Greek classics espoused democracy and a politics based on love and understanding rather than a politics of economics and party lines, as shown by the democracy of Pericles, which was, among other things, the original welfare state.

The film is interspersed with quotations from Thucydides, which remain remarkably relevant for a text that is two and a half thousand years old. The film opens with one quotation which claims that human nature, being the way that it is, is always going to repeat itself – indicating, first, the historical precedents for the inequalities of today and, second, suggesting that these classics contain important lessons for today. This point is made succinctly as the camera lingers on some ancient Greek landscapes, suggesting a permanence between the past and the present. Several interviewees argue for the return of the values of these ancient writings, often passionately and with inspiration.

The film is at its best, then, as an extended lesson in classical literature and its relevance today. But where it is less successful is in its attempts to restage scenes from these plays, updating them for a new audience. It becomes an exercise in performance, which looks a lot more artificial and cerebral than the impassioned and moving testimonies of real people. Worse still is the fictional element in which a detective, Inspector Pinon (Dominique Pinon), horrified that anyone would dare ‘steal’ the words of Sophocles and Aristophanes and make them relevant for today, castigates writers and actors. The point is that these classics are not set in stone, but live and breath today, but the way the film attempts to demonstrate this is both pretentious and somewhat contradictory.

The film works best as a dialogue between classic Greek literature and the current problems in the world. The people interviewed call for the return of the principles of the past and the film is a moving and fascinating testament to what we have lost. But it often uses too much artifice to tell a plain and simple truth.

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