From the moment the Onassis Cultural Center assigned the four films to me, I knew that the documentary on “The Cherry Orchard” was going to be a great challenge. A big wager.
The odds were heavily in favor of that.
By that time, we had grown all too familiar with Nikos Karathanos and his team. My film on Golfo had preceded. On that occasion, all the members of the ensemble had embraced us fondly and that had helped us a lot. Nikos had been slightly more reserved, back then. Even though the focus was on him. Or Perhaps because of that.
In the “Cherry orchard” it was obvious from the start, that apart from the rest of the team, Nikos was very warm and accessible. What interested him was for the film to be as authentic as possible.
The choice of play allowed for associations with today’s Greece of crisis. The selling off of the cherry orchard, as the consequence of idleness, foolhardiness, decadence and fall, was very reminiscent of our own situation here.
Nikos was determined to go for an innovative approach, overflowing with emotion, as always, and treated the foolishness and despair of his heroes with great affection.
That was the biggest gamble in the production and in my opinion one, that paid off.
It did not idealize the heroes, nor did it condemn them. It didn’t mock them nor was it grandiloquent. It treated the characters with love, as bizarre, distressed or even insane as they happened to be.
Further than that, the intimacy between the members of the team and their almost blind trust in Nikos, had set the ground for an approach that moved outside conventions, in order for something very deep, true and authentic to emerge.
Filming began literally on the first day, when Nikos handed out the texts.
We were filming once a week, for two months and after we left the rehearsal studio in Votanikos and transferred to the Onassis Cultural Center, where we would go every day.
Every minute counted. Every day provided us with more extraordinary material; one unpredictable situation followed another.
At the same time, we filmed some brief commentary from the actors that complemented Nikos’ regular interviews. The actors’ insecurities and anxieties were touching. Nikos was always asking them to surpass themselves, both mentally and emotionally, in order to achieve a childlike quality. And they, despite their difficulties and their inhibitions or even their embarrassment, always went along. I had the feeling that if he had asked them to open a window and jump, they would for a while seriously consider doing it!!
What was more fascinating, were Nikos’ confessions on camera. Sometimes, he was joyful while others he was in despair. Sometimes he was demoralized, and others at a complete loss, always worried, sometimes trapped but others in seventh heaven.
As in the case of “Hamlet”, Apostolia and I were filming backstage, on two cameras, Nikos and the actors as they went on and off the stage. It was a unique experience, both for us and for the film’s audience.
I consider the film on “The Cherry orchard” as the most creative and meaningful illustration of Karathanos and his team’s approach. In some magic way, it is as if it also includes all his previous works.
Lena Kitsopoulou’s contribution was pivotal. There is true essence in the collaboration of the two, either when they play together or when Lena does not play, but just writes (as in the monologue of love, for Golfo) or when Nikos plays in Lena’s works. The enormous success Nikos’ works have enjoyed, in recent years, derives from that marvelous collaboration.
And I believe that was well demonstrated in the film about the “Cherry orchard”
From the beginning of the rehearsals, Nikos had discussed how Mickey Mouse would serve as a symbol for the return to childhood. That is why the characters put on Mickey’s ears and at times their voices, aided by technology, were altered and sounded cartoon-like.
Myrto Lekatsa, my partner in the editing, came up with an idea to have me sound like Mickey in my final exchange with Nikos, as if Nikos all the time in the movie Nikos had been talking to Mickey Mouse; to his childhood.
It was a wonderfully creative idea.
Everybody who worked for the play brought this childhood cheer into the rehearsals as well as into the performance.
Everybody followed Nikos’ instincts and through countless improvisations and experimentation, some of which were kept, while others were discarded, they resulted in a superb performance.
The critics were divided.
In my opinion, however, it was a masterpiece.