Costas Manoussakis, quite possibly the greatest Greek filmmaker to date, was treated by the system with malice and was lead to a form of self-exile at the early age of 35.
Anestis Vlachos, Rozita Sokou, Andreas Tyros, Elli Fotiou, Thanasis Papathanasiou and Alkis Manoussakis.
This picture, which marked my return to “Paraskinio” and the beginning of my most creative period in Cinetic, was associated with a great filmmaker, I had admired all my life and who was generous enough to offer me his friendship in the last six years of his life.
With respect to his culture and his incomparable artistry, Costas Manoussakis is the most overlooked Greek filmmaker.
He is the only one, who would be standing next to the great masters of style in world cinema of the 60s and 70s, had he been given the chance.
On paper, Manoussakis was a countryman descending from Volos and Larissa, but in reality he was intellectual nobility, an aesthete, and also an aristocrat of the silver screen, who was crushed by the provincial and conservative mentality that ruled Greek cinema, both the Old and the New. He was a true outsider, even though he never tried to market himself as one.
His great talent was seen as early as in his first picture, “Love on the sandhills”, in 1958, where he succeeded in getting a very interesting performance out of Aliki Vougiouklaki (something that happened once in her entire career).
His next picture, “Treason”, made in 1964, took him to the competition section in Cannes and that, despite the fact that producer Klearchos Konitsiotis had forced him to include newsreel footage from WWII in the film, just because he had a lot in stock and wanted to cut down on the production costs.
But his greatest achievement was undoubtedly “Fear”, made in 1966. His chef d'oeuvre. The film has a staggering narrative, an acute social dissecting outlook, an impressive command of cinematic language and first-class performances.
A great work with the aura of European or American cinema, which lost the Golden Bear in Berlin to a magnificent “Repulsion” by Roman Polanski.
When it ran in the theatres, it was a box office hit and made a profit for production company ‘Damaskinos-Michailidis’.
It would have been expected of Manoussakis to reign over Greek cinema in the years that followed. The sad truth is that he never made another movie again. He found himself crushed between the Wandering Rocks, that were the Old, commercialized, Cinema and the New Greek Cinema, which was coming in full force to take over for the next 30 years, and Manoussakis was left out of the game.
Both sides treated him like a pariah. He was considered bizarre, aloof, fussy and problematic. He was accused of being too finicky, falling behind the shooting schedule costing his producers money.
He was branded a psychopath and all of his painstaking 40-year efforts to raise money and make films were fruitless, both within the old system of traditional producers and after 1975, through government funding from the Greek Film Center.
Manoussakis, who was admittedly an idiosyncratic and sensitive person, but by no means mentally ill, began to lose his spirit and shut himself off.
In 1999, when we first met, his beloved wife Amalia, his anchor, had just died.
He lived in seclusion in a run-down old house in Pendeli.
I had asked him over the phone to see me, because I wanted to propose making a documentary on him and his work for “Paraskinio”. We met one afternoon, at 6. During the first few hours, he was reserved and would only listen to what I had to say, as I kept on about my sincere and genuine admiration for his work. Late at night, as he loosened up, an overflow of words started pouring out of him. He began unfolding the tragedy of his life, in a staggering manner. How after “Fear”, while he was ready to move on to his next work and release his immeasurable passion and love for the cinema, that never happened in the next 40 years.
His description of events was detailed, brilliantly eloquent, dramatic, passionate and of course fascinating. That first meeting of ours lasted 12 hours, until the crack of dawn!!!
He felt such need to speak, he wouldn’t let me go.
From that point onwards we would get together more frequently and became very close friends.
Even our conversations over the phone were exciting. They lasted for two hours at least, every time, because he wished to have an all-round communication and not just the formalities. I remember one time he called me in the middle of the night sobbing. He had just found his little cat dead on the road after she had gone missing the day before.
I will never forget his analysis of just a single chapter in Brothers Karamazov, during one of our many meetings.
I have no words to describe the intellectual stimulation I felt listening to him that night.
And I will never forget the day he paid me the honor of coming to visit me on location, in a quarry in Pendeli, during the shooting of an exterior scene in "Alemaya". He agreed to come over, because his house was nearby.
I introduced him to the crew and everybody treated him with great respect. That made him very happy.
I will never forget the moment when, during a break, he approached the camera and started fondling it lovingly. He thought no one could see him, because they were on a lunch break. As I got closer, I could see he was in tears. He said it was the first time he had felt a camera in 38 years; ever since “Fear”.
We never got to make the “Paraskinio” piece, while he was alive, after all. He always made excuses and put it off. He was dreading the camera and whatever exposure came with it. He didn’t wish for the ravages of time to be caught on tape.
In August 2005 he died of cancer. The following day I decided to make the documentary even if he couldn’t be physically present. I wanted for it to be made right away so I could put into it all the emotions his death had aroused in me. That’s exactly what happened.
I believe that the “Paraskinio” on Manoussakis is one of my most personal and eye-opening works for Cinetic.