Apr 25, 2015
For whatever reason, I have to respect a filmmaker who, despite directing various highly idiosyncratic feature films over the course of three decades (not to mention the fact that he spent over another decade directing shorts and working as an assistant director), felt that his very first full-length cinematic work was also his very best. Indeed, Greek auteur Nikos Nikolaidis (Glykia symmoria aka Sweet Bunch, Singapore Sling) considered his first feature Evridiki BA 2O37 (1975) aka Euridice BA 2O37—a superlatively subversive and uniquely uncompromising black-and-white avant-garde molestation of the classic Greek tragedy Orpheus and Eurydice that seems like it was made just in time for the Occidental apocalypse—to be the most solid and structured film of his totally singular filmmaking career. While I am not sure if I would described it as Nikolaidis’ single greatest work, it is surely one of the best and most impressive debut features I have ever seen from a director as a work comparable to Luis Buñuel's Un chien andalou (1929) aka An Andalusian Dog, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (1941), François Truffaut's Les Quatre Cents Coups (1959) aka The 400 blows, and David Lynch's Eraserhead (1977), among various others. While I have not seen every single cinematic reworking of the Greek tragedy, I have no doubt in my mind that Nikolaidis’ film is the most aesthetically and thematically anarchistic, culturally pessimistic, darkly erotic and eclectically unhinged adaptation of Orpheus and Eurydice ever made as a work that makes Jean Cocteau’s masterpiece Orphée (1950) aka Orpheus seem like a dopey Disney variation and Sidney Lumet's The Fugitive Kind (1960) resemble a hokey hixploitation piece. Of course, what better than a real genuine Greek fellow to adapt the classic tragedy of his ancient ancestors and demonstrate how so utterly depraved and hopelessly lost the Occident is today. I must admit that the more films I see by Nikolaidis, the more I realize that he is the most important and underrated post-WWII Greek auteur, but of course Greece has always been generally lacking when it comes to filmmaking, even in comparison to small countries like Belgium and the Netherlands, with many important directors from the country like Nikos Papatakis (Les Abysses, Les Équilibristes aka Walking a Tightrope) and Costa-Gavras (Z, Amen.) spending most of their careers working abroad. What immediately stands out about Nikolaidis’ adaptation in comparison to all the over versions, aside from the fact that it is a demented dystopian chamber piece that relies heavily on dream logic, is that it focuses primarily on Eurydice (or ‘Euridice’) and her nightmarish psychological demise while waiting idly in the most banal of hells. Indeed, unlike the original story which depicts the Arcadian romance of the hero and heroine before the latter ends up in the depths of Hades and the former subsequently enters the dark otherworldly abyss to try and ultimately fail at saving her, Euridice BA 2O37 takes place entirely in a sort of metaphorical pandemonium where the eponymous ‘protagonist’ (or more like ‘anti-heroine’) Eurydice, who does not remember Orpheus, waits in vain while going insane to be released after she has already served her time. Indeed, Nikolaidis’ film is a histrionic psychodrama of the most haunting sort that demands much from the viewer and gives absolutely nothing away aside from nice shots of Russian-German star Vera Tschechowa's generous mammary glands.
Notably, star Vera Tschechowa appeared in what is oftentimes described as the very first New German Cinema feature, The Bread of Those Early Years (1962) aka Das Brot der frühen Jahre directed by Herbert Vesely, which is interesting considering that Euridice BA 2O37 is one of the first works of the so-called ‘New Greek Cinema’ movement as a work that completely revolutionized the medium in Greece and opened up cinematic possibilities that largely went unrealized. Indeed, despite being forty years old, the work is still as shocking, singular, and unclassifiable as film’s come as a clear expression of the artist’s obviously troubled and seemingly haunted psyche. In Nikolaidis’ film, love is dead and the protagonist is more or less a dead soul with amnesia who is simply referred to as “BA2037” by the people that have imprisoned her in a metaphoric hell that, not unintentionally, resembles a typical humdrum bourgeois apartment. Set to the soothing, if not sometimes saddening, sounds of Chopin, Vivaldi, and Dinah Shore, Euridice BA 2O37 is a piece of schizo-cinema that somehow manages to be morbidly melancholic yet sometimes playfully humorous and jovial. The film begins with sounds of live ammunition and warfare juxtaposed with the credits sequence and then cuts to a small group of bratty young men and women tormenting protagonist Eurydice while she sleeps by dropping dirt and whatnot on her head from a window over her bed. Probably not coincidentally, these young delinquents resemble far-left student protestors or ‘bobos’ (aka bourgeois bohemians) of that time period. After fighting her youthful attackers with a makeshift pitchfork of sorts, Eurydice stares in a melancholic fashion at a bouquet of dead flowers wrapped in an old newspaper, which can be interpreted as being symbolic of the fact that love and romance are old news in the decidedly dead dystopian world of Nikolaidis’ film. After standing around and looking all moody and broody, Eurydice approaches a mustached man that is lying on her bed and goes to touch him but it seems like some unspeakable force is holding her back. Although never directly stated, the man is her lover Orpheus (British actor John Moore) and Eurydice has fragmented flashbacks of making love to him. Like virtually all the people that come to see Eurydice, it is dubious as to whether Orpheus is really in the apartment or merely a figment of the obviously mentally perturbed protagonist's seemingly loony and labyrinthine ‘imagination.’ Indeed, it could be argued that nothing in the film is real and is, instead, merely the product of the clearly crazed heroine's discernibly damaged mind. At one point, Orpheus attempts to apologize to Eurydice for something that is never made completely clear, but she stops him, changes the subject, and complains that she should have been freed from the apartment five days ago when her sentence ended, but then strangely remarks, “Who knows…Maybe I have already left,” as if she is speculating that she might have lost her mind. Naturally, at the end of the film, Eurydice will have a long-awaited romantic ‘showdown’ of sorts with Orpheus that will seal both his and her fate for eternity.
When a random stranger calls Eurydice on the telephone and says that he is trying to contact his lover who he has not seen or talked to in five years, the protagonist remarks, “It’s weird” as if she cannot fathom the idea of a man still being in love with a woman after such a long period of time without any contact. Eurydice tells the man that she does not know him or remember any of the stories or names he mentions, but she tells him that she would like to meet him and invites him to come to her apartment later that night. Of course, it is later revealed that the man on the phone is Orpheus. In between moving piles of junk around her house in a rather tedious and ultimately fruitless fashion as if she is trying in vain to live the life of a domestic housewife and failing miserably, Eurydice daydreams of bizarre things like discovering two naked corpses wrapped in plastic in a Lynchian fashion. Eurydice also calls the people that have imprisoned her and complains that she should have been released five days ago, so the man on the other line promises to send by a truck before noon to pick her up so she can be transferred but of course it never happens. After staring at the static on her TV screen like an autistic automaton for a couple minutes, Eurydice takes a shower and when she finishes she becomes rather alarmed and eventually completely petrified when a man in a military uniform rings her doorbell and then attempts to shove a envelope under the door, which the protagonist aggressively fights to push back under the door while completely naked (during all the commotion, Eurydice loses her towel and her mind), as if the piece of mail contains a bomb or anthrax and she is afraid for her life. Not long after the incident with the mailman, a beauteous young woman (Niki Triantafillidi) in a black plastic coat appears in the apartment out of nowhere and it is quite clear that she recently tried to commit suicide as indicated by the cut marks on both of her wrists, so Eurydice attempts to clean her wounds but the strange exotic young lady stops her. Out of all the people that Eurydice encounters during the film, she is the most empathetic and kind to the mysterious woman, who is probably not a real person but instead a possible alter-ego or younger version of the protagonist (who might be in hell because she killed herself). As the strange young woman says regarding her suicide attempt, “He will think I did it because of him. Why would I do it? I don’t love him anyway…but I think he knows it. He figured it out.” Undoubtedly, the young lady's sentiments of resentment for her beau seem to mirror how Eurydice feels about Orpheus, who will ultimately go to great lengths to attempt to get the protagonist to remember the love they once had for one another. Whether Eurydice has genuinely forgotten Orpheus and her former love for him or she is just pretending to as women oftentimes do is quite questionable. When the strange woman randomly disappears just as abruptly as she once appeared, Eurydice becomes completely petrified and begins slowly and carefully looking for her around her apartment, but the only thing she finds is herself in the bathroom (?!) showering just like she did only moments earlier just before the mailman came by and scared the shit out of her.
Like a scared child, Eurydice eventually decides to hide under the sheets on her bed where she is initially petrified but eventually begins masturbating and experiencing a series of extra ecstatic orgasms. When a silhouette of a man's hand appears over the sheet, Eurydice becomes all the more turned on and has some more orgasms, but when the curious hand begins caressing her she eventually suffers a sort of spasmodic panic attack where her large breasts giggle wildly. After her rather bizarre phantasmagoric masturbation session in the bed, Eurydice decides to play with talking baby-dolls and gets them to have ‘sex.’ Indeed, after one of the babydolls says, “Come, let’s do something naughty,” Eurydice takes the clothes of the dolls and forces them to engage in a rather childish game of coitus that more than hints at the protagonist's warped sexuality. As indicated by the fact that the male doll has an erect member, the toys are ‘anatomically correct’ and Eurydice seems to have another orgasm while playing with the toys, but eventually gets agitated for some reason and decides to viscerally bite the penis off of the male one, thus reflecting her undeniably hostile feelings towards the opposite gender. When Orpheus calls again, Eurydice, who has the baby-doll penis in between her teeth like a toothpick, once again reiterates how she has no idea who he is or what he is talking about. Orpheus brings up a mutual friend named Vera who was apparently killed at an amusement park while they were hanging out there, but Eurydice describes the story as “improbable.” Meanwhile, Eurydice falls further into a lapse of sanity as demonstrated by her violent mutilation of baby-dolls and visions of decapitated goat heads, among other things that only seem to make sense in her own mixed-up mind.
Eventually, a strange man randomly shows up at Eurydice's flat while it is storming heavily outside and offers to trade her two sardines that he has carefully wrapped in a piece of cloth for some jewelry, but the protagonist turns him down. The man apparently works for the hellish bureaucracy that has imprisoned Eurydice and he tells her that she has not been “transferred” yet simply because his employers are “just lazy.” Of course, like the mysterious young woman, the man disappears just as abruptly as he once appeared. After attempting to hunt down some imaginary figure with a butcher knife while sporting nothing but a turtleneck sweater and panties, as well as subsequently using fingernail polish to paint the wrists of the mysterious young suicidal woman that randomly showed up earlier in the film, Eurydice is eventually visited by the mysterious man that has been calling her on the telephone who naturally turns out to be Orpheus. When Orpheus walks in the apartment with a bouquet of flowers while sporting a military uniform and hardhat with a light on it, Eurydice acts less than friendly to him and demands that he turn the light off, which he gladly does. After Orpheus shows his concern that he hopes his uniform does not scare her and says that he can probably arrange to have her released from the apartment, Eurydice remarks that he is very nice and even strangely offers him a bath as if she is on intimate terms with him and/or wants to jump his bones.
After some small talk, the two lovers turned strangers sit at a kitchen table and Orpheus shows Eurydice old photographs and tells her a story about how he, her, and a woman named ‘Vera’ once went to an amusement park together and the latter suffered broken ribs when a ride malfunctioned and ultimately died on the way back after her already broken ribs were split open in a car wreck. While looking at Orpheus’ old photos, Eurydice notes that Vera looks remarkably like her and then remarks, “See what funny clothes we used to wear?” as if she somehow now remembers the past. Of course, there probably was never a ‘Vera’ (which is notably and probably not coincidentally the real-life first name of the actress that plays Eurydice), as the dead woman that Orpheus is speaking of is probably actually Eurydice and the only reason he is telling her the story is in the hope that his beloved will somehow remember. Undoubtedly, the scene where Orpheus attempts to get Eurydice to remember him is borderline heartbreaking and accented by the song “Till” by Dinah Shore. After an initially romantic flashback scene of Orpheus and Eurydice kissing in a lake in pouring down rain that ultimately erupts into violence, the protagonist is featured murdering her lover and subsequently running down the hallway of her apartment in a creepily jubilant fashion while carrying her murdered beau's internal organs in a triumphant fashion. The film concludes the same exact way it began with a group of young people attacking Eurydice from a window above her bed while she sleeps. Indeed, Eurydice is trapped in a perennial metaphysical prison where she is forced to relive the same events over and over again every single day for eternity like she is trapped in some grotesque Gothic Greek version of Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day (1993). Of course, unlike Bill Murray's character in the Ramis flick, Eurydice seems unconscious of the fact that she is reliving the same day over and over again and thus acts the same exact way every single time.
Although completed in 1975, Euridice BA 2O37 did not play in Greek theaters until six years later just after a major earthquake devastated the country, thus most likely adding to the assumedly already shaken audience’s viewing experience. To demonstrate director Nikos Nikolaidis’ lack of pretentiousness, especially in regard to his own work, it should be noted that the filmmaker once stated regarding his directorial debut, “Certain intellectual Italian critics asserted that "Euridice BA 2037" applies and finally proves Lyotard's cinematographic theories as well as the solution to many of the problems which puzzled Pasolini's for years. I am embarrassed because I didn't know then and I still don't know anything about Lyotard's theories or Pasolini's problems.” Like much of his work, it is also apparent while watching the film that the auteur is surely lacking when it comes to pomposity as demonstrated by the fact that Euridice BA 2O37 opens with a shot of a photograph of early classical Hollywood comedic philistine double act Laurel and Hardy. Not surprisingly considering it's dually off-putting combination of perversity and incessant discombobulating ambiguity, the wayward Orpheus and Eurydice (anti)adaptation, despite winning various coveted awards, was apparently severely criticized by both audiences and film critics alike when it debuted at Thessaloniki Film Festival, with those few individuals that actually enjoyed the film being a supposed “reckless” bunch, or as Nikolaidis stated himself, “I realized that the audience this film appealed to was a "reckless" one, made up of people who willingly huddled into the basement of the movie theater "Alkyonida". Driven cinephiles, which ignored the published critics (disregarding both good and bad reviews, because – we all know how the critics system works by now).” Of course, the film most certainly has the same audience today.
On top of describing it as his personal favorite of all his cinematic works, Nikolaidis rightly recognized his debut feature was too much for audiences when it was released as expressed in a remark he made while discussing his later dystopian masterpiece Morning Patrol (1987), “I believe that it is a film ahead of its time just like "Euridice BA 2037" was.” Notably, Euridice BA 2O37 and Morning Patrol are the first two chapters of Nikolaidis’ post-apocalyptic ‘The Shape of the Coming Nightmare’ trilogy, which concluded with the filmmaker’s most fiercely impenetrable and perniciously perverted yet paradoxically humorous cinematic effort The Zero Years (2005), which was ultimately the last film the Greek auteur ever directed. What all three of these films have in common is they demonstrate a sort of great disconnect between the sexes that reflects a sort of death wish for the Occident where reproduction and family do not even enter the equation. Certainly Greece’s closest equivalent to Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece Persona (1966), Euridice BA 2O37 depicts a kind of erotically apocalyptic frigidness of the fairer sex via its hyper hysterical (anti)heroine, who not coincidentally kills her beloved Orpheus in an allegorical gesture that can be interpreted as the metaphysical hell of perennial loneliness and sexual deracination that has replaced love and romance in Europa. Indeed, it is no coincidence that Eurydice has amnesia in regard to her past love affair with Orpheus, for love has become, at best, a faded memory that seems completely intangible in the present late-stage of Occidental decay. I am certainly not exaggerating when I say that Nikolaidis’ film is easily one of the greatest adaptations of a classic work as it completely deconstructs, defiles, and reassembles Orpheus and Eurydice for contemporary times, not to mention the fact that it was directed by a filmmaker from the same devastatingly degenerated nation where the tale was originally sired. Ironically, aside from Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly (1961) aka Såsom i en spegel, and to a lesser extent John Cassavetes' A Woman Under the Influence (1974), the only other film I can truly compare Euridice BA 2O37 to is the R-rated psychodramatic chamber thriller Deranged (1987) directed by pornographic auteur Chuck Vincent. Aside from taking place almost entirely in a messy apartment and centering around a mad woman who is suffering a major mental breakdown, both films manage to be simultaneously unflattering to the so-called fairer sex yet at the same time demonstrate an inordinate compassion to people with vaginas that no actual woman would dare express. The Eurydice of Nikolaidis’ film is not the all too delicate and perfect wood nymph of the original ancient Greek tragedy, but the rotting yet pulsating womb of the west that worships death and is allergic to all-things-love. Undoubtedly, to say one has to suffer from a certain amount of hopelessness in regard to love and the future of the Occident and humanity to fully appreciate Euridice BA 2O37 would be a major understatement. In other words, it was probably no fun being Nikos Nikolaidis, hence probably why the man seemed to love old mindless outmoded Hollywood classics that are nothing like the films he actually directed as they probably provided him with much needed escapism and, in turn, relief from his existential misery.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 3:38 PM
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