My Brother and I / O Adelfos mou ke Ego.
Directed by Antonis Kokkinos
Reviewed by Christodoulos E. G. Moisa 2000.
Recently, as part of the Cinema Europe Youth Focus festival, at the Rialto Cinema, a film by the award-winning director of End of an Era (1994), Antonis Kokkinos, had two screenings. One of twenty feature films produced in Greece in 1997, My Brother and I is an interesting and highly engaging film.
Set in Athens in the late 1990s it explores the relationship of two brothers. One is Thanassis, a twenty-four-year old engineering student of the Athens Polytechnic, and the other is Petros, a second-hand record shop owner with whose forty-fifth surprise birthday party the film begins.
Shortly after the party, the two brothers' mother dies. Petros suggests to Thanassis that he moves into the house he has been renting ever since he was a student and which has over the years become a “shrine” to the “sixties and seventies”.
Thanassis is thrilled to be living with his elder brother, whom he hero worships. Petros, with long hair and a perennial hippie attitude, is a former lead singer of a sixties rock and roll band The Living Dead , a veteran of the famous early seventies siege of the Athens Polytechnic and a highly successful womaniser. Petros keeps the faith of Peace and Love alive by constructing a myth about himself that is not only self-sustaining but also becomes, for others, the rock/petra (the source of Petros) that they can construct their various lives around.
Once a week, Petros and his male friends get together to relive their former glory by playing pop songs from their youth. They always finish their sessions with their “anthem” Eric Burdon's “We gotta get out of this place.” On the wall of the room they play in is a mural of all four male members of the band and a striking blond woman.
One day, Thanassis recognises this same woman hanging around outside the house and follows her. He eventually finds out that she is Eleni, a successful international photographer and Petros' former lover. She reveals to him she has turned up for a get-together in the same taverna where she and her friends promised to each other to meet during a flight of fancy twenty five years before. On the appointed night, Thanassis watches from afar and sees that and only one member of the band turns up to the taverna, which is now a car park for the long-awaited anniversary. To his surprise it's not Petros. From Eleni (no doubt alluding to Homer's famous femme fatale ), Thanassis gains another viewpoint of his brother. She tells him that she was the one to leave Petros, that she had betrayed him with a sixth member of the group who she used to escape the dishonest existence that she found herself in. When he returns to the house, Thanassis finds, on a closer look at the mural, that there was indeed another band member who the poster of Bob Dylan now covers. Eleni's view of those times is realistic and unromantic. Later, she inadvertently shatters Thanassis final illusion about his brother when she reveals that neither she nor Petros were in the famous siege of the Polytechnic, as they got locked outside and that only one member of the band made it inside.
My Brother and I is a well crafted, multi-layered film that clearly shows how we construct myths about ourselves and others and how those myths can give us and others a base for our lives. Like Nicos Perakis' parody, Vios ki Politia which explores the bonds formed by Greek males during military service, this film explores the bond formed through experiences shared at the tertiary educational institutes of Greece. The siege of the Athens Polytechnic in 1973 is as important to Greece as the Springbok marches were to New Zealand. In the early seventies the youth of Greece took on the might of the military junta and many lost their lives. Boys became men, girls became women. It was a rite of passage for a whole generation which was forbidden to listen to the words of their poets or the music of their musicians. During that time, among many others the poems of Giannis Ritsos and the music of Mikis Theodorakis were banned and the Rembetikka “soul” songs, that originally came out of Asia Minor, despised. This vacuum was filled by the ascendant American culture that first arrived in Greece with the Truman Doctrine in the second half of the Civil War from 1945 to 1949.
At the end of the film, ironically, it is Eric Burdon in his cameo appearance as himself that helps Thanassis realise that people cannot build their personalities on the constructs of others. He advises him that he must create his own self image, and rather than live in the past, and perhaps, unlike his brother's generation, live more honestly in the now.
In his poem “Growing in spirit”, Constantine Cavafy advises that ‘He who hopes to grow the spirit … won't be afraid of the destructive act: half the house will have to come down'. Like Pantelis Voulgaris in Ola ine Dromos -Vietnam , Kokkinos seems to delight in pulling the whole house down. Although in the end Thanassis betrays his brother and his own girlfriend Peggy - another echo of the sixties, when Greek women embraced foreign versions of their names - by sleeping with Eleni, Petros severs his allegiance to the past and manages at last to “ … get out of (that) place”. Appropriately The Living Dead , without Eleni, accompany the bulldozer that tears down Petros' house, a mould-ridden temple to the rock and roll generation.