Xenia – An Interview With Director Panos H. Koutras

Dare To Follow The White Rabbit?

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After the death of their mother, Dany, 16, leaves Crete to join his older brother, Odysseas, who lives in Athens. Born from an Albanian mother and a Greek father they never met, the two brothers, strangers in their own country, decide to go to Thessaloniki to look for their father and force him to officially recognize them. At the same time in Thessaloniki, is held the selection for the cult show, “Greek Star.” Dany dreams that his brother Odysseas, a gifted singer, could become the new star of the contest, in a country that refuses to accept them.

Why did you name the film Xenia?

“Xenia” could be translated as “hospitality”, though the meaning of this ancient Greek concept is much more complex. The Greek gods abided by this law, which commands us to honour and welcome strangers wherever they come from. Zeus, the father of all gods, is also sometimes referred to as Xenios Zeus, “Zeus the hospitable”. Hospitality was a major founding principle in Ancient Greece. Xenophobia is a relatively modern concept. Today, not only has Greece forgotten its duties towards foreigners, but it also deceives and misleads its people.

“Xenia” is also the name of a chain of luxury hotels built in the late fifties by great architects throughout the country. People were discovering tourism, it was a time of great economic prosperity in Greece. Today, more than 90% of these luxury hotels are abandoned and condemned.

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The quest of two brothers, a family feud, a character named Odysseas… Greek mythology and tragedy haunt Xenia and hold a prominent place in your films…

I am Greek, and in Greece, they teach you about Greek mythology from primary school. There is no getting away from it. Although to me, mythology has more to do with popular culture than with some noble academic discipline for the happy few.

Your films often verge on fantasy. The way you combine present-day realism (immigration, crisis…) with fantasy is pretty unique.

Fantasy is vital to me, it is a need, not an aesthetic choice. Reality and dream often get mixed up in my daily life. I don’t see why it could not be so in films. To me, it is the best way to come closer to reality. For Xenia, it seemed only natural to resort to fantasy to build Dany’s character. Traumatized children find often refuge in the realm of imagination.

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A gay club called “Fantastiko”, a lawyer named Antigone, the Greek Star… Xenia is constantly filled with humour, parody and irony, as an answer to tragedy. Will humour save Greece?

Will humour save Greece or the world? Humour holds reflection in itself. It provides a certain distance, and distance is an incredible luxury. I don’t think cinema is going to change the world. But I am sure it opens perspectives that can help us to see and understand. I totally subscribe to André Bazin’s statement, which has become a cliché but is still so true and beautiful: “Cinema is a window opened to the world”.