The 4.5 million euro production of “Smyrna” directed by Grigoris Karantinakis is screening in Greece today, and will no doubt refresh memories of the the destruction of the cosmopolitan city of Smyrna when Turkish forces burnt the city to the ground in 1922.
The big-screen adaptation of the successful theatrical performance of the same name by actress and director Mimi Denisi aims to pay tribute to Smyrna and the 100 years since its destruction on the coast of Asia Minor – modern-day Izmir on the Turkish coast.
In addition to Denisi, the cast also includes well-known Greek actors and a special role for the great Vanessa Redgrave.
The movie “Smyrna” is based on Mimi Denissi’s stage play “Smyrni moy agapimeni”, attended by over 1,000,000 people».
Smyrna was a cosmopolitan city where people of different nationalities lived together in harmony. It was like the tower of Babel. A lot of people spoke many different languages a sensation that could not have been captured in the film.
Exteriors were shot in the island of Lesvos, mostly in Mytilene, and Chios and also in various Athenian neighbourhoods, such as Kifissia, Plaka, Faliro etc. The use of special effects, especially for the portrayal of the catastrophe was crucial.
Filio an elderly American lady decides to go to Mytilene, in the island of Lesvos, to help the refugees. She takes her unwilling granddaughter, to follow her. No one knows her secret. Almost a century ago, her family lived on that island. They were refugees as well, who came from Smyrna after the destruction of the city. Filio starts reading her grandmothers recipe book, which also served as a diary and includes information of what happened to Filio Baltatzis.
Through the interesting saga of an eminent Smyrniot family, the spectator is transferred to the legendary city of Smyrna. Its cosmopolitan society leads a joyful and interesting life. Greeks, Turks, Jews, Armenians and Levantines live together harmoniously for centuries. Culture and music, rich cuisine, the best of the West and the East make Smyrna irresistible. Secret passions, forbidden love affairs, political intrigues, are all part of its life. Cocktail parties, theatre, opera for the aristocrats, tavernas, café chantants, brothels and cafes for everyone. A peaceful life on the surface that hid all kinds of dangers that finally destroyed this paradise.
The Baltatzis family is the core of the movie, surrounded by their loyal Greek and Turkish servants, Jews, Armenians and wealthy Levantines. In 1918, everything changes as Germany loses the first World War along with its ally, Turkey. It’s the end of the Ottoman Empire, and the Europeans are ready to divide it amongst them, and share the country’s wealth. In 1919, their ally, Greece, is ordered to send its army and occupy Smyrna. Asia Minor becomes Greek again.
Venizelos’ Great Idea becomes true. However, not everybody agrees with these actions. Some are afraid it will not last forever.
The Baltatzis family is divided into two. Dimitris, the older brother and Filio’s husband, supports Venizelos, while Spyros, the younger brother, stands by the King. The relationships with the Turks change. The Baltatzis family becomes even richer. Their son, Vassilis goes to war, their daughter Lefkothea gets engaged to the wealthiest Levantine, Eddie Whittall, and Filio, the main character, shares with her notebook, her recipes but also her fears.
The destruction starts on August 15, 1922. No one is expecting it as the Greek Army had always been invincible. No one is afraid. After all, the Allies’ warships are at the port. No one leaves Smyrna until the very last moment. When the great fire starts, they realize they are trapped between the fire, Kemal’s army and the sea. All foreign ships must remain neutral. No one can save them.
The Baltatzis family tries to leave in vain. Grandpa stays behind and dies in the arms of his loyal Turkish servant, Osman. Only Filio is saved by their Kemalist ex-driver, Halil, who has always been in love with her. Politics may have separated the two nations but not their people. Many Turks try to save their old Greek friends.
Filio leaves alone. She becomes a refugee in her Mother Country, Greece. The last recipe in her notebook is written at the port of Mytilene, where she lives as a refugee. She cooks for those who have survived the Catastrophe.
Filio is sitting at that same place in the port. Her granddaughter, with tears in her eyes, reads the last pages of her great grandmothers notebook. The young American girl, has realized how anyone could become a refugee at some point. In the face of the refugees who arrive in Mytilene, she now sees the faces of her ancestors.
The past and the present become one.