The Greek Film Festival 2022 opened in Sydney on 13 October 2022 with the acclaimed film Eftihia, a biographical drama about the life and times of the Greek lyricist and songwriter, Ευτυχία Παπαγιαννοπούλου (Eftihia Papagiannopoulou).
The festival, staged by the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW, was officially opened by the newly-arrived Greek Consul-General to Sydney, Ioannis Mallikourtis, in front of a packed house at the Palace Norton Street cinema complex in Leichhardt. Mr Mallikourtis noted the historical significance of the movie, being screened 100 years after the Asia Minor Catastrophe, and commended the Festival organisers for their decision to lead with this film.
The movie, which was first released in 2019 and is the winner of eight Hellenic Film Academy Awards, including best film and best supporting actor and actress, definitely lived up to all expectations.
The film begins with chaotic scenes of the collapse of Smyrna in 1922 under the Turkish Ottoman onslaught and the desperate attempts by residents to escape the fiery hell unleashed in this Levantine city. Eftihia, who was married off at the age of 15 to a much older man, is clutching her two young daughters, Mary and Kaita, and together with her mother they escape the inferno and arrive in Piraeus to start a new life.
But for Eftihia, that life does not include her husband for whom she has no more feelings after years of separation. She is desperate to pursue her dreams to be an actress but eventually it is her uncanny talent and ability to write popular lyrics and poetry that defines her professional career, especially through the turbulent decades of the 1950s and 1960s in Greece.
The director, Anthony Frantzis, uses two great actors to play the unconventional songwriter. A young and restless Eftihia is portrayed by Katia Goulioni and the older, chain-smoking and gutsy writer is played by Karyofyllia Karabeti. Through flashbacks the audience experiences the emotions and passions as well as the demons of a woman who became a seminal figure in Greek popular music and was arguably Greece’s finest lyricist.
Papagiannopoulou was in fact a prolific lyricist with over 200 songs attributed to her. When inspired, she would write down her five line couplets as they came to her, whether on a scrap of paper, a napkin, a cigarette box or whatever she could find to scribble her thoughts. She collaborated with many noted musicians and composers to whom she typically would sell her lyrics for a few hundred drachmas to feed her card game gambling addiction, even if it meant that she waived her intellectual property rights.
Songs that are credited to Eftihia Papagiannopoulou are legendary, and include:
Ta kavourakia (The little crabs), music: Vassilis Tsitsanis
Dio portes echi i zoi (Life has two doors), music: Stelios Kazantzidis
Ta alania (The gutter children), music: Vassilis Tsitsanis
Ime aetos horis ftera (I am an eagle without wings), music: Manos Hadjidakis
Mi me paratas (Don't leave me), music: Apostolos Kaldaras
An mou spasoun to bouzouki (If they break my bouzouki), music: George Zambetas
The joys and ecstasy of life were embedded in her lyrics. The songs "I'm an eagle without wings" to the music of Manos Hadjidakis and “Life has two doors” performed by Stelios Kazantzidis were written in a melancholic period after the tragic death of her eldest daughter, Mary, in 1960.
Eftihia’s life is probably best encapsulated in the lyrics of the eagle without wings:
Like the eagle I had wings oh oh oh
and I was flying
and I was flying very high
but a beloved hand
a beloved hand
cuts my wings
not to fly high
I’m an eagle without wings
without love and joy
without love and joy
I’m an eagle without wings
This beloved hand oh oh oh
in life I’ll love it
whatever it has done to me
I forgive everything it did
even with broken wings
I’ll love it forever
Along the journey Eftihia literally bumps into her second husband, Giorgos Papagiannopoulos, a policeman but also a lover of literature, in the neo-Classical ambience of the glorious National Library in central Athens. They married in 1928 and remained together until his death. Her daughters became his daughters.
We also meet her man servant and life-long confidante, Loukas, who with both humour and compassion, is there to counter Eftihia’s unpredictability.
In 1970 Eftihia wrote that folk music "is written first with heart and feeling and then with technique and in this way it only upsets us, sets us in motion, makes us think,"
Eftihia Papagiannopoulou was Greece's beloved poet and lyricist and her extraordinary life is best remembered for the many popular songs that continue to resonate today. This film is a tribute to a remarkable woman.
Greece may have lost a great but flawed soul in 1972 but her artistic legacy will live forever.
George Vardas is the Arts and Culture Editor. The Greek Film Festival runs until 23 October 2022.