The Summer with Carmen: Zacharias Mavroeidis on his metafictional gay comedy

The new film from Greek director Zacharias Mavroeidis is proof that queer cinema has much more to offer than coming-out stories and sobering love narratives. No predictable characters here: The Summer with Carmen is a delightful tale of humour, drama and sensual eroticism which conveys the many layers of friendship between two gay men living out-and-proud lives in contemporary Greece. Co-written by Xenofon Chalatsis, it was one of the fastest selling films at this year’s BFI Flare.

The plot takes on a metafictional level as it sees aspiring filmmaker Nikitas (Andreas Lampropoulos) asking for help from his friend Demosthenes (Yorgos Tsiantoulas) to write a script for a film that should be – according to his French producer’s brief – “fun, sexy, Greek and low budget”. While the two are discussing ideas on a cruising beach in the south of Athens, they spot a chihuahua that looks very much like Carmen, the dog that Demosthenes’ ex-partner had ineptly adopted following their breakup two summers ago. Beguiled by the central role that Carmen had played in their lives during that summer of big changes, they decide to delve back into those turbulent experiences as the basis for their script.

There are lots of film references, from Xavier Dolan to Greek Weird Wave, in the dialogue. Are these your own influences or which other films have shaped your work?

Zacharias Mavroeidis
: They are not a particular influence to me, it’s more that they’re like a game with the audience to spot the references. I grew up watching old Greek films from the 1960s, and comedy TV series like Oi aparadektoi (1991 to 1993), which is funny and ridiculous and a very important influence to me. And then watching films like From the Edge of the City (1998) by Constantine Giannaris, and Strella (2009) and The Attack of the Giant Moussaka (1999) by Panos Koutras were also important. To think that there’s a consciously queer cinema in Greece somehow made me feel connected to this family.

From international cinema, I feel connected to filmmakers who like to treat serious issues with a certain level of sarcasm, like Almodóvar, the Coen brothers and the Swedish director Roy Andersson. I think they share a common stance towards the characters in their worlds.

Did you draw on your background in architecture in choosing the film’s stylish sets and Athens locations?

I’m extra sensitive to the narrative potential of space. We tried to create a unique version of Athens in this film – realistic but also kind of constructed. All the houses, all the interiors are buildings from the 1930s, which was a very important period in the history of architecture in Greece, because it was a time when the iconic apartment buildings were first introduced. Back then they were built for the upper classes. The exteriors are set on public steps – a trait of Athens, which has many hills and many steps. The characters in the film are all constantly going up and down these public stairs, which makes a connection with the landscape of the beach, with the characters going up and down the rocks there.

How did you balance all the different elements of humour, romance and passion to create such a unique atmosphere?

It was a big challenge. It was galvanised in the music composition, because the music is very crucial in setting the sentimental landscape of the film. It creates this double layer of being dramatic and comic at the same time. The film is very meta and self-aware, and this is a tricky ingredient, because it can come at the cost of the audience’s attachment to the film and living with the characters.

What were you looking for from the score?

The film’s music composer is Ted Regklis, a well-established composer working in Greece but also abroad. I had a lot of classical music in my head when I was writing the film, and a lot of operas. But I also wanted to play with the Greekness of the film, to try and unite [the Greek musical tradition of] rebetiko with Baroque music. This may seem impossible to bridge, but the harpsichord and the bouzouki sound very similar, so in the score of the film there’s this blend of the two instruments. For me, it’s like a game, with Baroque being very flamboyant and gay, and rebetiko the opposite, quite masculine and heteronormative in a broad sense. The music plays many jokes on that, and I think a trained ear will catch quite specific things.

The Summer with Carmen (2023)

How open is contemporary Greece to LGBTQIA+ culture?

I think there’s a big, big change in the younger generations due to the internet. The internet generation has grown up in a different landscape of information, different options to present yourself, how to define yourself and the society in general. I think it’s catching up, and everything is going at a fast pace. But at the same time, this progress has very shallow roots in society.

How supportive were the Greek film bodies in financing your film?

I got brave support from both the Greek Film Centre and the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation – ERT, which are the main funding bodies for Greek cinema. They gave me as much as they could, but this is really not enough to make films. Greece is running last by far compared to other countries in Europe when it comes to the amount of public funds made available for films. I’m pretty sure that if this was my first film, I wouldn’t have gotten the money. I know that it is a challenge for certain people to say, yes, take the money and do it because it’s unapologetically out and proud.

The Summer with Carmen screened at BFI Flare: London LGBTQIA+ Film Festival.

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