Critical filmography of Lucia Rikaki

A filmography “with compliments” is Yannis Soldatos gift to Lucia and to her work.
Maybe that is why Lucia could live and thrive in cinema, because there were people like Yannis could read and understand her.
And all these people are in his book, as in a place of perpetual conversation!

LUCIA RIKAKI (Yannis Soldatos, Subjects and figures from Greek cinema, Athens 2015) 

I met Lucia Rikaki towards the end of the ‘70s, somewhere at Kolonaki, in Athens, where she lived at the time. I think that she was still a high school student. Thanassis Rentzis had sent me to explain some issues to her, so that she could then start writing for a newspaper of EDA (“Unified Democratic Left” party), at which Lentakis was the editor-in-chief and Rentzis was the editor for arts and culture, while I was writing a 2-3 pages. I gave her some instructions, she explained to me that she new everything, with the attitude of a precocious know-it-all which I could remember myself sporting ten years prior to our meeting – ten years being our age difference. Then I left, and I can’t remember what happened next. The paper had a short life anyway, and Lucia sought her fortune abroad.

She studied History of art, Cinema, Graphic design and Photography in the UK. She worked with the Council of Europe at Strasburg and the Ministry of Environment in Denmark, as responsible for educational programs, before she returned to Greece in 1982, and founded Orama Films, a productions company for plays, films and TV programs. From that point on, she increasingly asserted and consolidated her presence within our cultural scene, developing a multifaceted artistic personality. This observation is not a mere figure of speech, but a way of life, which I personally share, finding myself actively engaged in the same broad cultural field. The late Theodoros Angelopoulos once said to me: “You have to choose if you are one thing or the other”. I retorted, “Theodoros, you are a champion in a specific game, I am in decathlon”.

Lucia Rikaki was a decathlete, too, and she proved herself to be among the top, both in Greece and abroad. Director, producer of fiction and documentary films, as well as TV and stage shows, co-producer with international collaborations, script- and theatrical writer, author of many books of various content, journalist, publisher, graphic designer, founder and artistic director of film festivals, public relations executive and presenter at international festivals, conference organizer and speaker, responsible for educational programs, trade unionist, member of the Special Committee of the Ministry of Culture for the legislative adjustment regarding cinematography in 1994, member of the Advisory Council for Cinema of the Ministry of Culture between 1997 and 2001, coordinator of the Greek Film Department of the Thessaloniki Film Festival between 2000 and 2004, member of the jury at several international festivals, in charge of audiovisual and educational programs... I have to stop here, although I haven’t covered all her titles, because it’s becoming tiresome. Imagine if I had to enumerate the results of each one of her qualities too… But she was never tired. You’ve got to wonder how she managed to fit all these things in one lifetime which ended in the prime of its creative course, with an unfair loss which makes everyone contemplate about the dark will of fate.

I’m going to limit myself to some of her full-length films, since tonight’s event, organized by the Film Society of Samothraki, includes a screening of one of Lucia’s documentaries.

The Trip to Australia, Lucia Rikaki’s first feature film, was presented in 1990. It’s a road movie about two little children who run away from home, in Macedonia, in order to make their dream true: a trip to Australia. In their short escapade, they are travelling by train, ship, plane; they arrive in Athens and in the island which substitutes faraway Australia, they meet strange characters who talk about faraway lands, travels and explorations; they have the attitude of mature travelers. The police send them back to their parents. But for the children, the experience was important; the dream of distant Australia remains an unfinished business, or maybe settled in the terms of childhood inventiveness. Overcoming reality, one of the strange figures they met in their wanderings comes along and takes them away with him, against the sunset light. The everyday terms overrun becomes a move towards the light.

In the Quartet in 4 movements, a 1994 film, Rikaki discusses the setup and development of three romantic relationships between four people. Prior to the filmic action, there is the couple of the ambitious architect and his wife, a woman of books; the long coexistence of these two, and their dedication to their occupations have weakened their relationship. In this fertile ground for the creation of extra-marital relationships, the woman turns to the young composer who comes from Paris to Greece to conquer the audience with his concerts. As for the husband, he falls in the arms of a young, 18-year old girl, who seeks out sexual experiences, free of conventionalities. These two triangles, independent of one another, are transformed into a quartet sexual relations, referring both to the structure of the relationship of heroes and the music which plays a key role in the film: The young man is a musician, and the wife looks for overcoming the worn everyday routine through music. The best card in the hands of Rikaki -who exploited it extensively, both in the construction and the promotion of the film- was the composer of the music, the great Zbigniew Preisner, known in Greece mainly from Kieslowski’s films. The film was met with considerable commercial success.

Rikaki’s come back was after four years, in 1998, with the feature film Dancing Soul. The main axis of the narrative is the love story which, through much turbulence, leads to an unexpected situation. This develops between a dancer and choreographer, and a fencing champion, who’s also a former ballet pupil of the former. They meet accidentally after many years, each one carrying their own traumas, fears and insecurities. Their sexual relation seems to be the lifeline for both of them, despite their differences. Rikaki has used a quote of Aristotle, “Nature makes compatibilities out of the opposites,” as a motto before the film opening credits. The girl’s childhood trauma, brought up by the father’s presence, has built up a fence of obstacles to her natural sexual expression. The man finds himself in another dead-end situation. He has lost his wife and son in a car accident, at which he was the driver, and he cannot overcome this event. Now, he stages his own wounding and is withdrawn from action. The game is lost and regained. A bouquet of flowers, a burning love note, and she decides to make a new life for herself. In the end, there’s a message from him, signaling his return.

The narrative is supported gracefully by the photography, the nice editing, the beautiful music and choreography. But the result at which Rikaki aimed did not meet the audience which supports love stories, and the box office revenue was low this time.

Comedy nights, a 2000 film, is a documentary about the shows that Rikaki directed in «Theater 104», between 1995 and 2000. These were stand-up comedy venues, and the documentary features the actors talking about their shows and their everyday lives, as well as for this kind of comedy. The director’s aim was mainly to inform the audience about something which she had introduced in Greece.

The 2002 documentary Words of Silence is about the deaf community and their own language, the Greek Sign Language, which had been recently established. Therefore, the message to the rest of the society is that oral communication is not the only way of everyday communication. The film is a very useful tool in the struggle for rights and the highlighting of issues, but also for asserting the Hellenic Federation of the Deaf; and it has been recognized and acclaimed as such.

With Aegean through the words of the poets, a 2003 film, Rikaki discovers the Aegean herself, and invites the viewer to this same travel, through texts, poems, quotes and travel memoires of important intellectuals who visited the sea. It is a different view on an area suffocating from solitude during the winter, and from touristic degradation during the summer. I won’t say more about this film, since it’s the one to be screened here today.

With the 2004 documentary The other, she addresses the issue of economic immigrants integration in our country, and the balance of the relations between the immigrants and the locals. Through this film, she aspired to send a message of respect to “the other”, the foreigner who struggles, torn away from his or her country, to survive and establish a decent life for his or her family in some place new. The action is set in the village Patsideros, at Herakleion of Crete, and more specifically in the village’s school, of which a class consists of one Greek and five Albanian pupils. The apparent equal access to education doesn’t guarantee that clashes between the local and the others are avoided. These clashes extend to the full range of relations and coexistence in the village, as a new set of differences and contradictions has been added to other, generation-old ones.

In the 2006 drama Hold me, Rikaki sets the feeling of loss as her primary subject, combining realistic, poetic and fictional elements, in a narrative with documanteristic and essay aspects. She uses many personal contributions made by anonymous internet users who wanted to share their stories, in a game which she initiated and they chose to participate, out of need for human contact, fear of loneliness, or the effort to reach out for a friendly hand at a difficult hour. The pretext for setting the narrative for is the death of a radio presenter’s father. She sets up a webpage, where different persons, mainly women, agree to share their own stories about loss. Rikaki’s ultimate goal with this film is to suggest that poetry, truth, beauty and the sharing of experiences with others can be the antidote to loneliness and loss.

The film Commons: What we have in common, of 2006, is a filmic essay on the thoughts and preoccupations of a group of authors and poets from all over the world, who gathered in Paros to revive Plato’s Symposium. The director tries to use the image to stimulate visual connotations to the words of the poets and the thoughts of the authors.

In 2007, she makes the documentary Meant to leave, in which she goes back to the issue which she had addressed in “The Other”. She speaks about those who left their countries and live among us in Greece, considering our country as their second home. Two lines from the movie, chosen by the director herself, are characteristic of the film:
Mahmood: Is there anyone in the world who would leave his home with no reason?
Grace: The war does more than destroying the earth, it turns hearts into stone and makes eyes blind.

In 2009 Sing along the subject is music, following the activity of the Experimental Choir of Rhodes Municipality, which is presented by the director as a close-knit social group, brought together by art. In the beginning of the film we read: «Music doesn’t allow thought to annihilate things, it always preserves that vital distance which permits something to be open and defined at the same time. It navigates through yesterday and today, here and elsewhere, creation and research, without denying faith, mind and feeling, without fear of freedom».

Then comes the 2010 Dreams in another language. A film about children’s dreams, literally and metaphorically, dreams made in a different language than that of the grown-ups. Children’s dreams speak their own language, «with truth, humor, bitterness, wonder, tenderness, love», according to the director. She observes the school of Faneromeni in Nicosia, with 300 persons and 300 different dreams. A school attended by many generations of young Cypriot girls, now very close to the Green Line dividing Nicosia in two. Again, the issue of refugees is crucial to the way Rikaki addresses things, as is the education of immigrants’ children and everyday life in a multicultural society.

I’ll close this presentation with the full-length documentary The Salvation plan, a 2011 film which has been Rikaki’s swan song, a cry for salvation, not only her own, but of many things dangerously ill. As the film unfolds, we are watching a grand artistic event taking place in Sotiria Hospital, Greece’s first sanatorium [“Sotiria” mean. “Salvation” in Greek]. Apparently, Rikaki wanted – and succeeded – to present other dimensions, aside from the specific visual arts event, all encompassed in the title “the Salvation plan”. To a journalist’s question if “we’re talking about more than a… salvation plan for our life. Maybe even for the salvation of our soul?” the director replied: “That’s a great angle, because that’s exactly what I meant when I kept asking them if the Salvation plan is feasible. And each one answered that in his own way. Some of them were saying that everything is in our mind, that we could even fly, that we always have the tools to overcome all difficulties”. Question: “So it seems that through this documentary the very meaning of Salvation is redefined?” Answer: “Effectively.” The film ends on an optimistic note, with Yannis Ritsos’ verse: “World, however much you're in pain, everything starts afresh, all is still yours.”

Rikaki describes her film as “a modern… sort of prayer”. For us to pray for her soul is the least. The loss is elsewhere: Rikaki had many salvation plans in mind, for many aspects of our cultural scene. Some of them found their way. Most of them she has left to us as a legacy of unfulfilled dreams.

A similar version of this text was read as a presentation in a honorary screening, organized by Lucia Rikaki Film Society in Samothraki on July 20, 2015, in memory of Lucia