Friday, December 14, 2007

49. Swiss filmmaker Stefan Haupt's "Ein Lied fur Argyris/A Song for Argyris" (2006): A thought-provoking documentary on grief and historical guilt

Here is a powerful 106 minute documentary all of us need to see and then reflect on dealing with grief and the touchy subject of historical guilt swayed by the waves of current European politics.

While most of the world believes that the horrors of the Nazis targeted only Jews, this documentary provides the viewer first hand narration from Greeks, some who now have Swiss citizenship, of the incredible sadistic acts of the German army as they mutilated and tortured hundreds living in a Greek village called Distomo before killing them. None of those killed were Jews, they were all Greek Orthodox Christians. Swiss director Stefen Haupt proves the incredible power of documentary cinema, with the use of old photographs, music, fine narration and seamless editing.

The main narrator is Argyris Sfountouris, who was a Greek child orphaned in the brutal massacre. His house was set on fire. Overnight he lost all. As he was found to be intelligent among the hundreds of other orphans he was picked by the Swiss Government along with few others to grow up in Switzerland. Today he is an astronomer and a scientist. One of his statements is "When will reconciliation begin and hate end? How can one forget what we experienced and forget those who died? When will we learn to forget our memories and move on?"

The strength of the pivotal narration is its low-key account, honest but sad. Argyris is confounded that a country that produced the soothing music of Beethoven could centuries later produce savage brutes.Another narrator is the famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis of Zorba the Greek fame. He recalls the German soldiers were interested in art and Parthenon. Yet the same soldiers would break the arms of hungry Greek children stealing bread. These are some of the contradictions in human behavior, the Swiss director Stefan Haupt highlights with remarkable effect.

Theodorakis also recounts a horrible account of the Greek Orthodox Priest and his family being stripped naked, mutilated in a horrible manner, forced to do unthinkable acts and then killed.

The more jarring facet is that when the Greek village survivors appealed for compensation from Germany, the German government refused to acknowledge guilt until a few years ago when the German Ambassador to Greece finally visited the village and apologized. Even today the German official stance is that Germany and Greece are now NATO allies and compensation is ruled out. Argyris tries to forget his loss and hate by working for the underprivileged in Somalia, Nepal and Indonesia. But can one forget what one remembers in childhood?

This film is powerful—only Hans Jurgen Syberberg's Hitler-A film from Germany (a 10 hour long documentary that provoked essayist Susan Sontag to write so many essays on it) was superior to this film on a linked subject. More people need to see the Stefan Haupt film so that similar horrors are not perpetrated elsewhere in the world. Haupt offers open-ended options to deal with grief, which makes you think how you ought to deal with personal grief. These are documenatries that offer more value than some feature films!

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