Archive for August 11th, 2009

11
Aug
09

The Round-Up (Το Μπλόκο) – no one will lick your wounds

The Round-Up (Adonis Kyrou 1965)

The Round-Up (Το Μπλόκο) is considered to be the first Greek film to deal with a very dark side of the 1941-1944 German Occupation of Greece: the collaborators. There have been numerous post-war films dealing with the subject of Nazi brutality, the Occupation and the Resistance. But these have always dealt with the subject either melodramatically or nationalistically. The setting is usually urban, and shot mostly in Athens or in studio interiors. The action relates to a closed set of characters or a single character that becomes heroic or not. There is no social or historical comment. In general, they are in line with other European melodramas on the subject: they are all meant to unite the nation and comfort it post-war, to reaffirm the ideals of national pride and heroism (especially individual heroism). And this is where The Round-Up upsets the norm.

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Written by Adonis Kyrou (an affiliate of the Surrealist Movement, France resident and ex- member of leftist armed Resistance groups) it re-enacts a horrifying incident from 17th August 1944: the Round-up of Kokinia, a poor industrial area in the outskirts of Athens that was considered a haven for the Resistance. Round-ups were a common method by which Nazi occupation forces retaliated (“for each dead German 50 Greeks will be executed“), stabilised their reign of fear and eliminate possible dissidents. They would oblige all men of fighting age to gather in the central point of the village or neighbourhood; there, by selection or indiscriminately, all men considered related to Resistance groups were executed in public. This selection was usually done by the collaborators, who, wearing hoods to cover their faces, would point at the individuals to be executed. The issue of participation by collaborators and Greek-manned security forces in such events still remains a highly controversial and passionate subject, almost a taboo, as it is considered directly connected with the Civil War that followed (1946-1949).

The Round-Up follows a few main characters as they experience this event. The focus, though, regularly shifts to the enormous amount of extras and peripheral characters that are shown either in moments of resistance, obedience, fear, fight, plight. The whole neighbourhood fights and reacts en mass; the action, though inspired by leading individuals, is collective. By the end, characters that seemed morally dubious and opportunistic turn heroic, and heroes, like the leadership of the Resistance end up cowardly hiding while others are sacrificed.

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The characters are quite realistic, apart maybe from the representation of the German soldiers, who are stereotypically demonised. Still, the rest of the characters, collaborators, heroes, ordinary scared men, all are victims of circumstance, not of their character. This, together with the subject matter and the depiction of direct, urban warfare and collective action caused the film a lot of trouble with the State and the Left alike. The Resistance was unfortunately split into two armed forces, one pro-Communist and one pro-monarchy that were also at war with one another. In this film though, there is no direct mention of EAM (the pro-Communist resistance army) but the Resistance is shown as unified, or anyway unidentified as one branch of the two. As with all films that are the first to touch on controversial issues of internal conflicts (as happened with the Kurdish Turkish Cinema of the 90’s), the Round-Up is considered propaganda by the Right and cowardice by the Left.

Aesthetically, the film has clear neorealist elements. In contrast to most Resistance – Occupation films, the setting is not urban but the industrial edge of the city, almost post-apocalyptic, drowned in light and burnt by the summer; it is the same area where many Greek émigrés ended up after the wars and troubles of the past. Most of the action takes place in natural exteriors, and the sun is always burning giving the film a spaghetti-western feel. Either a conscious decision or coincidence, the cinematography fits the imagery of the Spanish Civil War more than that of WWII. The soundtrack is generally naturalistic; music score is used scarcely, the music of a Left Revolutionary song or the haunting sound of battle drumming. It could even be said that it is characterised more by the lack of sound. Many screams, cries, shouts are silent. Long wide shots, handheld camera, and unconventional angles create an atmosphere of dread and a premonition of the fate of the individuals.

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While obviously referring to Left-Right-Nazi-Collaborators-Resistance issues, it touches openly on sexual issues as well, with many non-marital affairs implied.

For my generation, the history lessons at school always mysteriously stopped sometime around the beginning of the Second World War. It is a shame that both the State and the citizens collectively still seem quite scared, biased, unprepared and unwilling to frankly face the years during and after WWII. Hopefully films like The Round-Up, with all its flaws can provide a starting point for the newer generations to begin this serious discussion and start licking the nation’s wounds.

– ulalume

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