Causing a storm at this years Grimmfest Easter Nikias Chryssos A Pure Place is an unsettling and darkly witty allegorical fairy tale of ex-Nazis, mad messianic ambition, and arcane cult activity in the Greek Islands, which also had its UK Premiere at the fantastic festival.
On the surface, Nikias Chryssos’ new film couldn’t appear more different, swapping as it does the cramped, enclosed, subterranean environment of DER BUNKER, for the wide, open, cloudless skies, clear blue oceans, and pastoral island idyll of the Greek Mediterranean. And yet this is no less claustrophobic a film, equally concerned with unhealthy group dynamics and control.
A kind of allegorical fairy tale played straight, it mixes elements of THE MAGUS and MIDSOMMAR, with the real-life history of the Jonestown Cult, as the deranged son of a Nazi industrialist sets himself up as a messiah figure, with a whole religion built around Wagner, Greek Mythology, Christianity, and soap(!), and takes it upon himself to “save” the disenfranchised street kids of Athens.
There are nods to HG Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE with its Morlocks and Eloi, and possibly to Mervyn Peake’s GORMENGHAST Trilogy, both in the depiction of how the society is run, and in some of the sociopolitical points the film seems to be making. Visually stunning, with a striking use of landscape and location (the contrast between the island retreat and the sleazy neon-lit night time streets of Athens is particularly effectively used), beautifully staged and elegantly played by a strong cast, it’s a wry, witty, weird and wonderful fable of oppression and freedom, light and darkness, in which cleanliness is not always next to Godliness.?
Below director and co-writer of A Pure Place Nikias Chryssos talked to us about his favorite horror film:
“Thinking about your question about my favorite horror film, I at first thought about some classical all-time favorites: FREAKS by Tod Browning, POSSESSION by Andrzej Zulawski, THE BROOD by David Cronenberg.
But then I thought of another film, one where horror wouldn’t be the first genre one thinks of in regard to the film and one that deserves much more attention than it currently gets.
That film is UTOPIA by Shorab Sahid Saless from 1983. A group of women work in a brothel under their boss, a sadist played by Manfred Zapatka. The film almost entirely takes place in the claustrophobic location, making it seem like a prison that nobody can escape from. But in the beginning, the camera moves from an opera house to a scene in a car, a violent confrontation between the pimp and one of the prostitutes, making it very clear that the story takes place right here and now, among us.
There is a feeling of a torturous monotony in the everyday life of the women, an atmosphere of constant violence with only glimpses of solidarity. The ending, which I don’t want to give away, stays ambivalent. It could be interpreted as hopeful. It could be devastating.
The images of the women within the location, the colors, the sparse set design, the lighting reminded me of later works by filmmakers like Nicolas Winding Refn but the movie is in no need of these references.
Saless, an Iranian-born director who moved to Germany where he continued to make films, put a mirror to post-war German society here where the sadist could easily also be interpreted as a continuation of the horrors of the second World War. The violence is so engrained into this society that it becomes normality.
Within this microcosm, Saless connects the Wagner-loving bourgeoisie with the brutality and the coolness of the brothel in which German fascism continues to live on in the form of sadism and misoginy. And that, to me, is true horror.”
A Pure Place played at Grimmfest Easter 2022.