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Spicing up history
by Asa Butcher
Issue 12
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A Touch of Spice
Tassos Boulmetis
Pepper...is hot and scorches, just like the sun
Salt...is used as needed to spice up one's life
Cinnamon...is bitter and sweet, just like a woman

My experience with Greek films begins with Zorba the Greek and ends with My Big Fat Greek Wedding, so you could say that Hellenic cinema is like a stranger to me. Today that stranger introduced himself, proceeded to serve 108-minutes of bittersweet Greek modern history and departed as a new best friend.

A Touch of Spice is the title you'll need to remember at the DVD store because its quality matches that of Cinema Paradiso, Jean De Florette and La Vita e Bella; that's how accomplished this movie is. The story absorbed me so much that my mind forgot it was reading subtitles, plus did not realise when two characters started speaking English.

In the same style as Cinema Paradiso, the film follows Fanis Iakovides (Georges Corraface) as he returns to his roots in Constantinople (Istanbul) in order to visit his ailing grandfather. The film rewinds three decades to life in the city when Fanis was just a little boy spending all his time in his grandfather's spice shop. His grandfather teaches Fanis about the importance of spice, in both life and food, while living under the rule of the Turks.

The Turkish government decree that thousands of Greeks, including Fanis' father, are to be deported back to Greece, so the family pack up leaving the grandfather behind. In Greece, the family are continually called Turks and suffer from the rules and regulations of the dictatorship, but throughout all the problems that Fanis and his family face there are the meals, each more spectacular than the last.

Food is at the heart of the Greek family, it is used politically, romantically, socially and emotionally, each of which is clearly portrayed during the film. One of most poignant scenes is when Fanis' father states why the grandfather will never leave Constantinople to visit them in Athens and this is immediately after one of the funniest scenes in the movie. Thee many bittersweet moments during the movie reflect the emotions that these Greeks suffered during that period of their history…and even now.

I was lucky enough to watch the film with Thanos, who provided his own 'Director's Commentary' that gave further insight into the historical and cultural situations, plus allowed me an insight into his own history. Thanos identified with many of the situations that Fanis faced, while director and writer Tassos Boulmetis based the movie on his own personal experiences, which makes me understand why this movie became the biggest box office hit in Greece with more than one million tickets sold.

A whole generation of Greeks lived and still clearly remember this period of their history, which left me shocked at some points because it is difficult to comprehend some of the situations in which the Iakovides family found themselves. If it hadn't been for Thanos confirming my doubts, I couldn't have believed seeing a line of tanks outside a Greek train station.

I am not familiar with Greek or Turkish actors, but I was impressed with each of the different actors that portrayed Fanis, especially Markos Osse who played Little Fanis. He was very sweet and was lucky enough to have some of the best scenes of the movie, such as the aforementioned train sequence.

Once again, if it hadn't been for Thanos' knowledge about the making of this film, I would never have realised that many of the shots are computer-generated. The two aerial shots that introduce 1960's Constantinople and Athens are amazing, while the grandfather's spice shop is a place I would love to visit - you could almost smell the spice.

A Touch of Spice is a beautiful film that deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as many of the other foreign cinema greats. You don't need to have a Thanos sat next to explaining everything or know much about Greek/Turkish history, my only suggestion is to eat beforehand because all the food on screen will drive you crazy with hunger.
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