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A recycling warehouse in contemporary Greece is a long way from the farms of California in the 1930’s where John Steinbeck’s 1937 novella, Of Mice and Men, was set. But an adaptation of it has inspired a powerful Greek theatrical production that became a film and is being streamed around the world.
Of Mice and Men tells the story of an incredible friendship between two uneducated drifters who have no family, no friends and no social circle as they seek menial labour on a farm. That is not all. Vasilis (George in the novel) is intelligent, strong, wiry and the dominant of the pair. Lennie in the novel and in the production under review has the mental capacity of a five-year old. He is a small man who shuffles his feet when he walks, knees apart and hands on his waist. He is pathetic as he speaks in a kind of slur with his tongue often hanging out of his mouth.
Vasilis and Lennie are friends who have a dream that unites them, a dream of owning a piece of land where they can grow vegetables and keep rabbits. Lennie loves patting soft animals and he wants George to repeat the dream to him constantly because he forgets things.
Vasilis Bisbikis adapted Steinbeck’s novella and directed the stage production as well as the film that is being streamed. The adaptation maintains some similarity with the novella but to a large degree it departs from it. There are about half a dozen workers at the recycling plant who sleep and eat in the warehouse. They are fundamentally the wretched of the earth who work there because they have no choice.
Stelios, the boss, [I don’t know who plays the role – more about that below] is a vicious bully, a foulmouthed creep who abuses his wife, Mary. She is a slut, the daughter of a prostitute, who can accurately be described as trash.
The other workers range from the decent to the psychotic with the latter seething with violence. One of them shoots a co-worker’s dog and there is a scene with prostitutes that is enough to make you sick. Another worker beats and almost rapes Mary in an extended scene of violence and foul language. Obscenities are used in almost every sentence.
The plots always returns to George and Lennie, to the oft-repeated dream by George for Lennie’s benefit of the paradisal piece of land and to the incipient violence of Lennie who pats soft animals to death.
Mary invites Lennie to pat her soft hair and the terrified Lennie does so but he loses control and strangles her. The end follows that and if you have not read the novel or seen a movie or stage production, I will not disclose the tragic conclusion.
The film has some extraordinary performances. Dimitris Drosos gives a moving, powerful and astonishing performance as Lennie. He contorts his body, makes the heart-wrenching facial expressions of a severely disabled human being who is desperate to find some, any, happiness. Vasilis Bisbikis as Vasilis is big and strong and impatient with him. He hurls insults at Lennie and threatens to abandon him but always returns to the deep-rooted love that unites the two men. An astounding performance by Bisbikis.
I confer the same kudos on the rest of the cast. They portray violent psychopaths, human wrecks and wretched people looking for something human. Bisbikis as director and adapter, however, does not know when to stop when he has a good scene going. The film lasts two and a half hours and it could have been cut down to about two hours. Some of the scenes of violence like the vicious fight and attempted rape of Mary could be shorter. The awful scene with the hookers could likewise benefit by being shorter.
Who are the fine actors who give the memorable performances? In addition to Bisbikis and Drosos, they are Mary Mina, Stelios Tyriakidis, Manos Kazamias, Giorgos Sideris, Gigmaz Erdal, Lefteris Agouridis, Angela Patseli, Mara Zaloni, Erato Aggouraki, Dimitris Galanis and Dionisis Kokkotakis. These are the names given on the website of the streaming company. I searched for more details, including reading some reviews from Greek media and found only the names of the actors playing Vasilis and Lennie. It looks like the Greek movie critics did not know who is who in the cast (or simply did not disclose it)and did what I am doing here: copy and paste the list of names. Some of these names may be from the theatre performance and not necessarily the film but whoever knows is not telling. The names of crew members are given in full. I have no idea how to characterize this except to state that I have never run into it before.
Nevertheless, the film with its violence, moments of tenderness, extremely foul language and brilliant acting is like a powerful punch in the face. It may daze you but you will never forget it.
Of Mice and Men (Άνθρωποι και Ποντίκια), by John Steinbeck, freely adapted by Vasilis Bisbikis and performed in Greek is being streamed by until January 30, 2022.

January 28, 2022

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