Christos Passalis, Syllas Tzoumerkas, Greece | Germany | USA 2022
Prior to the 1930s, Thessaloniki was dominantly Jewish. The ethnic makeup of the city began to change after the fall of the Ottoman Empire as Greek refugees moved into the area. This led to the founding of the anti-Semitic EEE, the Nationalistic Union Greece (Ethniki Enosis Ellados), in 1927. When Nazi Germany occupied Greece in 1941, members of the EEE became significant collaborators and helped identify Greek Jews, ultimately leading to the extermination of, by some accounts, 97% of the 55,000 Jewish inhabitants of Thessaloniki. THE CITY AND THE CITY follows one Jewish family and their experiences through these events in six chapters.
THE CITY AND THE CITY is an experimental film which floats between the present day and the past, juxtaposing modernity next to historic in an often jarring way. The realities of the Greek collaboration with the Nazis in the extermination of the Jews of Thessaloniki is not often acknowledged by Greek authorities, and this combination of the past with the present seems to offer a critical point of saying, are they really so different from back then? Are we really sure that they wouldn’t do it again?
While there were certainly many visual and symbolic points of the film that worked quite well, the overall result is a bit jumbled. Sometimes the film goes off into directions that aren’t easy to follow narratively or figuratively. Also, despite its rather slim runtime of 87 minutes, it feels much longer and scenes drag on, their purpose often unclear. Ultimately, THE CITY AND THE CITY is an eye-opening work that largely succeeds in bringing to light a dark piece of Greek history which has largely been ignored.