New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
During the Axis occupation of Greece in WWII, seemingly ordinary people crossed into the heroic sphere. So great was the sacrifice of Lela Karagiannis, a wife and mother of seven children whose utmost sense of purpose and dynamism as founder of the Resistance group “Bouboulina, aided so many yet ended with her own death, by firing squad, when she was only 46 years old, that its extent seems beyond comprehension.
Writer and director Vassilis Loules’ film, “Lela Karagiannis, the Fragrance of a Heroine”, a poignant interview with Giorgos Karagiannis, the heroine’s son, himself a heroic Resistance fighter, shown in the presence of His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios and Consul General George Iliopoulos and Mrs. Iliopoulos, captures the struggle of the woman who rose above her own family’s difficulties of wartime survival to establish a Resistance group against the occupiers and of her son, who was meeting his mother in secret for the needs of the struggle. Punctuating the interview rare images, illegally shot, of occupied Athens that bring events up close.
Lela Karagianni and her family founded the “Bouboulina” group, named after Laskarina Bouboulina, a heroine of the Greek War of Independence on May 10, 1941. Initially, the group focused on helping Allied soldiers to flee to the Middle East. Gradually, “Bouboulina” one of many Resistance groups in Greece, established an effective intelligence network, engaged in sabotage acts and was collaborating with EDES of Napoleon Zervas. On 11 July 1944 Karagianni was betrayed and arrested, and executed two months later, at the Haidari concentration camp in Athens. Most tragic is that her execution was carried out just before the fall of the Germans.
Mr. Loules is the director of “Kisses for the Children”, a film of interviews with five individuals who were “hidden children” in Thessaloniki during WWII (shown at the 13th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival (NYCGFF) in October along with his 2001 “A Bright Shining Sun”).
“Lela Karagiannis, the Fragrance of a Heroine” is a precious firsthand account of the times. The single vantage point filming of the seated Karagiannis, who wears a red shirt and smokes a pipe, eliminates distraction and intensifies his communication with the viewer. A quietly arresting speaker, the still-handsome Karagiannis at one point sings a lullaby that his mother sang.
“I was moved by Vassili’s use of silence in the film,” said NYCGFF director, Jimmy DeMetro, “This is something he did in “Kisses for the Children” as well, to great effect. Karagianni often stops speaking in the middle of his narrative about his mother. It is as if speaking about her is too painful. Rather than cut away, he keeps the camera focused on his subject, recording the pain and the hurt.” Archbishop Demetrios also commented on how “the camera zeroes in on the man’s face, every line, every wrinkle telling a story”, noting Mr. Loules’ exceptional style.
Mr. Karagiannis conveys the danger and deprivation, the starvation and brutal environmental conditions experienced by poorly clothed and shod fighters in the mountains of Greece, and his yearning for his mother’s love and warmth, from which he was severed as a teenager when he took to the mountains to fight in the Resistance at her orders. The scent of “the only perfume she would wear”, Violetta di Parma, seems to permeate the room in which he sits, his longing for her unabated so many years later. ”She was a sweet mother”, he says gracefully.
Giorgos Karagiannis died shortly after the film was made.
Archbishop Demetrios, saying that it was “difficult to speak after such a moving film”, shared some wrenching memories of the occupation, one being the sudden ringing of all the bells in Thessaloniki amidst cries of “Koritsa has fallen!” and the recollection that knew the father, a priest of St. Irene’s in Athens, of one of the young men who was arrested and executed at about the same time as Lela Karagianni. Hellenes provide to the world with what is “noble, good, and beautiful”, he said.
Cinematography for “Lela Karagiannis, the Fragrance of a Heroine”: Constantine Tsekouras. Sound: Constantinos Psihogios. Editing: Takis Koumoundouros and Dimitris Giannakopoulos. Music: Vangelis Frambas. Produced by Hellenic Broadcasting Corp. ERT SA