'The Rebellion of Red Maria': A Punk Musical, in which Queer Rebels Turn into Serial Killers

The Guardian characterized Costas Zapa as an outstanding director of the auteur in Greek New Wave and Cineuropa. PopMatters talks with Zapa about his new film, The Rebellion of Red Maria.

In a city, with heavy metal music haunting the heroes and the voice of Maria Callas being heard, an aged man, ex-terrorist, who dresses like a woman, the “red Maria”, lives without any law and is hiding in the social shadows as a prostitute and performer. He is dancing in the streets, old and out-dated dances, for the passersby who give him money. In the street he meets a young boy, a street urchin at deaths door after a neo-fascists attack. The boy, alcohol addicted, hears the voice of Maria Callas, speaks with the dead diva, with the mother he misses. In overdose he dreams of the perfect world.

“Red Maria” saves the boy and teaches him the “job”. In order to survive they invade cafes, giving performances that talk for a new, political God, for the political mistake of God, for the end of the ideology. Their world is magical, poetical. And wild. “Red Maria” teaches the boy how to survive. Together they become the magician of the tribe, the holy fool, the rebel. They live a magical personal revolution. But a number of murders will change “Red Maria” and the boy from ideologists into serial killers.

The Rebellion of Red Maria is Costas Zapas’ fourth feature film. Previously he made ‘the family trilogy’, which consisted of Uncut Family (2004), The Last Porn Movie (2006) and Minor Freedoms (2008). The latter was financed and co-produced by Zentropa productions, Lars von Trier’s and Peter Aalbæk Jensen’s production company. The films attracted international interest. The Guardian has characterized him ‘as one of the main protagonists of the burgeoning Greek New Wave and Cineuropa ‘as one of the most outstanding directors of the auteur cinema’.

PopMatters: The last years there is a sense of a new Wave in the Greek Cinema, for example your previous family trilogy, the films of Eva Stefani, last year we had Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, which was very popular. Do you think that the financial crisis (which in Greece takes place for the last three years and is not something that occurred in April as many tend to think) was beneficial for the rejuvenation of Greek Cinema? What I mean is, do you feel that this new cinema reflects a self-criticism on the part of the Greek society?

Costas Zapa: In my opinion the film festivals globally want to justify themselves as Art festivals, because they are funded by the taxpayers. There are fashions that come and go. Now Greek Cinema is a fashion within the festivals, a few years ago it was Danish Cinema that was fashionable, then it was Argentinean and Romanian. My cinema, according to the critics, cannot be classified as national cinema.

Now as far as the second part is concerned, we the Greeks are still unable to engage into self-criticism. It's going to take quite a few years. When it comes to film production, there are only a few filmmakers in this country that have something to say, but they are very isolated and they certainly do not have a good time.

PM: I know what you mean about the festivals creating fashions. Yet despite that, the festivals have helped to promote some good European filmmakers.

CZ: In my opinion the last auteur, in what I define as art cinema, is Lars von Trier. And this is the reason why the popular press condemns his films. We see that filmmakers such as Darren Aronofsky and Iñárritu started making radical movies and then they succumbed to the trend, making works that follow the Hollywood aesthetics.

PM: Could you briefly discuss your new film, The Rebellion of Red Maria? How would you describe it to a non-expert?

CZ: The Rebellion of Red Maria is an anarchist film. It is a story of love and anarchy.

The film is about an ex-terrorist, a man who dresses as a woman and meets with a boy that has been beaten by a group of neo-Nazis. He teaches the boy the ‘job’, which is entering bars and cafes to perform their happenings to make money either thanks to the peoples’ generosity or by stealing. In their happenings they talk about a ‘new political God’, the end of ideology, and the political mistakes of God. They live a magic revolution. It is a film about the limits of freedom, because freedom is the most important thing in life, but to the point that it does not violate the others’ right to freedom. Briefly Red Maria refers to the passage from the ideological person to the ‘superman of the instincts’.

PM: Yet despite being rebels and free they are slaves of money, too. Is there a contradiction in the sense that Red Maria and the Boy are rebels, but their revolution reproduces the exchange-value ethos?

CZ: Well that is exactly what happened in all the revolutions that took place in this world so far. We saw that Communist Ideology turned out to be a Stalinist monstrosity. The same happened in Cuba. Che, who was a visionary rebel, did not stay in the country, and the person who replaced him was an authoritarian figure.

PM: So Red Maria and the Boy start with the best intentions and end up becoming serial killers.

CZ: Red Maria says at one point ‘The Revolution is dead and it has been dead for ever’. Aeschylus says something similar in Prometheus, when the main character asserts that everything is pre-determined, nobody is free -and please do not take that as ‘fatalism’, but as a political thesis.

I am very suspicious of individuals with the best intentions. Take as an example our every-day life. You see that people go on strike and when they get 20 euros pay rise they are the first to oppose other peoples’ right to go on industrial action. The problem for me lies in the fact that even nowadays the human instincts prevail over our efforts to build a civilized society.

PM: Are Red Maria and the Boy slaves to their instincts?

CZ: Red Maria is a former ideologist who saw his dreams turning into monstrosity. This made him a terrorist, and in the end the uncertainty that pervades our globalised environment turns him into a serial killer. The Boy, on the other hand, is not politically conscious and is ready to accept and follow anything. And this can be seen in light of the de-politicization that characterizes young people nowadays.

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