For testy pa­trons of La Lan­terna, life’s a beach

Award-win­ning Greek-Ital­ian doc­u­men­tary ‘The Last Re­sort’ jux­ta­poses city of Tri­este’s tur­bu­lent his­tory with its famed bathing spot

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY HARRY VAN VERSENDAAL

Seventy-seven-year-old Vini­cio com­plains that his fa­vorite blue plas­tic chair has been shifted from the spot where he’d left it the day be­fore. Rene fumes when find­ing his sun lounger stacked and chained up with others at the far cor­ner of the beach, be­fore pinch­ing it back with a bolt cut­ter in a su­per­hu­man ef­fort that leaves him red-faced but gleam­ing with vin­di­ca­tion.

The all-too-hu­man daily rit­u­als of the el­derly pa­trons of La Lan­terna, an unas­sum­ing vin­tage-feel peb­ble beach in Tri­este, on Italy’s north­east­ern coast, are humbly yet beau­ti­fully cap­tured in “The Last Re­sort” – the lat­est film by Thanos Anastopou­los, co-di­rected with film­maker Da­vide Del De­gan, who was born in the Ital­ian sea­port – which was awarded the Hel­lenic Film Academy award for best doc­u­men­tary on Tues­day.

“The movie is about turf wars. About where each per­son will put their chair, their ta­ble, or their towel. Peo­ple al­ways fight about things like seats and locks, they just give them dif­fer­ent names,” Anastopou­los said in an in­ter­view af­ter the movie screened at the Thes­sa­loniki Doc­u­men­tary Fes­ti­val ear­lier this month. “The film is about the lit­tle flaws of hu­man na­ture – in fact, about hu­man na­ture per se,” he said.

Like the beach lo­cals fondly re­fer to as “El Pe­docin,” or Lit­tle Mus­sel, Tri­este it­self is no stranger to turf wars.

For most of its his­tory, the city has been a mi­cro­cosm of Euro­pean ten­sions, of­ten chang­ing hands be­tween dif­fer­ent pow­ers. For about three cen­turies it was the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire’s only sea­port and com­mer­cial hub, draw­ing dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups and grad­u­ally evolv­ing into a cap­i­tal of lit­er­a­ture and mu­sic. The col­lapse of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire and Tri­este’s an­nex­a­tion by Italy af­ter World War I led to its de­cline. The city’s char­ac­ter barely sur­vived Mus­solini’s “Ital­ian­iza­tion” cam­paign, and in 1945 Tri­este was oc­cu­pied by Tito’s Com­mu­nist Par­ti­sans, who had al­ready seized the Is­trian Penin­sula, in the north­ern Adri­atic. Un­der diplo­matic pres­sure from the Western al­lies, the Yu­goslav troops even­tu­ally with­drew from the city. Af­ter World War II, Tri­este was rec­og­nized as a free state, though it re­mained un­der mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion un­til 1945, when it was re­turned to Italy. The city these days hosts a mix­ture of Ital­ians, Serbs, Slove­ni­ans, Greeks, Jews, Aus­tri­ans and Ger­mans. Some of the his­tory is pre­sented in archival ma­te­rial in the film.

“These are the child­hood years of most peo­ple on that beach. Some of them feel a cer­tain nos­tal­gia for the glo­ri­ous past of the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire, al­though it’s some­thing they never ac­tu­ally ex­pe­ri­enced,” Anastopou­los said.

The char­ac­ters – them­selves prod­ucts of the city’s his­tory – speak in Tri­estino, an Ital­ian id­iom in­fused with neigh­bor­ing di­alects, which is barely un­der­stood out­side the city’s lim­its. “When the movie was played in Italy it fea­tured sub­ti­tles. Sub­ti­tles are in­deed nec­es­sary any­where it may screen,” the di­rec­tor said.

A phi­los­o­phy grad­u­ate-turned-film­maker, 52-year-old Anastopou­los has di­rected three fic­tional films – most fa­mously the 2008 drama “Diorthosi” (Cor­rec­tion), an ex­is­ten­tial tale set against the back­drop of a Greece strug­gling to come to terms with its mi­grant new­com­ers.

Anastopou­los’s pre­vi­ous film, child­kid­nap thriller “I Kori” (The Daugh­ter), was made amid the coun­try’s fi­nan­cial melt­down and very much con­veyed the anger and frus­tra­tion. “I needed to make an­other movie, to re­store my faith in man, the be­lief that not ev­ery­thing is lost,” said Anastopou­los, who has lived in Tri­este with his Ital­ian wife since the birth of their son in 2007.

He used to take his son to El Pe­docin when he was still a baby. In­ter­act­ing with the reg­u­lars there brought back mem­o­ries of his own child­hood, when his fa­ther, a win­ter swim­mer, would drive him to the beaches of Alimos or Kala­maki on Athens’s south­ern coast. “When I saw this com­mu­nity of bathers I al­ready felt some con­nec­tion to them,” he said.

Cre­ated in 1890, the beach, just a stone’s throw from the city cen­ter, is fa­mous for a 3-me­ter-high ce­ment wall that seg­re­gates the men from the women – al­legedly the only such di­vide in Europe (which, in­ter­est­ingly, ap­pears to have a lib­er­at­ing ef­fect on its pa­trons). “I be­came fas­ci­nated by that wall. It made me think about bor­ders, di­vi­sions and iden­ti­ties – all mixed up with the city’s par­tic­u­lar his­tory,” Anastopou­los said.

No fea­ture film had ever been made about El Pe­docin; every so of­ten, in­stead, it would ap­pear in brief news re­ports about its pe­cu­liar wall. So Anastopou­los was re­ally sur­prised to find out that while he was pre­par­ing for the film, an­other Ital­ian di­rec­tor was mak­ing sim­i­lar plans. Born in Tri­este, Del De­gan was brought here by his grand­par­ents.

The Greek and the Ital­ian met and agreed to join forces. Af­ter all, they were both an­i­mated by the same vi­sion. “We wanted to tell a story about the hu­man ad­ven­ture. What it is like to live, to grow up, to ex­pe­ri­ence Anastopou­los said.

They adopted a purely ob­ser­va­tional style, stripped of any nar­ra­tion or com­men­tary. Shoot­ing lasted one year. Dur­ing those 12 months, the crew vis­ited the beach 128 times, col­lect­ing 200 hours loss, and to die,” of film. Pro­duc­tion lasted five months. The movie’s run­ning time, 2 hours and 15 min­utes, could alien­ate more im­pa­tient view­ers.

Days pass and sea­sons change on El Pe­docin as mam­moth Turk­ish con­tainer ships come and go in the back­ground. Some of the frailer pa­trons will not re­turn. But when Septem­ber rolls around, we see Fed­er­ica sit­ting on the peb­bles, gently stroking her preg­nant belly.

Greece’s Thanos Anastopou­los (left) and Tri­este na­tive codi­rec­tor Da­vide Del De­gan (cen­ter, right) have made a hum­ble yet beau­ti­ful doc­u­men­tary with ‘The Last Re­sort,’ which was awarded the Hel­lenic Film Academy award for best doc­u­men­tary on Tues­day.

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