I Poli Ke i Poli (The City and the City)
In 2014, the Guardian estimated that some 1,300 films about World War II had been produced, and this number has clearly climbed considerably since then. The darkest days of human history provide an infinite number of storytelling possibilities and mediums – multiple angles from which to scrutinise the inscrutable. The creative choices employed by co-directors Syllas Tzoumerkas and Christos Passalis have led to a non-traditional war film that feels quite radical in the most beguiling way.
In the absence of a conventional plot, it’s complicated to describe what actually unfolds. The City and the City is essentially a number of different chapters that are linked by themes, without an overarching storyline. Some chapters are segmented, others overlap, and they all coordinate to portray the decimation of the Jewish population of Thessaloniki. There are no central characters to follow, and there is no clearly defined structure.
The film could easily have been a gigantic mess, but it is richly immersive. It doesn’t feel like a concession to audiences, but there are occasional title cards to place moments into context. This information is both clinical and horrifying; it’s actually quite terrifying to learn about how the Jewish cemetery of Thessaloniki was dug up by Nazi occupiers, with the bones of the dead then ground up to make construction materials.
Leaping from black-and-white to (beautifully muted) colours, The City and the City meshes dramatised reenactments of Thessaloniki under Nazi rule with glimpses of contemporary Greece, with characters literally wandering from one period to another. Some scenes simultaneously encompass both periods, with Jewish prisoners being berated by Nazi guards as the residents of modern Thessaloniki go about their business in the background. There are also vignettes in the pre- and postwar periods, with garishly bright bookends set in 1983. The general effect is acutely dreamlike (or more accurately, nightmarish). This is less a film that tells a story in an accepted way, but instead creates a potent atmosphere.
I Poli Ke i Poli (The City and the City) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2022 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.