The Barefoot Bataillon

Gregg Tallas

Greece, 1955



Drama, history




The Teacher Guide consists of useful notes, bibliographical information and approaches to film, and is supposed to function in support of the activities designed for the proposed film.
Key information are provided on the historical and social context within which the film was produced. This will enable a better understanding of the creators’ motivations and intentions by students. The formative elements of the genre, in which the film belongs to, are presented and accompanied by film reviews. All material is designed to broaden teaching approach within school and to renegotiate learning process through use of film.


• Βefore proceeding to the activities proposed, please refer to the Manuals section.
• Activity 1 may be linked to Literature, Grade A-Senior High School. A teaching approach that would help students understand the common traits shared by literature and cinema. For instance, literary heroes turning into film characters, the expressive means of language (attributions, metaphors, similes etc.) rendered through camera
movement, space and time lapses as handled by editing process and many other.(i.e. attributions, metaphors, similes etc.).
• Activity 2 may be combined with Language, Grade B-Junior High School, Text book, Chapter 2: Text Summary-Italics. Reading and analyzing film reviews may help students improve their summary writing.
• Activity 3 demonstrates individual responsibility and group work necessary for film crews in order to perform successfully.
• Activity 4 can be used in the teaching of every school subject. It provides ground for discussion as per the decisions the director had to take (space, time of shooting, etc,) depending on his motives and intentions (refer to Manuals: setting).
• Activity 5 may start with a simple dramatization in class and may even conclude with a short film production depending on the teacher’s aims, objectives and project duration. The main objective is for students to empathize explore and the ways in which they would react in situations similar to those expressed in film.
• Activity 6 links Film with Computer Science. It aspires to trigger students’ creativity, imagination and artistic ability!


«And he would be told about Dragons and the faithful dog. About the Beauty’s journeys and the big bad wolf. But my child never liked fairytales»
To my child,” Manolis Anagnostakis Having overcome the strains of Occupation and the Civil War, Greek cinema attempted to acquire a recognizable and legible identity. Melodramas and slapstick comedies began composing the
scene of domestic cinematography.
Yorgos Tzavellas, Ntinos Dimopoulos and Alekos Sakellarios produced their first comedies, offering to audiences the best ever medicine against the hardships they had suffered: LAUGHTER.
At the same time, melodrama offered a peculiar way out of the anguish caused by the turbulence of war. The wage of horror, destiny’s deadends, orphans and social injustice were some of melodrama’s characteristic themes. Themes that brought tears of relief and redemption to audiences! This is how Italian Neorealism entered cinemas. Grigoris
Grigoriou’s Bitter Bread and Gregg Tallas’ Barefoot Battalion would never be forgotten.
Gregg Tallas opted in bringing children’s gaze to the forefront, conveying thus a universal anti-war message. Inspired by a group probably living in Thessaloniki through-out Occupation, he addressed the issue of wartime children surviving on their own.
Prior to Barefoot Battalion, The Youth of Athens (or Saltadoroi – Takis Bakopoulos 1947) and Bloody Christmas ( by Yorgos Zervos, Asimakopoulou-Spathopoulou 1951) were released. Apart from being a source of inspiration, the loss
and loneliness, experienced by the children, had become a way for expressing social outrage. The creators’ engagement with child psyche was considered to be imperative.
In 1943, during the Occupation, the Germans seized the orphanage in Thessaloniki and left 160 children homeless. According to myth, these children came together and made Barefoot Battalion.


The following extract can be used in support of Activity 1 (question group 4).

Barefoot Battalion features several characteristics of Neorealism, a movement totally distinct from mainstream commercial cinema and one that has given some of the most significant post-war Italian movies. Neorealism came during a time of great political and social upheaval in Greece and reflected domestic production’s modernization.
Its characteristics are:
• Representation of reality is faithful yet poetic.
• Filming is usually set outdoors.
• Directors often choose professional actors (beggars and street extras) or laypeople who seem to identify with certain characters of the movie due to their life history or personality.
• Filming technique indicates the creator’s aim for objectivity and realism within a given social context and period in time.
• Expressive photography is an insightful study of human behavior, of inner impulses, conflicts, social struggles and demands.


The following excerpts can be used before film screening, so that students understand the creator’s motives and intentions.

..the idea for the movie came from Nikos Katsiotis, an actor at the National Theater. When we were in the USA, he recounted a bunch of rugged people who parcicipated in the celebrations for Thessaloniki’s liberation in November 1944. They were holding a banner reading “Barefoot Battalion.” This was, he said, a group of children that used to
loot German warehouses during the Occupation. They distributed food and other supplies to people starving, while at the sam time they supported Resistance…
…The only professional actors in the film were Nikos Fermas and Maria Kosti (the interpreter, Alexandra). Most children, either protagonists or supporting actors, were found in orphanages and welfare programs…
…Apart from Thessaloniki, the other city where filming could take place was Naples, which bears a funny resemblance due to its seacoast, narrow alleys and roads. These two cities seem to have a similar atmosphere. At first, I considered the option seriously. But then I thought, “Why shall I do this? For what reason? Let me check first Thessaloniki and then I’ll decide.”
…63 out of the 66 children, starring in the film, were found in correctional facilities in Athens and Thessaloniki. During filming, these children stayed at a hotel and were accompanied by a guard. They never caused a problem. I had converted an underground building into something that looked like an old church or a catacomb. This served as
the film’s hideout of Barefoot Battalion. Whenever I filmed there scenes that didn’t involve children, I would send them away: “get out of here,” I would say, “go upstairs, get out and play in the sun, don’t stay in here, in this rubbish filled dungeon”. At first, they would listen to me and leave. Soon afterwards, though, I would see them return: one after the other would creep back. In time, I realized that they felt the basement as their home! This made me feel awkward.
…Barefoot Battalion is the movie I love the most. I have put all myself into it. Even the film’s opening credits have given me more satisfaction than anything else I did, They expresses my personal poetics. Distinct from the rest of the movie, the opening credits function as a singular poetic utterance within the overall creative context. The
scenes included were not part of the script. I came up with them after the filming. This was because of the children that had enchanted me. I came to love them as if they were my own children. And they loved me back. So, I felt I had to do something. I had to give to children prominence in the film. This is how the opening credits sequence
came about. In the early 1970s, when the film was screened again in Thessaloniki, a significant number of young people watched it. It was a great success. After the screening, two or three children, starring in the film, approached me and said how touched they felt.
…When filming was over, I collected raw footage and went to the USA. Before editing the film, we had to clean it off the dirt. The camera (an American 36 mm Bell & Howll, a 1924 model!), had gathered dust inside as Thessaloniki was full of dirty roads at the time. In the USA, the film was screened in a special event organized for members
of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. For two hours I have been answering the audience’s questions. They couldn’t believe how the movie was filmed with such poor technical equipment. Columbia’s sound recordist, for example, couldn’t believe that the movie was dubbed after its filming!
…My background on and my relation to Neorealism is grounded on Russian theater. Up until filming Barefoot Battalion, I hadn’t watched any Neorealist films. During the Festival of Edinburgh, I stayed at the same hotel with Vittorio de Sica. After watching my film, he said: “If you had filmed this movie before Bicycle Thieves, you would have been a De Sica already!”


The following extract can be used in support of Activity 1 (question group 4). What are the similarities between Barefoot Battalion and Resistance?)

The heroes of Barefoot Battalion do not have any shoes. They walk barefoot. They do not wear clogs or makeshift shoes, made out of tubes, as other children did during Occupation. Clearly influenced by Neorealism, Tallas avoids showing faces in the opening titles. Instead he is focusing on bare feet, doing close ups, and uses Mikis Theodorakis’ music to intensify emotion. Even from the very first minute, the movie is highly emotional.

Battalion means..
A battalion is a military unit which normally consists of 270 soldiers. Although Barefoot Battalion consisted of 160 members, its formation and organization evoked that of a military unit.
• It consists of 160 members
• To become a member, one has to take an oath before Christ’s icon committing to: fighting for liberty and for the country’s wellfare, supporting comrades, assisting those suffering and reinstating peace.
• The oath reminds of that given by the members of the Greek Liberation Army (ELAS) with the exception of punishment which is omitted. Moreover, solidarity and mutual support are overemphasized in Barefoot Battalion’s vow.
• Possesses a hierarchical structure, like all organizations did during the Occupation. There is a commander, a second-in-command and an assembly. All members obey to the orders given, not only during operations, but, also, during everyday formalities. Everybody shall obey and show discipline.
Barefoot Battalion is not represented as Resistance, it is associated with Greek Resistance.


The following extract can be used in support of Activity 2, to clarify the meaning of aid parcels.

The term aid points to the American organization “Greek War Relief Association”, created by United State’s Greek diaspora during WWII and immediately after the victorious advances of Greek army in Albania. A considerable part of this financial aid was intended for improving the children’s living conditions (children camps, “orphan aid” etc.). The implicit reference to this organization and its activity may be attributed to Petros Voudouris, the film’s co-producer. Spyros Skouras, the Head of National Theaters Corporation, which ran a series of film studios in Hollywood, was in charge of the Association while Petros Voudouris was responsible for the collection of donations from eleven States in the USA.


The following extract can be used in support of Activity 1 (question group 4).

When the Greek Civil War broke out, the political scene started changing. Within the context of Truman Doctrine, USA declared its intention to assume active role in Greece. Marshall Plan, which was a financial aid program, was set up to financially revive Western Europe and to reinforce USA’s political influence on Western European countries. Amidst general tumult, Greek diaspora’s donations got limited. The survival of children became all the more difficult. Thousands lived far away from their families. This was because of the relocation schemes the opposing political factions imposed. During the period the movie was filmed, three years after the end of the Civil War, the UN
was still involved in discussions having to do with the repatriation of children.
As a neutral observer, Tallas did not openly address ethnic or politicsl issues. He implied them through the way he portrayed the film’s characters. Tallas was mostly interested in revealing children’s fragile psyche, which could easily collapse under those inhumane conditions. In order to survive, children had to get together and fight for a shared idea, an ideology.
Within this context, criminal behavior was presented as an inevitable outcome, without though being legitimized. It was portrayed in such a way so as to reflect the emerging new values, the most prevalent one being that of collectivity. “Are you trying to mess up with Barefoot Battalion?” the children ask the smuggler.


The following extract can be used in Activity 5.

Barefoot Battalion presents Thessaloniki as it was during the Occupation period. Catacombs became a shelter for the homeless orphaned children, conveying a unique and powerful atmosphere by creating a sense of relative safety
and by granting to children some carefree, playful moments. Hence, the children’s confinement in these hideouts offered a different perspective of everyday life during war.” Chrysanthi Sotiropoulou (2001).
“…Thessaloniki is probably the only metropolis, the neighborhoods of which were never filmed. Just instances of its fine-looking, quiet center are caught on camera. No director has ever made the effort to film the city’s inner circle and margins. As a result, Thessaloniki, which is a coastal city known for its downhill, amphitheatrical arrangement, has been rendered in cinema as arid and flat.
The only exception is Barefoot Battalion, a rare movie for which Thessaloniki constitutes—at last—an irreplaceable setting. In other words, this is a film which literally inhabits Thessaloniki and comes to being through it.” Aggeliki Mylonaki (2006)
“..The children, starring in the film, wander around Ano Poli’s narrow streets and alleys, run in the dirty roads of old Thessaloniki and seduce the camera into an endless pursuit….. within traditional settlements…..”

Aggeliki Mylonaki, Yannis Grosdanis (2012)


This is a warming-up task relevant to any type of activity.

“Tallas allows the characters to stand autonomously and spontaneously through the use of steady frames. In this manner, camera turns into a discreet and invisible observer of the children’s lives…”

“The freedom and flexibility of camera movement is as distinctive as the liberty conveyed in children’s motion. Slow, or, fast paced traveling shots depict children moving around, unfolding the narrative. The movie’s editing and pace confirm René Clair’s claim that Tallas is one of the greatest film editors in the world.”

“Objects are framed in a way that intensifies children’s presence and contribute to the frame’s overall aesthetic quality. The director bares the frame of whatever superfluous, achieving thus a minimalist effect. In the film’s final sequence, where the children’s hideout is revealed, he adopts a minimalist approach towards natural setting. The ruins and the city’s outskirts are rendered without any adornments, the way a stage designer would have done. This way, it is the children’s relationship with their environment that is mostly highlighted by the director. His use of black and white photography is exquisite. Black and white shades and light are sharply contrasted. Gaziadis’ photography brings in mind the documentary genre and may be considered as one of the best neorealist creations
in Greek cinema.”

“Mikis Thodorakis’ music score – his first ever composition for cinema – assigns to the film an internal, almost hollow and melancholic pace. It is quite moving, without getting extremely charging and excessive in its presence.”

Vervenioti (2006)



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