A touch of spice

Tassos Boulmetis

Greece-Turkey, 2003





Racial Discrimination
Friendship / Love


The Filmic Context

 What happens in cinema theaters in the 1990s?

After facing the box office crisis of the 80s, cinema “decides” to bring the people back to the theatres. Multiplex cinemas lead Greek cinema to adopt a fast paced aesthetics, full of elements of the comedic genre, medium shots and close-ups, dialogues with of advertising-like catchphrases, or light-hearted themes that are presented with a pinch of salt. The sold tickets skyrocketed to the level of six-digit numbers: a phenomenon that repeated the glory of the golden age of Greek cinema, that fell into decay in the early 1970s.

New technologies and digital cinema give us the opportunity to boost the production, explore new possibilities, and open a creative dialogue with television. These activities were reinforced by the European co-productions and the presence of the support funds Eurimages and Eurofound, which opened up new perspectives for European Cinema. Digital shooting and image processing drastically reduce the production costs, they allow more young people to acquire a hands-on experience on an art field that was previously “forbidden” due to its high cost, while at the same time they acquaint many aspiring directors with the expressive means of the seventh art, without the restrictions of a demanding production system. In this undeniably unprecedent situation that is still under construction and full of challenges and potentials, emerges tomorrow’s cinema.

Historical Context

 The following extract is complementary to the first activity.

The efforts to weaken the Greek community in Istanbul were already present in 1932. Initially, the Turkish government banned the practice of several professions (law 2007/1932), then came the forced conscription to labour battalions in 1941, the Varlık Vergisi (the “wealth tax” or “capital tax”, 1942-1944), and of course the atrocities that bursted on the night of September 6, 1955.

Thus, İsmet İnönü’s government activated a strong plan in March 1964, aspiring to destroy the Greek community in Istanbul. One of the basic factors that affected the deportations was the resurgence of the Cyprus dispute, which led to an aggravation in Greek-Turkish relationships and to the mass deportations of Greeks from Istanbul. The occasion was Archbishop’s initiative to amend 13 points at the constitution of the Republic of Cyprus in 1963, in an effort to face the malfunction that was present in the administration of the newly founded state. On the occasion of the above, in December 1963, violent conflicts broke out between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots. The Greek government asked for the intervention of the British forces to prevent the massacre on the island and the invasion of the Turkish forces with which Ankara had threatened Athens and NATO. However, despite the agreement that was signed in Nicosia regarding the termination of the termination of aggression and the exchange of captives, acts of animosity were continued. The Turkish press published on a daily basis horrific pictures of Turkish people that were murdered by the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA), while at the same time, the Greek Cypriots had to endure the actions of the Turkish Resistance Forces.

At the same time, Turkey decided to treat all Greeks living in Turkey as hostages, in order to persuade the Greek government to negotiate under the conditions set by Ankara. Consequently, even though Article 2 of the Convention Concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations that constitutes an inextricable part of the International Treaty of Lausanne clarified that the Greeks of the city of Istanbul were exempted from removal (according to the Treaty, “the Greeks of Constantinople are the ones who have already settled before 30 October 1918 in the periphery of the prefecture of Constantinople as defined by the law of 1912”), Turkey presumed that only the Turkish minorities were entitled to stay in Istanbul according to the Treaty of Lausanne (signed on 1923), while the Greeks remained in the city according to the Greek-Turkish convention (signed in 1930).

It is worth mentioning that the Greeks of Istanbul had acquired Greek citizenship because their ancestors originated from the provinces of the Ottoman Empire that were appended to the Greek State from 1830 onwards. These local inhabitants, who were defined as established/établis)», were 26,431 in 1927 and the clauses of the Treaty of Lausanne allowed them to stay in Turkey. In 1964 the number of the Greek citizens was 12,000 in a total of 90,000 expats living in Istanbul.

Thus, right after denouncing the Convention that violated the Treaty of Lausanne, approx. 10,500 inhabitants of Istanbul that held Greek passports were found exposed. Turkish authorities initiated the deportation of Greek citizens on the basis of security reasons, and compiled lists of names of distinguished members of the Greek minority, but also of other people such as: Dimitris Manikas (real estate agent), Dionysios Varatas (merchant), Nikos Orlandos (merchant). The deported were permitted to carry only twenty kilos of personal belongings and 200 Turkish liras, while exporting furniture and heirloom valuables was strictly forbidden. In addition to the above, Turkish policemen took the Greeks from their own houses or their working places, and sent them to the security office, and more specifically, to the “Greeks Department,” forcing them to sign that they accepted the deportation act, that they were members of the Greek Union that was accused for political activities against the Turkish state, that they have provided financial help to Greek-Cypriot terrorists, and that they were leaving Turkey of their own free will. What followed was the campaign against commercial transactions with the Greeks, as well as the confiscation of the Greek citizens’ bank accounts.

The 1964-65 persecutions didn’t only affect the Greeks of Istanbul, but also brought adversities to the Greek Diaspora in Turkey in total. Despite the existence of some kind of formal distinction (in other words, the 4/5 of the Greek minority had Turkish nationality – mostly for historical reasons – while only 1/5 had Greek nationality, family and professional bonds between the two communities were so tight, that in action the deportation of Greek citizens resulted in the concurrent exodus of expats with Turkish citizenship (husbands, parents, children, etc.). Unquestionably, the deportation of Greek citizens in the years 1964-65 was one of the most brutal and harsh violations of the Treaty of Lausanne. Furthermore, the deportation of approx. 12,000 Greeks was an act of major violation of the fundamental human rights, as stated in the Charter of the United Nations and the European Convention of Human Rights (1950), endorsed by Turkey in 1954.

 Sources: Rıdvan Akar & Hülya Demir (1994). İstanbul’un Son Sürgünleri (The Last Exiles of Constantinople), Istanbul: Iletisim

Dravalou, Paraskevi (2016). Constantinople after 1923: Memories and Monuments. Master Thesis, available at https://dspace.lib.uom.gr/handle/2159/19624.

Expressive Means

The following extract is complementary to the first activity (question group 3).

The images often overwhelm us: The shots from Istanbul, both in old and contemporary times, are filmed with love and faith; Renia Louizidou’s eyes are dripping tenderness and pain; the youth’s daydreaming that is lost in adulthood. Beauty is all over us, but it is often too pressing – just like an overladen dish with many delicious ingredients and confusing outcome. The music that often embraces us, suffocates us at the same time, thus undermining our ability to empathize and framing our sentiments in a specific dogmatic way, only superficially contextualizing them. Fanis’ narration doesn’t fall in the trap of clarification, it is mellow yet aloof, judging by the sentimental weight on screen – it feels like an old story, a fairytale for our children that we remember but hardly ever feel anymore. Who knows, perhaps our hero’s voice is a voice from the future: In the future, he’s standing over a delicious-smelling cooking pot, he has come to terms with exile, death and the mixture of the sour, bitter or sweet flavors this life has to offer…

Lilly M. Papagianni, CINEMA, November 2003, Vol. 150

Collective Memory

The following extract can be used complementary to the first activity (question group 3).

Through the cooking of the mezedes (tapas) of the Istanbul cuisine, the sultry smells of spices and their mixes, the ritual of food preparation, the repast that is triggered by the filling tastes and the act of eating together, which forges indissoluble relations among the members of a family and/or a community, the film addresses the issues of individual and collective memory. The film establishes a recognisable place of memory and nostalgia, where each individual spectator can find a place and a reference point. On the occasion of the planned visit of the grandfather from Istanbul to Athens that will never happen, the film follows the main character/narrator – a forty-year-old Istanbul Greek – in a series of flashbacks and retrospections in different times and spaces. We watch him lingering betweeen Athens, where he moved when he was still a young boy and he lives up to this day, and Istanbul of his childhood, between past and present, between dream and reality. In this alternative way of treating memory and the interpretation of the past, free of reductions to ethnocentric stereotypes, the film visualizes the unforeseen and surprising deprivation of a person’s birthplace and the painful loss of the cohesive bonds of childhood: the favorite places, beloved faces, and everyday practices and rituals. In other words, it visualizes the certainties that comprise the self-image, the identity and the sense of belonging in a familiar, identifiable universe.

Maria Moira, A Touch of Spice: A Place of Memory, Avgi, Anagnosis, 21 February 2016.

Music Narrates

The following extract can be used complementary to the first activity (question group 3).

“The most thrilling moment is when I add the sound. That moment gives me the shivers.”

Akira Kurosawa

Film Clip Α: The music theme “The Station” begins at 35’16’’ in the train station of Istanbul and finishes at 38’51’’ at the Greek customs office, upon the arrival of Fanis, who starts realizing the new difficult life stage, which comes in contrast with the experiences he had gathered by that age. This music complements the images by creating intense feelings through the use of crescendo (the gradual increase in loudness) and its use as a background that highlights the dialogues between the grandfather and the grandson and between Fanis and Saime in the farewell scene. This musical unit begins quietly and at the same time with the opening scene in the station. We can hear the sound of the accordion (the melody), which is accompanied by a double bass on the first beat of the bar (downbeat) and a string instrument (lavta or politiko laouto or lute from Constantinople) maintaining the rhythm with sixteenth notes (building the semiotics of the train station’s mobility. This particular musical unit functions complementary to the rendering of the culmination of the basic political-historical-social context, which is the deportation of the Greeks of Istanbul in 1964. Its title, which has multiple connotations when examined in parallel to the farewell scene in the train station, defines a milestone in the life of the  protagonists (and especially to the life of young Fanis): their expatriation from their place of origin, their dispossession.

Excerpt Β: The musical unit Return comprises two smaller musical phrases. It begins at 1:11:30 and ends at 1:14:57. It relates to a scene that unravels in an indoor space, in the living room of Savvas Iakovides’ apartment in Athens, after a family dinner that came to an end with the abrupt departure of the guests. The first phrase, provisionally entitled “Nostalgia,” begins at 1.14.08 as a slow-paced, monophonic, low-volume musical accompaniment, played by a cello. The first phrase accompanies the words of Savvas, who reminisces the life of his family in Istanbul, but also describes the moment Turkish authorities announced their deportation. In a monologue, the actor blames himself because it only took him five seconds to consider renouncing his faith. In exchange, the whole family could have stayed in Istanbul (emotional operation). His monologue ends with the phrase: “Grandpa won’t come tomorrow either.”

Anna Vlahopanou, The Function of Musical Narrative in The Touch of Spice, in the Historical Context of the Era, MA Thesis, Florina 2017

The Director Remembers

I was born in Istanbul in 1957 and arrived in Greece with my family in 1964, during the expulsion. I found myself in Istanbul exactly 30 years later, to see our old house, my father’s store, and my grandpa’s grocery… When I ringed the doorbell of my old school, it was my old teacher, Ms. Amalia, who opened the door – I hadn’t seen her since First Grade. Both my grandfathers were born and died in this city. The Greeks who lived in Istanbul were active and vigorous members of a healthy community (and not passive and idle members of a minority) that was unlucky enough to endure the consequences of a clash between two political strategies: On the one hand, there was the nationwide Turkish political strategy, which exterminated a healthy part of the society with virtuosity and timeless patience; on the other hand, there was the short-sighted Greek political strategy, which promoted the interests of the parties, lacked tactics and vision, and unconsciously resulted in the shrinkage of the healthy part of the Greek Diaspora. Therefore, there is rage and fury in this film, but it mostly addresses to my “own” people, and not to my “enemies.” A Touch of Spice is a story that tries to unfold in a way in which an Istanbul local would narrate his story to a diplomat that is not necessarily on his side…



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