O Drakos / The Fiend of Athens
Director: Nikos Koundouros
1956 / Greece / 103 min / 35mm / Rating PG
In Greek with English subtitles
O Drakos, an obscure Greek film from 1956 recently re-surfaced in Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, a novel that went on to become an instant bestseller and received glowing reviews from literary critics worldwide. The film follows a timid little man, working as a clerk, alone and disillusioned on New Year’s Eve. On his way home, he realises he possesses an uncanny resemblance to a renowned
serial killer whose photograph has just been published in the newspaper. The word drakos (monster or dragon) is the Greek term for serial killers or rapists. He soon finds himself running away, as everyone he knows including the police mistake him for the Monster. A gang of awestruck crooks rescues him from imminent arrest and forces him to take charge of a desperate criminal scheme they have got going. The poor man becomes enamoured of the idea and decides for once in his sad life to be a tough guy and a hero. He surrenders to his bizarre destiny: to be The Fiend of Athens.
An immediate feature of O Drakos is the violent contrasts between light and darkness. A primordial conflict permeates the film with an atmosphere of disillusionment and a sense of foreboding. This is derived as much from the characters depicted as the cinematographer’s art. In essence, this distinctive feature is a significant characteristic of the sub-genre film noir which is founded on the principle of contrastive lighting and highly stylised visuals and narratives. A femme fatale, another primary film noir characteristic, inhabits O Drakos’ shadowy world. As a sub-genre of the crime and thriller movie, film noir had reached its maturity the year before with the release of Robert Aldrich’s
Kiss Me Deadly (1955). From 1956, film noir became a recognised genre. Many films that were subsequently considered film noir masterpieces were released, including Alfred Hitchcock’s similar themedThe Wrong Man, Fritz Lang’s Beyond a Reasonable Doubt and While the City Sleeps, and Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing.
While O Drakos shares many visual and thematic preoccupations with the so-called film noir genre, director Nikos Koundouros went beyond the genre conventions in often startling ways. The all-consuming film noir aesthetic is strikingly juxtaposed with that of a cinematic realism - neo-realism, the kind perfected by the post-war Italian filmmakers. Other than the lead actors, the rest of the cast are non-professionals. O Drakos married disparate and improbable styles and while it was rejected by the critics of the day, the film was a harbinger of cinematic art in Greece