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While most of the world believes that the horrors of the Nazis targeted
only Jews, this documentary provides the viewer first hand narration
from Greeks, some who now have Swiss citizenship, of the incredible
sadistic acts of the German army as they mutilated and tortured
hundreds living in a Greek village called Distomo before killing them.
None of those killed were Jews, they were all Greek Orthodox
Christians. Swiss director Stefan Haupt proves the incredible power of
documentary cinema, with the use of old photographs, music, fine
narration and seamless editing.
The main narrator is Argyris Sfountouris, who was a Greek child orphaned in the brutal massacre. His house was set on fire. Overnight he lost all. As he was found to be intelligent among the hundreds of other orphans he was picked by the Swiss Government along with few others to grow up in Switzerland. Today he is an astronomer and a scientist. One of his statements is "When will reconciliation begin and hate end? How can one forget what we experienced and forget those who died? When will we learn to forget our memories and move on?" The strength of the pivotal narration is its low-key account, honest but sad. Argyris is confounded that a country that produced the soothing music of Beethoven could centuries later produce savage brutes.
Another narrator is the famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis of "Zorba the Greek" fame. He recalls the German soldiers were interested in art and Parthenon. Yet the same soldiers would break the arms of hungry Greek children stealing bread. These are some of the contradictions in human behavior, the Swiss director Stefan Haupt highlights with remarkable effect.
Theodorakis also recounts a horrible account of the Greek Orthodox Priest and his family being stripped naked, mutilated in a horrible manner, forced to do unthinkable acts and then killed.
The more jarring facet is that when the Greek village survivors appealed for compensation from Germany, the German government refused to acknowledge guilt until a few years ago when the German Ambassador to Greece finally visited the village and apologized. Even today the German official stance is that Germany and Greece are now NATO allies and compensation is therefore ruled out. To compensate Distomo victims would mean compensating many others...
Argyris tries to forget his loss and hate by working for the underprivileged in Somalia, Nepal and Indonesia. But can one forget what one remembers in childhood?
This film is powerfulonly Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's "Hitler-A film from Germany" was superior to this on a linked subject. The award winning film was screened at the 12th International Film Festival of Kerala. More people need to see the film so that similar horrors are not perpetrated elsewhere in the world. The film also offers open-ended solutions to deal with personal grief.
This is an excellent documentary. Impressive in all its technical
details, it evades sentimentalism but powerfully conveys the historical
reality of the Distomo massacre leaving the conclusions to the
audience. Argyris Sfountouris is an amazingly courageous and valiant
individual who has transformed his personal tragedy in constructive
ways. This film ought to be seen by everyone and all. Similar massacres
are still going on in our world, in different parts of the world, and
we must move to stop them.
Indeed Jews were not the only ones massacred by the Nazis, and this film makes the point with overwhelming clarity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"A Song for Argyris" is a 105-minute documentary from Switzerland with lots of Greek influence. Writer and director Stefan Haupt has done several other documentaries earlier in his career already. The title character is a Greek boy, now old man. we find out about his life during World War II and in the decades that followed. I have to say I found this documentary much more interesting in the first 60 minutes. Afterward, they showed us the impact the war and his past still have on him today, but I just found the specific World War II documentation way more watchable and it began to drag a bit in the second half. I wish they could have kept this movie at 80 minutes max. The highlight are the black-and-white recordings from the 1940s and the low-point is maybe the ending when they show the protagonist randomly moving euphorically with his arms along with the classical music played in the background. By then, I had really no idea why they included stuff like this still. All in all, not recommended. Many other documentaries out there which are more spot-on. This one here is really only interesting for Greek audiences.
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