This beautifully made film tells an extraordinary story which bears witness to the indomitability of the human spirit. After the Civil War in Crete ended with the Battle of Samaria, a dwindling number of survivors of the Democratic Army took refuge in the inhospitable White Mountains. Some stayed on in caves in the south Cretan cliffs, while others were given shelter in and around Hania by sympathetic friends and contacts. In 1962 six of the remaining eight left for Italy and then Tashkent, where they spend 16 years in exile before returning to Greece.
The documentary takes us from the spectacular Samaria gorge and the White Mountains, to the refuge provided by the caves in the cliffs near Hania and to the various accommodations provided by their hosts in the villages, which in some cases consisted of a hole dug in the ground. The three survivors of the six who left in 1962, Aryiro Polychronakis, Nikos Kokovlis and Yannis Lionakis, describe with surprising humour their experiences in hiding. Argiro and Nikos spent most of 12 years sharing a stable with a donkey. Their sole entertainment over this time seems to have been peeping out at passing villagers, producing an illegal newspaper and falling in love.
A Greek review criticised the documentary as presenting only one side, i.e. that of the left, however the film is not manifestly political. While the background to the story is that of the resistance and the subsequent White Terror by the far-right, leading inevitably to civil war (with the left represented by the same people who fought in the resistance), the film does not discuss and scarcely refers to the issues or the evidence pro and contra the two sides. The focus is rather on the incredible story and the determination of the protagonists.
However for those of us whose concept of the left-wing resistance was shaped by the likes of Louis de Bernieres and Mary Stewart, there is a political point to be noted here. The left-wing partisans, rather than the brutes, rapists and cretins beloved of English novelists in their portrayal of the Greek Resistance, were clearly highly idealistic, and supremely courageous. Of the six who left there were two couples who formed permanent relationships. One of the two women became a cardiologist in the Soviet Union. What is particularly striking is that after a lifetime of fighting in the resistance, fighting in the civil war, hiding and then exile, they came home to Greece with an ability to enjoy life, to joke and to appreciate humanity.
The photography is beautiful, the light is (of course) fabulous, the story compelling and the protagonists delightful. Essential viewing for anyone interested in Crete, history or simply humanity.
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