Catharsis (Fokion Bogris, 2010)

The bygone era of grindhouse exploitation seems to be back and very much alive thanks, in some way, to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Well, that’s what the mainstream movie press would have you believe, anyway. The truth is, grindhouse filmmaking has never really gone away but instead, the various biker movies, sexploitation flicks and slashers have tended to bow on video formats rather than making a more auspicious debut on the fleapit cinema circuit. Other than re-creating the grindhouse experience (albeit with vast quantities of studio cash) the one thing that Rodriguez and Tarantino can be given some credit for however is in legitimising exploitation films once more. Rather than languishing in direct-to-DVD hell, many of the better efforts are getting theatrical releases, and HUMAN CENTIPEDE and the upcoming HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN are both examples of this. Fokion Bogris’s CATHARSIS is another such example, and the Greek revenge thriller is set for release in the cinemas of Greece next week.

CATHARSIS is the story of Esteban (Kostas Stefanakis – a stalwart of Greek cinema, with over 40 credits to his name) a former cop who was forced to leave the police after avenging the death of his beloved wife, who herself had died at the hands of unscrupulous criminals. Leaving his home in Crete and arriving in Athens unemployed, Esteban shacks up with his disabled uncle and sets about trying to find work. It’s not long before he’s unofficially employed by some shady cops (themselves under the guidance of an even shadier government minister) to eradicate Athens’s two largest crime syndicates, by whatever means necessary…

It is immediately evident from watching CATHARSIS that writer/director Bogris is not only familiar with exploitation conventions but has an immense passion for the films that defined them. There are many moments during the film when this reviewer was reminded of Italian genre cinema of the 1970s. As a matter of fact, there’s very little in CATHARSIS that reminds the viewer they’re seeing a contemporary film, and it is obvious that Bogris, his director of photography Domenico Fusco and composer Cygnosic have deliberately gone for a 70s aesthetic. The score, in particular, is at times reminiscent of vintage Goblin, and Fusco’s beautifully rendered compositions (utilising gels and filters) evoke the work of Luciano Tovoli and Romano Albani on SUSPIRIA and INFERNO, respectively. That said, the more stylised aspects of the film’s look are often counterbalanced with a grittiness that is closer to American grindhouse films of the 70s and 80s (James Glickenhaus’s THE EXTERMINATOR or William Lustig’s VIGILANTE, for example) than it is to the slicker visuals of Umberto Lenzi or Sergio Martino’s crime films.

It is not just the aesthetics that are clearly influenced by Italian crime and American vigilante movies, either. The plot of CATHARSIS also follows closely the winning formula that made the exploitation films of the seventies so enjoyable. Many of the situations that Esteban and the villains of the piece find themselves are as calculated in creating memorable moments of savage violence as they are in propelling the narrative. Granted there’s nothing here thematically that’s remotely original, but it more than gets by on Bogris’s style and love for the medium.

In conclusion I’d wholeheartedly recommend CATHARSIS to any other lover of exploitation movies. In making the film Fokion Bogris has not only created a terrific ode to grindhouse but also a calling card that will hopefully allow him to carry on paying homage to the films he so clearly loves.                                                                                              (Paul Alaoui)