Happy spring equinox! Anyone up for a cheap trip to Greece? While putting the finishing touches on my novel The Ariadne Connection, I had a powerful yearning to revisit the Greek islands that inspired the story. (Anyone familiar with me or my writing knows how important the resonance of place is to my stories.) Not able at the moment to drop everything and fly there, I settled on a quick fix via a film that perfectly captures the Greek setting and energy.
Tempest, a film released in 1982 and directed by Paul Mazursky, very loosely draws on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. With a terrific cast including the late John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, Molly Ringwald (her debut in feature films), and the late great Raul Julia as hilarious Kalibanos, the film has no shortage of talent. The plot alternates between New York city, where Cassavetes plays a famous architect goingthrough a midlife crisis, and Greece, mostly on an unnamed sunny island. He abandons his wife, who begins an affair with a rich businessman, and takes his daughter (played by Ringwald) to visit his Greek roots. There he meets cabaret singer Susan Sarandon, and the trio escape pursuit by the wife, settling in for a “folie a deux” on a remote island apparently abandoned by everyone but the eccentric Greek goat-herder Kalibanos. Raul Julia inhabits Kalibanos with a manic glee worth the price of admission, especially when he dances and plays a saxophone version of “New York, New York” to accompany his cavorting goats. Another highlight is a lovely duet by Sarandon and Ringwald as they stomp laundry in a shallow cove.
I won’t attempt to detail the convoluted plot, but it’s a fun lark that ends happily for most everyone. The main draw for me, in addition to the lively characters, is the essence of Greece captured so viscerally I could almost taste it—from crowded Athens, to the clear purple-blue sea shimmering with sunlight, to the bare, rocky island with its steep hills, scrubby brush, and crumbling Venetian buildings inhabited mostly by ghosts of the past. And, of course, the ubiquitous goats. Toh phos—that penetrating Greek light—nearly vibrates off the screen in such shots as a sleepy siesta afternoon when the camera pans languidly over the cove lapping at the rocky shingle, some laundry hung on a line, a scruffy dog sleeping in the dust, a twisted old olive tree on a cliff edge overlooking the sea. I want to be there, climb into the frame and pierce the baking silence by diving into those cool, clear depths.
So, in my nostalgic spell, I persuaded my husband Thor to watch the film on DVD with me, and the passage of time since I’d first seen it brought a caveat: As Thor pointed out, the main character played by Cassavetes is a self-centered jerk! Somehow my younger self had overlooked his alpha-male lack of consideration for the women he bosses around, forcing them into hard labor hauling rocks to build a replica of an ancient open-air theater in his drive for self-fulfilment. Wow. With age comes some wisdom, I guess—I definitely agreed that the lead character quickly became obnoxious to watch. But if you can overlook that outmoded sexist slant, and you’re caught in the still-winter-weather blahs, catch a ride with me to sunny Greece!