El Greco @ Montreal Greek Film Festival

As the name suggests, this film’s title refers to Domenicos Theotocopoulos, best known as Spain’s greatest Greek painter. Since El Greco’s release in 2007, this film has followed with 9 state awards including being recognized as one of the top 5 films presented at the Toronto Film Festival in 2008. This multi-million dollar Greek-Spanish co-production was filmed in Spain, the island of Rhodes and Athens. Its premiere was attended by Queen Sophia of Spain, former French minister Jack Lang and Vangelis (Academy Award Winner for Chariots of Fire). As stated by director Smaragdis, this is “an epic story of a Greek artist who refused to compromise, a fighter for freedom. It is a journey of light which tries to transcend the darkness of its times and reach the realm of divine.”

When Domenicos Theotocopoulos leaves his beloved Crete, he finds himself under Venetian rule in Italy until he settles in Toledo where he is confronted by his greatest adversary, the Holy Inquisition. El Greco’s unusual heroism in the face of betrayal and love to overcome the establishment of the day is exhibited through his work as a painter. His tale is a story about light versus darkness which he felt was governed by a higher mandate. His quest to transform a collective consciousness through the art of his painting is depicted in the film through his commentary as he looks back on his life. While pondering if leaving Crete was ever a mistake, he recalls what his mentor once told him, people may ask for the truth but do they really want it?

In this film, we see the evolution of the two main characters, El Greco and Grand Inquisitor de Guevera. After de Guevera requests a portrait by El Greco, the painter is brought before the court on counts of blasphemy. In front of a jury he is accused of being a dangerous heretic portrait painter whose work distracts people from their faith. In his defense he responds, “They can destroy my El Greco life but they can never destroy my reason for painting. The reason I paint is to protect light from darkness and that can never be destroyed.” As he looks at his accuser, he retorts “I pity you; you think you can thaw your soul “in reference to de Guevera’s crimes of punishment on his people. In the end what saves the painter is the reply he gives to de Guevera when he desperately asks “Can the darkness turn to light?”

When asked why a film of El Greco today, Smaragdis has stated El Greco is a positive figure who can become a role model for the people of today and tomorrow, and give faith and hope to each of us to find our own way to freedom.” Although we may not all be painters, we can all strive to understand and share the light that El Greco chose to see in his subjects when he painted them.

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