Up, Down, and Sideways: Cacoyannis Farce about Modern Athens, Starring Irene Papas as Mother of Gay Son

(Pano Kato Ke Plagios)

Michael Cacoyannis emerges out of semi-retirement with Up, Down and Sideways, an amusing farce about the wild and crazy inhabitants of modern-day Athens.

Teaming again with his favorite leading lady, Irene Papas, and featuring good-natured humor, it’s Cacoyannis’ most accessible film since his 1964 international hit, Zorba the Greek. Focusing on the very contemporary, hip lives of a mother and her gay son, comedy has good chances for limited theatrical release.

Sex farce has a great opener that sets the tone for the whole film: a traffic jam in Athens, with people losing their temper, and a bank robbery with the wrong gangsters caught. However, nothing that follows this sequence matches its irreverent mood, fast pace, and masterly mise-en-scene.

Gay Directors, Gay Films? By Emanuel Levy (Columbia University Press, August 2015).

Dominating the comedy is Irene Papas, a middle-aged, prosperous widow who is sharing her elegant house with her handsome gay son (Stratos Tzortzoglou). Enjoying an open, most amiable relationship, mother and son also share great passion for the opera. Enter Anestis (Panos Mihalopoulos), a young gym instructor, who claims to be Maria Callas’ nephew and manages to confuse both mother and son.

At the climax, directed in the best tradition of Georges Feydeau’s bedroom farces, Papas entertains her athletic beau upstairs, while her son courts a sailor downstairs. They are, of course, unaware of each other’s activities. Doors open and close, and lovers are caught with their pants down, when a transvestite arrives at the house under circumstances too convoluted to be described.

Cacoyannis, who wrote, directed, and edited, pays hommage to his own oeuvre, when in the midst of the chaos a cab driver turns on the radio and the famous score of Zorba the Greek plays loudly and joyously–to the utmost amazement of Irene Papas, who appeared in that film.

The three lead characters are always credibly vivid and sympathetic. At 67, the still beautiful Papas gives a charming performance as the open-minded, amorous widow–and dream mother of every gay man. It’s a welcome change of pace for an actress mostly known for essaying the Greek tragedies (Electra, The Trojan Women). The handsome Tzortzoglou and the romantic Mihalopoulos lend reliable support as the sensitive son and macho instructor respectively.

Light on its feet even in its weak moments, Up, Down and Sideways is Greece’s refreshing contribution to a growing body of films about the ever-changing lifestyles in big, cosmopolitan cities.

It’s also a most desirable move for Cacoyannis, whose erratic and sporadic career has included too many pretentious films.