“Cloudy Sunday” (“Ouzeri Tsitsanis”)
During World War II when Greece was under the control of Germany, Giorgos, a young Christian, fell in love with a young Jewish woman, Estrea, even though this was strictly forbidden. Director Manousos Manousakis’s based his film on a novel by Giorgios Skabardonis (not available in English) that looks at the experiences of Ladino speaking Jews and musicians who play a lot of passionate songs and much lovely music by Vassilis Tsitsanis (Andreas Konstantinou) that was written during this period. The film is set in Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece and that under the Nazis in 1942.
I understand that this is the first film that shows the decimation of the city’s Sephardic Jewish community which went from over 50,000 Jews to just over 1,900 survivors. representative. The central story is a Romeo & Juliet tale of young Estrea (Christina Hilla Fameli) who dared to help the Resistance by typing up transmissions about German military activities in Greece to be sent on to the British. She fell in love with Giorgos (Haris Fragoulis), a Christian radio operator/carpenter/waiter. Estrea defies her parents’ arrangement to marry David Revah (Abraham Cohen), and is cut her off from her family when she admits her relationship with Giorgos. There is a bit of sick humor when Estrea’s father tells her that she is dead to him as they are going to be aboard the transport that tales them to Auschwitz any day soon. .
Estrea’s mother is the most fatally intransigent about leaving their long-time home even with the hints of the coming disaster. In the scenes in the synagogue that has become a community meeting space, the women restricted to the balcony and speak out. Vassilis and his live music band and venue, much like the tragic lovers, never find themselves too far away from danger. The tragedies and horrors of Nazi occupation are sorrowfully depicted in the lives of the people of small-town, 1940s Greece.
Although Giorgos works in Tsitsanis’ tavern, there is not that much to weave the two plot threads together as we follow detached storylines. Each storyline, however, has its own points of interest, and enough to continue the compelling tone of the film.
For the love story, it is the strength of the main actors’ performances that give a distinct and impressive edge to the familiar forbidden love story. There are scenes that painfully show the distress of Nazi occupation. The music is both a delight and mournful, demonstrating the emotions and tragedy of the film. Visually, “Cloudy Sunday” is stunning and the film is a testament to the hard work of the filmmakers, who took three months to shoot it with over two thousand extras and six thousand costumes.
The final act of the film, in which the first trains taking Jews to concentration camps depart, brings us the most harrowing reminder of the terrible, inhumane acts of Nazi Germany. Though occasionally theatrical, the film never hesitates from showing the brutalities of the times and reminding us that we must never forget the horrors of the past. The greatest strength of the film is how it shows human courage, and the ability to overcome fear and prejudice and this is as important today as it was in the 1940s.