New Greek Cinema: “What If…?”

Christoforos Papakaliatis wrote, directed and starred in “What If…?”, a hardcore romance, two ways. Will his character, Dimitris, follow his fate this way by walking the dog or that way by letting her out into the yard? Is fate so simple? This film graphically illustrates how our smallest decisions can completely change our lives, for bitterness, happiness, new life, or sudden loss.

There’s a magical quality to the film, partly because of the beautifully framed, sunlit, glowing setting (a small neighborhood in Athens), and partly because of the way the story moves forward through time, as two versions of the same couple’s relationship play out back-to-back, side-to-side.

In one version of the story, Dimitris meets Christina (Marina Kalogirou) when she runs over Dimitris’ dog, Lonesome. She gets out of the old hunk of metal she was speeding in, wearing a long silky gown, expecting forgiveness, somehow, though she becomes obnoxiously overwhelmed by her incidental shame and guilt. The pair begin to date, and quickly thereafter (because this story is on wheels), she’s angry at him and -in just a beat- we learn that they’re pregnant. The speed at which all of these life-changing events happen does not feel rushed, since it is all as romantic as a love song: short and sweet. The rest of the story- the troubles and pain- is less lyrical and much slower. The version without immediate love keeps Dimitris lonely for longer, but eventually gives him peace, and it is more methodical.

Ah, the storytelling: In a particularly heart-stopping montage, the unbearably happy couple literally walks through seasons: in a single conversation, they walk arm in arm through summer, put on their jackets as it snows mid-block in their first winter, and shake off their layers in springtime, with Christina’s growing belly visible. The two are one, for some time. They are happy, but when economic troubles hit and the last remnants of their before-each-other lives fade, they begin to fight.

Zig-zagging from one version of Dimitris’ story to the other, the twisted layers of fate unfold into equally bittersweet sagas for both tales of the protagonist Dimitris.

What if they had never met? Dimitris would be bitter and loveless. Christina would have married her boyfriend. Lonesome would have died of cancer. Quite brilliantly on the part of the writer/director, the two opposite stories are not exactly opposite, but merely oppose one another for the duration of the story. For example, it is made clear that Lonesome will die, at some point, regardless of which choice Dimitris makes in the intro scene. Christina’s child is a boy with another man and a girl with Dimitris, which shows the untold, necessarily figurative diversity of fate as a story.

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