Described as a “genuine attempt to understand my own mother”, Thanasis Neofotistos’ 12-minute short Leoforos Patision (Patision Avenue) is a thrilling one-take short that immerses its viewers in the streets of Athens, during a period of civil unrest. A multi-layered film, that impresses with its meticulous production and taut storytelling, this exciting tale of one mother’s journey through Athens impressed on the festival circuit – premiering at the 75th Venice Film Festival and winning multiple awards at Clermont-Ferrand 2019 – before its online release.
Opening in a jovial mood, the film introduces us to its lead (referred to in the synopsis as ‘Yanni’s mum’) as she energetically bounces down the street, practising vocal exercises, elated by the prospect of a successful audition. Unfortunately, her upbeat mood doesn’t last long though, as when she discovers her young son has been abandoned by his babysitter, her journey is suddenly injected with a frantic urgency as she hurtles through the streets of Athens desperate to ensure his safety.
Shot entirely from behind in one single take, Patision Avenue is a tense, nerve-shredding watch, admirable for both its ability to make you empathize with a character whose face you never see (her ponytail is almost a character in its own right – it even has a twist to its story) and the impressive choreography needed to make the shoot a success. Describing the production as his “personal Everest as a director”, the fact Neofotistos was able to orchestrate a shoot which involved 70 extras and a complex long take in one of Athens’ busiest regions is a real testament to his skills as a filmmaker – and of his cast and crew.
Inspired by his mother’s attempts to balance her desires with the stereotypes placed on women in her community, Patision Avenue is obviously a deeply personal piece to director Neofotistos (he even admits in this short interview at Clermont-Ferrand that when he was young, he was the “kid on the phone”), so it’s impressive just how relatable it feels. Even without the context, or backstory, you feel for the film’s distraught protagonist and the panic she feels at the potential harm that may befall her beloved “Agapi Mou” is alarmingly infectious.
Despite the universal nature of the storyline, Patision Avenue also feels like a distinctly Greek film. From the language used by the distressed mother – her desperate bribes of Goody’s (a Greek burger joint my partner has also bribed me with on long journeys to visit her family) to attempt to stop her son preparing his own food – to the location of the film – the area the film was shot was the location of the 1973 Polytechnic uprising, when thousands of students occupied University buildings to demand the end of the military dictatorship in the country – the spirit of Greece is coursing through the veins of the film.
Since creating Patision Avenue, Neofotistos has directed another two shorts – Sparkling Candles and ROUTE-3 and is now in the development stage of his debut feature PETER AND THE WOLF, a dark coming-of-age folktale which won a production grant from the Greek Film Centre earlier in 2020.