Rembetiko is, for lack of a better way to describe it, the Greek blues. Rembetiko, the film, brings this passionate, soulful and melancholy music beautifully to life in a 110-minute musical about a Greek singer's career journey from the backstreet taverns of Pireas to the steamy nightclubs of Chicago.
Acclaimed Greek actress Sotiria Leonardou, who also co-penned the film with director Costas Ferris, stars in the film as Marika, a Rembetiko singer whose family immigrated to Greece from Smyrna after the Turks pillaged the city in 1922. The family's life in Pireas adds a wonderful cultural flavor that serves as the heart and soul of of this music and this film.
Thanks to the folks at Facets Video, this underrated 1983 gem is receiving a remastered and repackaged DVD release that includes 40 minutes of additional footage along with a special Facets collectible booklet called "Rembetiko: Singing the Blues." Together, that's over 150 minutes of heartfelt, soulful music and entertainment in a delightfully packaged and produced release (Though, on a side note one must acknowledge that Facet's ongoing struggle with typos continues as at least a couple of obvious errors remain on the wrapped DVD packaging sent to The Independent Critic. These careless mistakes DO detract from otherwise vastly improved and quality packaging).
This fictionalized musical biopic centers around the story of Greece in the early 20th century, incorporating newsreels into its live action account of the story of Marika Ninou, whose story was indeed rather tragic though it should be noted that what is presented here has been heightened dramatically for the sake of cinema. The film follows her abusive upbringing with parents who were rembetiko singers, her relationship with Bobbi (Nikos Kalogeropoulos) and the birth of their son out of wedlock and, eventually, her tragic murder by a partier during a time of heightened popularity of her band.
As is true for most musicals, Rembetiko works best when the music is going and the melancholy tunes are being belted out full-force. Leonardou has an extraordinary voice and presence, and while she's occasionally weighted down by a tad too much melodrama in the film's story and the slightly revisionist history lessons, her musical performances are mesmerizing as are virtually everyone else's throughout the film's seemingly timeless 110-minute run time.
If you are able to surrender yourself to the sounds of Rembetiko, then this is most assuredly an unforgettable and entertaining cinematic experience given wondrous new life by Facets Video. Winner of the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and several awards at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, Rembetiko is an enchanting and soul-stirring film.