A new series on Amazon Prime has brought me as much pleasure as much else I’ve watched recently – it even had me doing something I’ve never done before. I watched it a second time within a few weeks.
Greek Salad was created by Cédric Klapisch who also directed several of the eight episodes. Klapisch’s wife, Lola Doillon, also directed several episodes and was a major writer for the series. Klapisch is a director with a solid career, many successful films, with prizes and nominations from many major Film Festivals. Yet, he doesn’t seem to have quite become a “name director”, the kind who attracts scholarly monographs from academic writers.
But Klapisch has had name recognition for me since I saw his second feature Le Péril Jeune (1993) on SBS quite some years ago. That title makes you think “Yellow peril” (peril jaune) but is in fact the Young Peril (“péril jeune). Just as one of its English titles Good Old Daze has that double meaning when you hear it said. Péril Jeune featured a 20 year old Romain Duris, who Klapisch discovered in a queue somewhere. Duris has now appeared in many subsequent Klapisch films, often as an erstwhile stand-in for the director himself.
Romain Duris (3rd from left),Le Péril Jeune
In Le Péril Jeune, Duris plays Tomas. At school, he is rebellious and hedonistic. But several years have passed since his group left school. Now, it’s his death from a drug overdose that has brought together four of his from school friends to support Sophie who is expecting Tomas’ baby. Their memories of those school days become the film we’re watching. The standout impression is the strength of the friendship that was forged with Tomas and his schoolmates – and Sophie. The group has the warmth and intensity of a family; and it is this ability to create family groups in his films that is a strength of Klapisch’s work. And Tomas was the catalyst.
In 2002, Klapisch made L’Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment). This is built around Xavier, a French economics graduate who has gone to Barcelona to study on an Erasmus scholarship. He finishes up flatsharing with a group of other Erasmus scholars, from a range of West European countries.
Romain Duris, Cecile de France, The Spanish Apartment
The film has a strong sense of warmth in the relationships between all young people in this group welds into a family over the course of the year. But it is not a sentimentally portrayed group. There is conflict, friendship, petty disagreements, and mutual support. It feels like this family could last for years, but the reality is that at the end of the year it must dissolve, and they’ll all go on to their own paths in different countries. Although it does look like Xavier and Martine will be getting back together, a relationship disrupted when Tomas took up the Barcelona scholarship.
A few years later, we meet up with Tomas again in Russian Dolls (2005) and some of the friends from the apartment, when they gather in Russian for the wedding of William, whose sister Wendy was one of those flatsharing students. Now, the story gets complicated with sisters, flatmates, friends, but in Klapisch’s world there’s that creation of the kind of circles we know in real life, where people we meet in one circle, may become part of our life in other circles, and circles overlap with circles, like a crazy geometric painting.
Romain Duris, Audrey Tautou
And this continues with Chinese Puzzle, (2013). Duris is again at the centre as Xavier. And there are more characters carried over from the earlier two films. All we need to worry about at the moment is that Xavier’s relationship history has been quite colourful. His original relationship with Martine sometimes becomes rekindled. Now there are two children, Tom and Mia. Tomas is the father, Wendy (yes, from the Spanish Apartment days) is their mother, though Tom and Wendy are no longer a couple, just sometimes fractious friends. We don’t see much of Tom and Mia. They’re only kids after all, and the adults around them are probably more focused on their own issues.
A lot of this film takes place in New York, and we’re in a rich, multi-cultural environment around Chinatown. Don’t worry if my attempts to trace the family relationships over those three films is not very coherent. But we’re now going to meet Tom and Mia as young adults. Now they are characters in their own right and I’ve shared enough with you as background.
Wikipedia gives us a neat recap to set the situation:
Siblings Tom and Mia, the children of Xavier and Wendy from L'Auberge Espagnole, move to Athens after inheriting an apartment from their recently-deceased grandfather. Tom intends to sell the apartment and use the proceeds to fund a startup company, but the anti-capitalist Mia has other plans in mind.
Greek Salad starts with a funeral, and if you’ve seen the earlier films, you will recognise some of the family/families. But essentially, we’re meeting Tom, an independent, international young man with family in France and England, living in New York and looking to start his own Startup company with his trophy girlfriend. Mia has not come to her grandfather’s funeral, staying behind in Athens where everyone believes she’s studying on an Erasmus scholarship like her father had done in Barcelona.
But when we meet her, she’s quit her studies, and is working with an NGO that’s trying to assist refugees and asylum seekers. And working out of semi-derelict buildings and sometimes squats. The siblings have been left a building in their grandfather’s will and they’re reunited when Tom goes to Athens for inheritance formalities.
Now, the series can unfold its stories. And I’m not going to go through it. That’s for you to enjoy. But I must comment on some of the things I loved about this. One is Klapisch’s ability to create credible worlds for his characters. One aspect of this is the geography., It’s certainly not limited to his native France. (His filmography includes Paris (2008) and Back to Burgundy (2017). And you’ll have noticed the pattern in the earlier films centred around Duris’ character Xavier – Spanish Apartment, Russian Dolls, Chinese Puzzle (though here the main setting is New York.)
Tom (Aliocha Schneider) and Mia (Megan Northam) and refugees and
students with whom they share an abandoned apartment building in Athens
Now we’re in Athens. But in Klapisch’s hands, it is not just an exotic location. Of course, it’s Athens and it’s a city of ancient monuments. They’re there, and acknowledged, but as background. Hey, here’s the view of the Acropolis from our balcony – yes, there it is, between those two building in front of us. and it really is a complete city.
Much of the action takes place down at ground level, areas where the tourists don’t usually go. Here are the streets with all the graffiti, and buildings left derelict apart from the squatters. The bars where students find work. The storylines explore not only interesting family relationships – and they’re inevitably interesting, with that family that’s had Tomas as its father figure over about twenty years. The position of refugees is a crucial element, and we get a glimpse of the enormous variety of people who become refugees. These are not deadening statistics of people drowning, but real people worried about where their mother is, or concern over the genital mutilation a young woman may face if she’s forced back home.
Tom and Maria with their parents Xavier (Romain Duris)
and Wendy (Kelly Reilly)
I enjoyed spending time with these wonderful young people. I was interested and involved in the social issues it featured.