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If life is about getting back on the horse, in “Tailor”’s case it’s about getting on a coach and trying to make a (new) living. “Tailor” by Sonia Liza Kenterman is a “coming-of-old-age story set against the economic crisis in Greece. It tells the story of Nikos, a master tailor, who doesn’t really fit in the world and is withdrawn into the attic of his father’s tailoring shop. With the shop about to be repossessed and his father suddenly taken ill, the imaginative Nikos decides to take action: since customers no longer come to his shop, then he will take his shop to them. He builds a wondrously strange bricolage coach—a tailor shop on wheels—and navigates the streets of Athens to sell his wares. After a rocky start, he finds success in the poor outskirts, where life seems not to have changed for over a century. He begins to thrive, specializing in exquisite, unique and inexpensive wedding dresses. He reinvents himself and finds his place in the world”.

Born to a Greek mother and German father, Sonia Liza Kenterman grew up in Greece and studied sociology in Athens and filmmaking at London Film School. “Tailor” is her first feature. She has directed two short films. The first was “Nicoleta”(2012), which takes place in 1951, at the aftermath of the Greek civil war, where a little boy, as the head of his family, is responsible for the destiny of his baby sister. Carrying the baby on his shoulders, he treks the inhospitable mountains and braves risky encounters with unforgiving people in the hope of escaping poverty. In Kenterman’s next film,” White Sheet” (2014), a woman spends her time on the highway, trying to find people to talk to.

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Thanasis Papageorgiou, Dimitris Imellos in "Tailor", dir. Sonia Liza Kenterman (2020)

Iconographically balancing between French silent cinema and realism and having as a dark background the economic crisis that turned everything around in Greece, “Tailor” is the story of a man that – better late than never – will find a way to reinvent his craft and life for the first time in his own terms. Like her protagonist, Kenterman skillfully sews together narrative codes from traditional cinema while managing to cut out many of its clichés to produce a feel-good, empowering story. “Tailor” won the Fipresci prize and the ERT Award for a Greek film as well as the Youth Jury Award at the 61st Thessaloniki International Film Festival. In her interview with Greek News Agenda* Sonia Liza Kenterman explains that she co-scripted the film along with Tracy Sunderland, having in mind those who were worst stricken by the economic crisis in Greece, people in their fifties who were unable to start all over again. Kenterman goes into the details of combining elements of French comedies and realistic cinema as well as the pros and cons of co-productions.

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Dimitris Imellos in "Tailor", dir. Sonia Liza Kenterman (2020)

In your film “Tailor”, crisis gives a reason to your protagonist, a middle-aged man, to start living on his own terms for the first time in his life. He finds out that he is stronger than he thought. Would you like to elaborate?

Although he is fifty years old, the protagonist has lived a secluded life; isolated in the shop’s attic in a microcosm he has constructed himself. The security he feels in his microcosm or the fear he feels for the outside world has made him withdraw from social interaction. But he isn’t unhappy about that fact; he is content. Nevertheless, his father and life, in general, have disheartened him. But when his father gets sick and hospitalized, he has to tackle all the practicalities that were addressed by his father. When he becomes in charge, he discovers a power that he never knew he had. The collapse of the tailoring shop is for the protagonist a form of liberation.

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Dimitris Imellos in "Tailor", dir. Sonia Liza Kenterman (2020)

How did you work on building your protagonist with your co-writer Tracy Sunderland?

We build our protagonist first and the script was written around him. We wanted to talk about a middle-aged man for whom life as he knew it completely changes. We wanted to see how a man in his fifties can find a way out and reinvent his art and his life. The idea for “Tailor” came from the fact that, to me, the worst stricken by the economic crisis were people in their fifties that had no way to keep on working or find a new job. Tracy and I were interested in a protagonist who would be unearthly, almost autistic. The protagonist has many childlike traits. It is as if his feet are not set on the ground. He lives in his own world which he has constructed sur measure.

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Dimitris Imellos in "Tailor", dir. Sonia Liza Kenterman (2020)

Stylistically, you borrow elements from the French comedies of the sixties and mix them with a realistic representation of the poor neighbourhoods of downtown Athens. Your protagonist at times reminds of Mister Hulot. His comic elements make the tragic features go softer. It’s iconographically interesting to observe the protagonist smartly dressed while dragging his hand made carrier in the poor neighbourhoods of Athens. It’s heart-wrenching watching this man in his struggle to survive against all odds. The same film could be a social drama. Would you like to elaborate?

We did extensive work with Dimitris Imellos, the Director of Photography and costume designer, we studied a lot of French cinema as well as silent films, especially Buster Kitton and Jacques Tatti. We focused on a French film titled “L'amour c'est gai, l'amour c'est triste” (1969) by Jean-Daniel Pollet. It was a conscious choice that the first part should bring to mind silent films. The protagonist is a man who lives in silence and loneliness. He has spent his entire life alone. He doesn’t talk with anyone. The only sounds he hears are those of the sewing machine. That’s why I wanted the first part to be in a silent film style. The protagonist will be gradually exposed to the outside world. Dimitris Imelos studied very closely the movement and the facial expressions in the silent films I mentioned before. We worked a lot on how the movements of a man who has learnt to live confined in a few square meters would be. When this man goes out in the streets his movements will remain confined. So the life conditions of the hero made us think about the film style and how Imellos would build the role.

It’s true that I don’t focus on the tragic part of the story, because the hero has a very lively childish side in him that makes him look at reality and its problems with childish naivety. He sees everything as an adventure. And that is why he doesn’t feel ashamed to go out with his shop on wheels away from his stylish tailor’s shop into the poorer neighbourhoods of Athens.

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His relationship with his father is another central component of the film. He lives in the shadow of his father which seems to be in better grips with reality, but nevertheless the keeper of an old world.

His father is a very domineering figure and it has always been like that. I don’t think that there is hatred between them. They love each other and share the secrets of couture and they are both great tailors. This is something that differentiates them from other people. They both belong to a different era with a different aesthetic and aesthetics are very important to both of them. Nevertheless, I believe that the son who has lived his whole life in the shadow of his father and that is the reason he remained a child (he didn’t create a family or have a love life) and he hadn’t been given the opportunity to follow his personal path.

That’s why we wanted him to switch from making costumes to bridal dresses. He was always a great tailor but his personal need to create now has the opportunity to take a different route from his father’s.

I remember once seeing a father and a son sitting in a café. They looked like characters from a period film living in a world of their own. We were looking at them with Dimitris Imellos, the film protagonist, and we were thinking how much they resembled the father and son in “Tailor”. The son in “Tailor” is as if he is a part of the rock that the father is, and if that rock doesn’t collapse, the son will never be able to live on his own terms.

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Konstantina Takalou in "White sheet", dir. Sonia Liza Kenterman (2014)

Both in ‘Tailor” as well as in your other two short films there is extended reference to poverty. Poverty in “Nicoleta” and “Tailor” is what makes the plot evolve. Were you influenced by your background as a sociologist?

I think it must have influenced me in a subconscious way because it was my first degree, sociology was a conscious choice. I knew I wanted to become a director but I wanted to have a background in sociology or political history. Poverty is a common denominator in the three films. In the case of “Nicoleta”, poverty is a result of the fact that the father is communist fighting in the Civil War and the family is an outcast from the rest of society. So the poverty there is due to political reasons. In “White Sheet”, a woman lives in a decaying house in Thiva, close to the National Highway, in the middle of nowhere. This place with houses scattered around the National Highway is not a village or a neighbourhood. The fact that scares me the most about my protagonist in “White Sheet” is the fact that she is left all alone in the middle of nowhere after the death of her husband. What moves the plot in “White Sheet” is mourning. This is another type of poverty that is very characteristic of Greek society. In “Tailor”, poverty is very much related to the economic crisis that hit Greece hard, but it’s inevitable too because the profession has become obsolete.

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Yorgos Triantafylakis, Katerina Gjoka in "Nicoleta", dir. Sonia Liza Kenterman (2012)

Both in “Tailor” and “Nicoleta” there are very dynamic, fully formed children protagonists. In many instances they are more dynamic than adults, they know what to do and they are able to make decisions that adults can’t.

“Nicoleta” takes place in a historical period where children didn’t even have a childhood. They had to grow up abruptly and live the life of an adult. The child in “Nicoleta” bears the weight of the mother’s decision regarding the infant daughter. When the child decides to go against the will of the mother and change destiny, it becomes the true protagonist of the film.

In “Tailor” the protagonist is deep down a child: his best friend, his only friend, is a child; his only real relationship is with this nine-year-old whom he considers an equal and with whom he can communicate. That child proves to be more clever and streetwise than him. She motivates him, she demands that he does things; she is a helper and an encourager. The child in “Tailor” is also very lonely.

Maybe all these strong child characters have to do with my own childhood. I was a very strong and mature child.

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Dimitris Imellos, Tamilla Koulieva in "Tailor", dir. Sonia Liza Kenterman (2020)

What are your influences?

I don’t know if my influences are evident in “Tailor”, but I’ll name a few”: Kieslowski, Italian Neorealism, Iranian cinema, the French comedies of the ’60s as we earlier mentioned, and in normal circumstances I watch a lot of cinema.

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Tamilla Koulieva, Dimitris Imellos in "Tailor", dir. Sonia Liza Kenterman (2020)

The film was completed in six years and was a Greek, German and Belgian production. Coproduction seems to be an expanding practice in Greek cinema. What is your experience?

Writing the script took a lot of time. Then we started reaching out for a producer. Co-production takes a lot of time. At the beginning of 2000, the Greek Film Centre and the National Broadcaster used to provide more funding. So in a way, coproduction is the only way to make a film. On the other hand, this extroversion has boosted creativity, because we collaborate with people from other countries that bring their know-how and fresh ideas. I also think that co-productions enhance the films extroversion because they make film distribution wider. Nonetheless, coproduction is seriously time demanding.

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Dimitris Imellos in "Tailor", dir. Sonia Liza Kenterman (2020)

What are your future plans?

Another script that I am writing together with Tracy Sunderland, which is mostly a German production with a smaller degree of Greek funding and will hopefully be concluded sooner than “Tailor”!

Read also: Interviews by Sonia Liza Kenterman with Cineuropa, as well as Dirty Movies and Cineuropa reviews.

TAILOR - Trailer from Pluto Film on Vimeo.

* Interview by FlorentiaKiortsi

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