Symbolically, the first century of Greek cinema opened and closed in the name of the Maniaki brothers: To vlemma tu Odyssea (1995; The gaze of Ulysses) by Theo Anghelopulos takes the protagonist on a journey to the Balkans on the trail of films made by the pioneers of cinema Milton and Yanaki Manaki (1882-1964; 1878-1960). Born in the Wallachian village of Avdala, near Grevena (Greek Macedonia), they were the first, in the 1910s, to take up historical, political, habits and customs of their country of origin and the Balkans, ranging from Macedonia to Albania., to the regions of the former Yugoslavia, to Romania. Their work aroused strong impressions in all these countries, some of which often claimed a kind of spiritual paternity towards the two directors. The cinema appeared in Greece on November 28, 1896, with the first public screening in a theater in Athens, but only around the middle of the 20th century. we can talk about the birth of a national cinema:
The beginning of the production takes place in 1909, by the Franco-Hungarian József Hepp (also inventor of a subtitling system that lasted until the seventies) and his students; then in 1911 the well-known comic actor Spyridion Dimitrakopulos created Quo vadis Spyridion, while starting from 1914 an Italian, Filippo Martelli (renamed Filippos Marteglis) created, together with Nikos Kukulas, the studio in which, with Kostas Bachatoris, he shot the following year mythical Gulf, based on the rural comedy by S. Peressiadis and considered the first film of Greek cinema. This pastoral idyll was the first of a kind (the fustanelle, named after the skirts of the traditional male costume) that would last for decades. Like this one, other early period films also brought nineteenth-century theatrical texts and popular myths to the screen, enhancing the characteristics of popular performances, suitable for the diffusion of the new instrument; Dafnis ke Chli (1931, Dafne and Chloe) by Orestis Laskos stands out from them for a greater refinement. The only film to touch on the pressing problem of unemployment between the two wars was Kinoniki sapila (1932, Marciume sociale) by Stelios Tatassopulos, while in terms of historical interest a large number of documentaries had been made ‘in the field’ during expeditions to Asia Minor (1919-1923).
By investing in modern machinery and always making use of the same technical and artistic staff, Finos beat the competition and reached quality levels that were difficult to match. Taking American cinema as a model, he personally chose highly popular subjects and directors such as Dimitris Ioannopulos, Giorgos Tzavellas, Nikos Tsiforos, Alekos Sakellarios. In the forties he produced twelve films, in the fifties about thirty, a hundred in the sixties. The first Greek sound film, directed by him personally, Tragudi tu chorismu (1939, Il canto della separation), is due to Finos and his modern equipment. The advent of sound had a different meaning for Greece than for other countries: the public was finally listening to her language and music, which had been hidden up until a short time before by the Turkish domination. Cinema thus contributed to the re-emergence of a culture that had hitherto been suffocated. After the Second World War broke out, the Nazis invaded Greece in 1941 and in 1942 the Resistance began to organize itself throughout the country. The documentaries of ELAS, the Hellenic Liberation Army, shot in that period were seized by the Germans and never found again. Meanwhile, cinema did not deal with the theme of war, as it happened in almost all the other nations involved in the conflict, for fear of censorship; in this climate the greatest success was obtained I foni tis cardias (1943, The voice of the heart) produced by Finos and directed by Ioannopulos, a melodrama interpreted by famous actors of tragedy and theater. Chirokrotimata (1944, Applause) by Tzavellas is considered the most important film of the time.
In 1944 the Greece was freed by the allied forces and shortly thereafter the civil war broke out: I Germani xanarcontai (1948, The Germans Return) by Sakellarios, produced by Finos Film, paradoxically hoped for the return of the Germans as the only means of rediscovering the unity of the country torn by civil war and had a great success. Numerous production houses were born and died in a short time in that period, characterized by easy-to-eat films. Meanwhile, the audience grew, and with it the import from the United States: in 1948, three hundred American films hit theaters. The film genres favored by the public were popular melodramas such as O methystakas (1950, L’ubriacone), the great success of Tzavellas played by Orestis Makris in the part.
The theme of sacrifice was central at that time for a large part of Greek films, many of which were based on the cliché of the single mother who manages to live with dignity in a society that condemns her: thus, in a historical phase in which the real problems they were poverty and unemployment, the message that cinema conveyed was a resigned acceptance of one’s condition. The films produced by the studios showed no trace of the critical stimuli of Italian Neorealism, whose influence mostly stopped in the choice of titles; To pikro psomi (1951, Pane amaro) by Grigoris Grigoriu, I mauri gi (1952, Terra nera) by Stelios Tatassopulos, about the life of a Naxos mining village, created with the contribution of the entire population; To xypolyto tagma (1954, Barefoot Battalion) by Gregg Tallas which tells of the struggle for the survival of gangs of orphans in German-occupied Thessaloniki; also worth mentioning is Nekri politeia (1951, Dead city) by Frixos Iliadis, the first Greek film presented at the Cannes Film Festival (in the 1952 edition), thanks to which international critics discovered the actress Irene Papas.