Avant-Drag! – Raindance Film Festival 2024

Reviewer: Rachel Kent

Writer: Fil Ieropoulos

Director: Foivos Dousos

You never know what might happen in Athens. You could be sitting in traffic, minding your own business, when a nun hands you a flyer promoting abortion. You might notice that the nun’s habit is not exactly habitual, revealing as it does fishnet stockings and a black bra. Er Libido is a drag king whose mission is to subvert attitudes to the church, which is “very influential politically” in Greece.

Avant- Drag introduces ten queer people, described as “radical artists re-imagining Athens.” Nearly all of them are drag kings or queens. It showcases their abundant creativity and is frank about profound pain, fear and sadness.

Elaborately costumed and made-up, everyone has an act. Parakatyanova and SerGay do variations on male/female family dynamics, in which Parakatyanova sometimes plays the kind of mother who definitely livens up a parents’ evening. Aurora, soignée in a blonde wig, has a satirical video highlighting the prejudices faced by Albanian immigrants, including her own parents. Most of them are in some way visual artists as well as performers. Lara Kolopi, whose name is a joke on Crohn’s disease she has been afflicted with for years, has a marvellous dress that is a swirling pharmacopeia. Kangela “superheroine housewife” Tromokratisch does embroidery based on icons, and forages in skips for clothes and decorative objects to express her unique Woman’s Own ca1960 style. Veronique produces exaggeratedly childlike, brightly coloured paintings, and decorates her face to look like a giant painted doll. She reclines on the pavement to draw, and children play cheerfully around her. Er Libido does something involving an apple with a partner in a dog costume. Later Veronique carries a handbag made of the same fabric as the dog – which may or may not be something to worry about. Her daughter Cruella plays Puccini at top volume to ward off the police.

All the art is rooted in suffering. There is an inevitable spectre at this feast. Kangela’s hero Leigh Bowery died of AIDS. Her hilariously disgusting stuffed cabbage leaves – it’s what she does with them – come in “papaya, HIV and egg and lemon flavours;” Veronique is HIV positive. In any case, as Kangela says, “Greece is a conservative country.” A series of headlines gives us an idea – outrage that “a man can wear women’s clothes even if he has a moustache.” Er Libido is not the only one disaffected by the church: several artists use crowns of thorns and Madonna-like drapery in distinctly un-Orthodox ways. Everyone has encountered hostility, and many feel endangered. Cotsos, who plans to transition, is “afraid of the streets in general. Every corner is full of testosterone.” McMorait, an androgynous punk persona, draped in red-stained cellophane, sits silently in Omonia Square, a living memorial to their friend Zackie Oh, killed “in broad daylight” by two businessmen and some police officers, in 2018.

Despite all this intriguing material Ieropoulos’s film borders on the tedious. It begins promisingly, with a series of seemingly random images – a dangling payphone, a patch of green glitter, a bright pink flower lying over a drain, traces of “a hidden city… amidst cracks of pavements and caves of sewers.” However, each artist is presented in a formulaic way that becomes as predictable and lengthy as the categories in a beauty pageant. There are close-ups of eyes, lips, a name with an esoteric-sounding summary, such as “wounded insurgency” or “pagan magnets,” characters in action, examples of their video art – each time ending with some often impenetrably poetic comment by Foivos Dousos, spoken by Marisha Triantafyllidou. While the people are extremely individual, the words seem to blend into a cryptic soup. What does “their temples are stains on the ceiling” actually mean? It seems a long time until everyone is gathered at Kangela’s, and, for a few minutes, we hear them discussing not just their art but the economics of trying to make a living from performance. Everyone is politically left-leaning, but, as Aurora says ‘it’s a dog eat dog’ in the entertainment industry.

This film seems long and is verbally pompous, but it leaves you with a strange sense of well-being. These are people who look out for each other. As the commentary says, “it’s a temporary city, but a loving one.”

Avant-Drag! is screening at theRaindance Film Festivalruns from 19 – 28 June in London cinemas.

The Reviews Hub Score:

Grunge and glamour

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