Greek-Colombian director and screenwriter Spiros Stathoulopoulos debuted his new film, Cavewoman, in Greece last month.
Cavewoman is an adaptation of the play Electra, by Euripides. The plot follows the revenge-driven mission of a female resistance fighter to assassinate her own mother during the Nazi invasion of Greece.
The historical drama stars Greek actress Angeliki Papoulia as the protagonist and Scottish actor Ewen Bremner.
Stathoulopoulos’ take on Electra
Cavewoman‘s plot owes much to the play Electra, by the Classical Athenian tragic playwright Euripides. Euripides wrote just under a hundred plays during his lifetime in the 5th century BC. His surviving tragedies are still performed to this day.
Stathoulopoulos, who both wrote and directed Cavewoman, spoke at length on Euripides’ influence on the film. “Electra by Euripides is of course a manuscript intended to be dramatized,” the Greek-Colombian director explained.
In speaking about the film, he said:
…what personally attracts me is that the manuscript also feels like a self-sufficient literary work, i.e., it has the sort of self-sufficiency of a novel and not the co-dependency of a written play or screenplay which depend on dramatization or filmed dramatization in order to be materialized.
Film and theater mediums
Stathoulopoulos also discussed how the mediums of theater and film require different approaches.
“Euripides omits showing most of its sex and violence in action and instead describes it in dialogue,” the director explained. “Relying on dialogue in cinema for this objective would be anti-cinematic, but not if one depends on other kind of sound that is not the sound of dialogue.”
“It is for this reason that most action in Cavewoman is offscreen and its sound allows the spectator to imagine the universe around the protagonist,” he added, “as in my perception, when a film adaptation is made out of literary material that incites such imagination, the only useful way to adapt it is inciting imagination equivalently.”
“It becomes a question of how to incite imagination, and my response is the idea of excluding almost every image that is not in the optical field of the protagonist’s close-ups,” he said. “Cavewoman is like a psychological illusion created through sound.”
Cavewoman is composed of only twenty-four shots. The low number of shots is intended as a homage to the twenty-four frames per second which is the standard frame rate in most cinema and TV productions.
Stathoulopoulos took an unconventional approach to the film’s storyboard. “In my view, a screenplay’s main function is image & sound description—where action and dialogue are its essence,” he explained. “Experimenting, I figured that an animated storyboard can achieve that description with superior precision than a screenplay.”
“Referentially, watching 20 minutes of chronological animatics functions as reading the screenplay’s first 20 pages,” the director further commented. “So due to the unconventional nature of the project, I created an animated storyboard—as an alternative resource to a screenplay.”
Angeliki Papoulia stars in Cavewoman in the leading role. Der Spiegel, Germany’s largest online news site, has called her “one of the most fearless European actresses working today.”
Papoulia has previously appeared in Dogtooth (2009), Alps (2011), A Blast (2014), and the Cannes-awarded and Oscar-nominated film, The Lobster (2015). Papoulia has been awarded the Heart of Sarajevo for Best Actress.
Ewen Bremner also appears in the film. The Scottish actor has played roles in Trainspotting (1996), Snatch (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Pearl Harbor (2001), Matchpoint (2005), Snowpiercer (2013), and Wonder Woman (2017).
At the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, 2022
Cavewoman premiered at this year’s Thessaloniki International Film Festival, where it picked up the JF Costopoulos Foundation Award.
The award is “bestowed to a film that presents a comprehensive aesthetic proposition, promotes the art of cinema and demonstrates its affinities with the other arts.”
Other films by Stathoulopoulos
The Greek-Colombian director’s film debut was with the movie PVC-1, released in 2007. The film follows a family who is terrorized by a gang in Colombia. The family must remove an improvised explosive device (IED) that is made into a collar with PVC pipes and fitted to the neck of the protagonist.
PVC-1 was well-received by critics and selected for the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs. It won numerous awards in festivals, including the FIPRESCI Prize and an award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Stathoulopoulos’ second movie, Meteora, was set in the medieval monasteries of the same name. The film, which was released in 2012, was also a hit with the critics and was nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.