In Crete, 1943, a young man dramatically expires in his wife’s arms. She swears angrily before the villagers that her family will avenge his death. So begins a vendetta against Vasilli Philipakis, the man who shot her husband. This is the operatic opening of Beware of Greeks Bearing Guns, an Australian-Greek co-production directed by John Tatoulis (The Silver Brumby).From 1943 we jump swiftly to 1971. Maria (Noni Ioannidou) is trying, with limited success, to instil a passion for vengeance in sensitive eldest grandchild Manos (Dimitri Kaperonis). Moving forward another 30 years to the present day, the elderly Philipakis has finally been located in Melbourne. Manos (Lakis Lazopoulos), now a mild-mannered schoolteacher, is dispatched to Australia against his will to kill him and restore the family honour.
Beware of Greeks Bearing Guns combines broad ethnic humour with age-old mistaken identity gags and romantic comedy. Confusion reigns when Manos’ polar-opposite, trigger-happy twin George (also Lakis Lazopoulos) arrives to ensure Manos carries out his orders. Zoë Carides as Nicki, the fiery daughter of the old friend Manos stays with in Melbourne, supplies the ingredients for romance.
Filmed in Melbourne, with bookend scenes in Crete, Beware of Greeks Bearing Guns is a small but likeable film with an undemanding message about forgiveness and life’s unpredictability. The screenplay (by Tom Galbraith and Lazopoulos) cheerfully embraces every Greek cliché and stereotype you can think of, but the film was nevertheless a hit in Greece last year.
I suspect the success was largely attributable to Lazopoulos’ status there as a big star. He delineates his dual roles so markedly that it took a few scenes for me to be sure he was also playing George. Zoë Carides impressively holds her own against the scene-stealing John Bluthal as her father, and Anastasia Malinoff adds a wicked charm in her small part as the flirty neighbour.Tatoulis cheats by completely restaging the 1943 scenes at the climax, instead of merely reinterpreting them from another character’s point of view. But he sensibly keeps Lazopoulos (as Manos), Carides and Buttazzoni (as Nicki’s teenage daughter) from slipping into caricature, so we continue to take their relationship dilemmas seriously. Tatoulis’ touch is generally light and he supplies a neat running visual gag of rooms and cars cloudy with smoke from the ubiquitous cigars. A score by legendary composer Mikis Theodorakis adds to the Greek flavour.