History has delivered its triumphal verdict: the time when extremists like him could defend all kinds of lost causes, as long as their purpose was to turn into ashes any organised society, has gone; it's time for him to start a new chapter.With that thought, Nico Papatakis completes his fictional autobiography and, with the revolver given to him by a bunch of terrorists after an operation, he puts an end to his book's hero, saying goodbye to his pale reflection from the example of which, according to the narrative's closing words, he could learn.A death directed by a filmmaker,we think to ourselves. Kazantzakis gave his own explanation elsewhere, without equivocation:"'Desperado' means: he who knows very well that he has nothing to hold on to; he who believes in nothing, and because he does not believe he is overcome by fury. His nature is only exalted though rebellion. Which is the way for him to fulfil his own law? He must disturb the peace, he must crush protocol, he must stray from his ancestors.He must ramble in places that are forbidden, through the imposing and dangerous regions of uncertainty. He must accept calmly -and even more so: as a blessing-the curse of his mother and father. He must have the courage to be alone." That, in a nutshell, is the life and work of Nico Papatakis.
In the first post-War years, Papatakis was known all over Paris as the owner of "La rose rouge" nightclub, which was frequented by the Existentialists and Juliette Greco. The theatricality and especially the burlesque humour of his films originated in the performances of "La rose rouge". The theme of the one and only film made by his close friend Jean Genet, A Song of Love (1950), which was produced by Papatakis and was banned for many years, also sums up Papatakis' own universe, using as its spearhead the anti-authoritarian and anarchic nature of homosexuality: it is the story of a solitary individual who stands up to an encoded society which operates according to a Procrustean logic.The same obsession can be discerned in Papatakis' involvement in the production of John Cassavetes' Shadows (1959), at the time when he was living in New York with The Velvet Underground's singer Nico. Shadows was the precursor to the austere form Papatakis would observe in his own cinema.A cinema which resembles handicraft, and where even technical errors are transformed into virtues.
Under the weight of this heritage, Papatakis' original directorial oeuvre revolves around one single theme: the relations between master and slave, humiliation and revolution, on both a political and personal level.Two alienated maids who slaughter their employers that symbolise colonialist France (The Depths, 1963); a shepherd of the lumpen proletariat who dares to question the traditional values of a bourgeoisiefied sheep farmer that represents Greece of the Colonels (Pastures of Disorder, 1967); an independent anarchist female terrorist who suffers all kinds of physical torture and degradation because of her belief in a revolutionary ideal (Gloria Mundi, 1975/2005); a wretched immigrant who, reaching the dead-end of his false life, rebels by crushing his benefactor, i.e. himself (The Photograph, 1986); a relentless author who stretches his love object until it breaks and sweeps him away, deadening his creative imagination (Walking a Tightrope, 1991); all these stories, with their protagonists from among the earth's damned, are used as evidence of the theorem which, in the footsteps of an anarchic Bunuel, Papatakis proposes: violence, as an expression of autonomous action (and not the institutionalised resistance through organised socio-political structures which reproduce in their interior the structures which they are supposed to be challenging), is a valid means towards the overthrow of an oppressive social, political or moral order.
And today, what is left of that paroxysm of struggling so that "that which is wasted does not to go to waste"; of unconditional belief in an ideal; of the rejection of all compromises; of the frenzy of utter rebellion,beautiful as a thunderbolt? Genet, Sartre, Breton and the others have found peace in death. Papatakis continues to annoy the horde of honest people. History is at a turning point. We are left with the nostalgia of delusion. For now.