a film by pantelis voulgaris
stars damian lewis and victoria haralabidou
the film starts by introducing us to the main characters. damian lewis plays norman harris, an overly-artistic war photographer who can't fit his style to the mainstream press. they won't pay for his pictures. it is 1922. he is disillusioned and wants to return home - to detroit - to take up a new profession. selling cars, maybe. he sells his camera for a ticket on the king alexander - a transatlantic cruise ship that also takes touring westerners and greek mail order brides.
we meet olga, a very young girl from odessa. she is silent, pretty as a cherub. a ring is put on her fourth finger in an office in russia. she is engaged to an american.
there is niki doukas. one of many daughters of a samothracian family, she is off to america to substitute as a wife for a sister who couldn't handle it. prodromos is a very nice man, a tailor, and his only demand is for a wife who will not whine, who will work hard. the honour of the family rests with niki. one wife has already failed.
all of our players board the vessel, first to third class. it is not racially striated, completely. the captain is a seeming good man, greek and wanting harris to take his photograph - he always has his eyes closed.
norman refuses, but changes his mind after speaking with niki. he caught her eye while waiting to board, and descends to the lower deck to speak with her. they speak in english, mostly. later he gives her a phrasebook. he knows only a few greek words. she tells him not to tear up the photos he doesn't want anymore. give them to her.
harris agrees to take the captain's photo, if he will lend him the camera to take photos of all the brides in their wedding dresses, the minor details. all except niki. she knows her future, and the past is merely a place that she will never see again.
the photos are a success, and then the man running the bridal service - a greasy pornographer, who is also running a small-time prostitution ring onboard - demands the photos of the russian girls, his prostitutes. harris argues that this is not his way, but the captain thinks of the many trips that the pimp has ensured, and upholds his demand.
niki is employed by the ladies' dancing troupe in the higher decks who need intricate costumes made and embroidered. she becomes a fixture abovedecks, with the black fold-down sewing machine someone has found for her, and her chairs covered in fabrics. she and norman share many conversations. he too is an immigrant - not a real american american. he speaks of his grandmother's tales of cork, his father falling for a red-haired fishing woman. the waves crashing against the rocks.
niki also mends the captain's jacket. she finds one of the russian photos, and uncovers not only the prostitution racket, but also the fact that five of the girls have been promised to one man. the ladies looking after the new brides feel the price is worth the hundreds of girls who settle successfully. niki is intimidated by the ringleader, but barges into the dining room to tell harris. chaos ensues belowships, and the captain is involved. mistakes have been made, mere errors in paperwork. harris and the man responsible have an awkward but vicious catfight in the captain's quarters. he must fix this.
the captain's godson meanwhile has been carrying on with olga, the silent russian child, and he makes his plans to run away back to greece known to his godfather. olga will be the cook at his restaurant. the captain tosses him aside, but he is not deterred.
niki's best friend on the ship, a samothracian girl named haro, has been feeling more and more down. she dwells on the letters sent to her by a sweetheart back at home. he went off to war, and her father has forced her to come overseas to marry. andonis' love letters are a source of nostalgia every few scenes, but after the prostitution racket is brought to light, haro begins to become unstuck. she wanders abovedecks in the pouring rain, delusional.
on the night of the ladies' performances, harris suggests they close with haro playing the haunting melodies she was wont to do on her oud. he goes to fetch her just as niki realises she has gone missing. they reach the deck just as haro jumps off the railing, red dress flapping in the wind, her hair astray. the captain orders hard to port, but it is too late. only her oud is found, floating on the waves.
niki makes the captain promise he will boil wheat as an offering to haro's soul everytime he passes the spot again. he agrees.
norman professes his love for the greek seamstress. she is torn, but she is not like her friend. she has too much depending on her marriage back home. she agrees to take a wedding photo, ripping off the lacy adornments on her third-hand dress.
they reach america. the girls press up against the glass to see the statue of liberty. niki's hair has turned white in the night. she whispers norman's name and bites back screams. she is told her punishment will be to remember. she knows the real punishment will be to forget the one she loves.
they are disembarking. there are signs along the wharf in greek, screaming people with flags and posters. the girls prepare their luggage, memorising again the faces on the photographs they have been sent, making sure they will recognise their new husbands.
harris is told to gather his courage and say goodbye. he fooled nobody. he writes niki the only love letter she will ever read, even though it takes her months to read it. he leaves it in a box of photos of the girls in their dresses. he finds her, kisses her hair, eyes, mouth. she tells him this is their only moment, their last moment. a lifetime in a glance. she speaks in greek, so he has to read her eyes. she gives him an earring, a tiny blue stud. he gives her a box. tells her to come away with him. she leaves. one tear escapes him, his hand folded over the stud.
the captain has locked nicholas, his godson, in his cabin, instructions for him to be released after everyone is gone. he escapes down the mooring rope, in civvies and with one of norman's hats on his head. niki has given haro's dress to olga. she thanks her and makes her escape. olga and nicholas run away down the wharf together.
harris is at the exit from immigration. he sees niki's eyes meet the eyes of a strange, nervous greek man with a moustache. they all have moustaches. his brothers are there for moral support. he is taken in by his new bride, her grey hair. norman walks on.
it is later. niki is dressed well, a hat and a new haircut. she is at a post office. i keep thinking norman will turn up behind her. she sends haro's picture and the love letters back to greece, to a man named andonis.
it is some time later again. niki and prodromos are closing up shop for the night. she is willing to work hard, long hours, good, honest work. prodromos tells her of a saint named anna, who is offered rags at a chapel to stop others whinging. niki is far away, thinking of a man who once showed her the magic of photography in a cramped darkroom, red light revealing the picture of a fountain in greece, surrounded by women and rags fluttering in the wind. she tells her husband she has heard of the place.
she walks into her study. there are flowers on the table, a stack of papers on the desk. she moves them aside, reaching for a rectangular box. she goes through the papers, the girls. wonders what happened to all of them. she holds her swollen belly. she looks as happy as she ever did in the film, except for when she was alone in the dining room, sewing. then she was happiest of all. she puts them away, hand finding the hidden envelope. she reads it, a love letter addressed to her. damian lewis' voiceovers are always perfect, no matter the accent. there are tears in her eyes.
we are shown a picture of her, head slightly turned to the side. her hair is black. it is the photo of her in her wedding dress, taken on the sea between greece and america. the picture is on a magazine cover. the headline is 'mail order brides'. a man walks up to a newsstand. harris is well-dressed as ever, a new grey hat on his head. he takes a copy, looks at the front. the final shot is a close up of his tie. there is a blue gem nestled in it.
the credits roll in greek.
Labels: damian lewis, greece