SMUGGLING HENDRIX – A dog across the border of Cyprus

No Borders Underwear. A local sex-shop ironically opens and closes Greek Cypriot director Marios Piperides’ debut feature film. SMUGGLING HENDRIX, Tribeca Film Festival’s Best International Narrative winner, tackles the border that divides Cyprus between the Turkish Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus, a politically odd situation which persists since 1974, featuring one of the longest and most complicated crises of the last fifty years in Europe.

Yiannis (Adam Bousdoukos) is a young musician who doesn’t seem to have a plan B: he’s out of money, still after his ex-girlfriend and indebted to some local dangerous moneylenders. But, as it turns out, a plan B exists: a booked flight to the Netherlands in three days. However, everything seems to break apart when Jimi, his much-spoiled dog, runs away from him and crosses the border between the Turkish Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus, the infamous Green Line, that divides the capital Nicosia as well.

The film’s premise already touches some political sensitivities; since 1964, only 4 years after the recognition of the independent Republic of Cyprus by the The Zürich Agreement, firstly the British peace force, followed by the United Nations have been maintaining the buffer zone in order to avoid conflicts between the two sides.

Armed conflicts and the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 are the kind of tension-eruptions that enforced the United Nations to maintain the border closed until 2003. Nowadays, the border is crossable, but Nicosia remains the only divided capital in the world. Taking all that into consideration, the simple fact that God only would be the one not having problems with crossing the border, is just the first step (in many) that makes SMUGGLING HENDRIX a charming comedy.

Piperides works with pre-fabricated characters which are recognizable from the Southeastern Europe day-by-day life. Nevertheless, he fills them with specific both personal and political background. Yiannis is, after all, a prototype of the millenials, a politically aware young man with very specific interests who doesn’t seem to fit in the environment or the labour market. He feels the urge of moving from Cyprus to the Netherlands and hopes for a better life and to leave everything behind. Hasan (Faith Al), a Turk Cypriot who wants to help Yiannis, is living the refugee nightmare: he has no papers, a family to support and an urge to leave Turkish Northern Cyprus. Tuberk (Özgür Karadeniz), a man from the Turkish occupied area with a suspicious background, is a local prowler who can solve anything for a price. However, Tuberk’s activity is unwanted in and by EU, so, after an unlucky attempt, he’s in the same boat with Yianis and Hasan.

In 1964, Peter Young,the commander of the British peace force, drew a green line on a map and, by doing so, decided where a border between Turkish Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus should be built. By comparing the drawn green line to its actual impact might be worrying, and SMUGGLING HENDRIX offers an accurate representation in that way. To cross from the Cypriot Republic of Cyprus to the Turkish occupied area means to cross from a state which is part of the EU (since 2004) to one which is struggling to resolve a lot of financial issues while not being part of the Union. But it’s not the condition of Turkish Northern Cyprus that drew Piperides’ attention, but the no-man land that we call Green Line. While struggling to illegally make his dog cross the border,  Yiannis confronts everything that stands behind the name of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus: fences, mud and absurdity.

There’s a remarkable power dynamic between Yiannis and Hasan which deepens the evergreen question of national identity that’s so actual nowadays. By chance, they share memories of the same house – the one in which Hasan lives in with his family used to be Yiannis home, probably before the Turkish invasion from 1974. It’s his house, but also Hasan’s, and they both live in different places from their hometowns as modern displaced persons.

The film has a sense of urgency, of specific time to deliver its information, since the two sides are postponing the awaited  re-negotiations (a lot of re-s, actually). After the fail of the Kofi Annan Plan referendum (2004), in which both Greek and Turkish Cypriots were asked if they would agree on reuniting the island, which was answered firmly negative by the Greek Cypriots (over three-quarters) and optimistically positive by the Turkish Cypriots (65%), there hasn’t been any large-scale action. Divide and conquer, but who’s conquering?

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