Smyrna: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City (1900-1922): Film Review

Smyrna - H - 2013
Archival footage is the highlight of this informative, if at times overly stuffy, historical documentary.

Maria Iliou's haunting documentary recounts tragic tale of her ancestral city's burning during the Greco-Turkish War.

The elegiac documentary Smyrna: The Destruction of a Cosmopolitan City (1900-1922) brings to light a modern-day tragedy with which most viewers will be probably unfamiliar. Maria Iliou’s film concerns the tragic loss of her ancestral home—originally part of the Ottoman empire and now the location of Izmir, Turkey—that was burned to the ground by invading Turkish forces towards the end of the Greco-Turkish War.

Its titular description referring to the fact that it was an economically, socially and culturally vibrant home to thriving co-existing communities of Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and Muslims--not to mention expatriate Americans whose neighborhood was whimsically nicknamed “Paradise”—Smyrna was a true crossroad  between the East and West.

Comprising the standard mixture of talking heads and archival footage, the film achieves a haunting power mainly thanks to the flickering B&W film and faded photographs showcasing the multi-ethnic city in all its glory. Nikos Platyrachos’ tinkly piano silent film-style score, augmented by music of the period, adds to the vintage feel.

Documenting the destruction of the metropolis as a result of the growing nationalism in the aftermath of World War I, the film incorporates extensive commentary from numerous historians and writers, as well as several second and third-generation descendants of survivors. Also providing testimony is an elderly former resident whose recollections are necessarily impressionistic and vague.

While the film gets bogged down at times by its academic presentation—theaters exhibiting it might as well be equipped with classroom desks—its highly informative recounting of this little-known tragic tale provides a vivid reminder of the ephemerality of civilizations.

Opened April 7 (Proteus, Inc.)

Director/screenwriter: Maria Iliou

Director of photography: Allen Moore

Editor: Aliki Panagi

Composer: Nikos Playtrachos

Not rated, 87 min.