ὅταν δ᾽ ἐν ταῖς φιλίαις ἐγγένηται τὰ πάθη, οἷον ἢ ἀδελφὸς ἀδελφὸν ἢ υἱὸς πατέρα ἢ μήτηρ υἱὸν ἢ υἱὸς μητέρα ἀποκτείνῃ ἢ μέλλῃ ἤ τι ἄλλοτοιοῦτον δρᾷ, ταῦτα ζητητέον. –Aristotle, Poetics 1453b
For Aristotle, Greek tragedy centres around violence in the family. This is also true in the 2008 film Strella, written and directed by Panos H. Koutras, where a cycle of sex and violence interrupts and corrupts a family, only to create a new kind of family in its wake. The film moves deftly between layers of myth and modernity, questioning and reconstructing typical notions of identity, family, and society. Reworking the myth of Oedipus Tyrannos through a trans* lens, the film sets the action in a present day Athens which is “both an identity matrix palpitating with personal archives and itineraries, and a crisis space that allows archival logics (including that of the nuclear family) to be radically reframed”. (Papanikolaou, 2011) Protagonist Yorgos is released from prison after 15 years and meets a trans* woman, Strella (played by first-time trans* actress Mina Orfanou): they start a relationship, while Yorgos searches for his son, only to finally learn that his son Leonidas is no longer his son, but a woman living in Athens, forcing a tragic recognition.
Ancient Greek myth and the Greek tragedies are interwoven as cultural references with 20th century Greek political and social histories: Euripides and Sophocles (significantly, called “our sisters” in the film) appear in characters’ dialogues alongside references to the Greek pop stars and the military dictatorship of 1967-74. Most interesting is the layering of Greek tragic heroines with the famous Greek performers Melina Mercouri and Maria Callas, both of whom themselves acted in film versions of Greek tragedies. Strella herself is a Callas impersonator in the film (just as Mina Orfanou is in real life); one of her best friends is a Mercouri impersonator (also in the film and in real life) and they both perform in the real-life legendary Athenian drag club, Koukles.
This paper explores these layers of cultural context to focus on the film’s queer reading of family. Early in the film Strella herself says to her live-in friend Alex (Minos Theoharis): “Family, the scourge of the trans”. But her relationship with Alex (whom she says is worth “ten families altogether”), and other members of the trans* and queer community, show that Strella has made her own family. And that “family” is struggling to survive. Strella herself is multi-talented but denied access to university, forced, like many others in her circle, to prostitute herself and to shoplift. Strella’s “family” is part of a subculture that has minimal access to mainstream social supports. Yorgos’ own queerness, his ex-convict status, and the taboo nature of his relationship with Strella ensure he too, is living on the margins. But despite the tragic interruption and corruption of family structures, and the near complete failure of social institutions, Strella is able, through the strength of her character, to re-forge a family with the characters around her, and the ending of the film, after several false endings, is a happy one. This paper examines the ultimate strength of Strella’s chosen family, as it moves away from the Oedipal expectations of the patriarchal nuclear family (but not necessarily away from Oedipus himself), to create a queer family that gives hope to us all.