As a child, I used to visit Greece almost every summer holiday. My mother’s side of the family — numerous aunts, uncles, cousins and my grandmother — would descend on Cape Sounion, where we’d stay in several villas for almost a month. We’d swim and snorkel in the mornings, have long lunches, read during forced siestas, then go out at night to the local tavernas. It was a magical experience and one that has stayed with me all my life.
It was during these holidays that I developed my passion for Greek mythology and archeology. There was nothing I enjoyed more than sitting among the rocks and reading about the country’s extraordinary history and culture. Back in England I’d do the same, devouring every book I could find in anticipation of the next visit.
My love affair with the country continued into adulthood. I took my own children on holiday to Athens and Crete and it was there that I started to dream about adapting Patricia Highsmith’s Greek set thriller, The Two Faces of January, into a film.
I combined holidays with research, visiting many of the sites and locations that later ended up in the film. Eventually the holidays turned into work trips as shooting approached. While it was expensive to film in Crete I thought it was crucial to the telling of the story and the authenticity of the world. The rugged hills and cliffs of the island are unique and even though we looked for alternatives in other countries, nothing matched the sheer beauty and savagery of the ‘white mountains’ of Crete.
Crete was my favourite location in the film. During pre- production I had the opportunity to scour the island in search of ideal locations. The city of Chania was a revelation. I never imagined we’d find somewhere that still had so much of its 1960’s charm and atmosphere intact. My brilliant production crew did a fantastic job of recreating the city in 1962, but much of what we used was already there.
Chania was also my favourite location outside of filming. Our crew of over a hundred people stayed in various hotels and guest houses in the city and then literally walked to work. After filming we’d disperse to different bars and restaurants and enjoy the city all over again. Despite spending over a month there, many of the crew have since returned for their holidays.
Athens was also a city I loved. Nobody had been allowed to film a movie in the Acropolis for over twenty years but the authorities kindly allowed us two days to shoot there. It was an extraordinary experience. While we were filming in the Parthenon there must have been at least three or four hundred tourists watching just out of shot. They were very gracious and patient too, waiting for us to finish before they continued on their guided tours.
I remember we finished filming after the Acropolis complex closed. The crew had packed and left and I found myself alone on this wondrous hill with its magnificent temples and history. I spent a good half hour up there on my own, thinking how privileged I was to be able to film there but also to have the whole place to myself. In many ways it encapsulated my experience of shooting this film. It was not just work but another chance to discover the country I loved. The Two Faces of January is first and foremost a thriller but it is also my attempt to capture the magic and power that Greece has exerted on me since I was a child.
By Hossein Amini (Director of The Two Faces of January)