Film Reviews

Review: ‘Golden Dawn Girls’

Hot Docs 2018


Golden Dawn Girls
(Norway, Denmark, Finland, 92 minutes)
Dir: Håvard Bustnes
Programme: World Showcase. (North American Premiere)

Once on a tiny Aegean island called Koufonissi, an Athenian friend said to me, “There are no ghosts in Greece. There is too much light.” She was wrong. The warm, sweet Greece that I’ve loved barely makes an appearance in the haunted world of Golden Dawn Girls. It is haunted by the financial crisis that devastated countless people and dragged on for years, haunted by the Nazi occupation of the country during World War 2, haunted by the military junta that ran Greece like a fascist dictatorship in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Greece’s extreme rightist nightmare of the junta years is echoed by the Golden Dawn movement, which like similar crusades in Europe and the US, calls itself “nationalist” and wants to make the country “great again.” Of course, in reality, the Golden Dawners are violent fascists who beat up immigrants and political opponents. As the film makes clear, they are drawn to Nazism despite the obvious historical fact that many Greeks were tortured and murdered when Germany controlled their country.

From a North American perspective, it’s fascinating to see how the venomous Golden Dawn rhetoric parallels the USA’s Alt-Right and, incredible to say, the current president’s. Immigrants are bad. Greek is for Greeks. The media stinks. The corrupt police are persecuting true patriots who liken themselves to ancient Greek Spartan warriors. We hear what is the litany of a metastasizing international movement. Democracy doesn’t really exist. The Jews buy everybody off, dig up compromising information and blackmail opponents, control everything.

As the title of Bustnes’s mesmerizing doc suggests, he focuses on women in the Golden Dawn, specifically women close to Party leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos. His coverage of them takes a dramatic turn when Michaloliakos and many of his male followers are arrested for the murder of anti-fascist hip-hop performer Pavlos Fyssas, not to mention running an armed-to-the teeth criminal organization.

Bustnes highlights three women, interviewing and tracking Ourania, Michaloliakos’s daughter; Dafni, his wife; and Jenny, a daughter-in-law. Possibly influenced by executive producer Nick Broomfield, he rolls the camera while setting up. Characters query him, wanting to know what he’s about to ask, revealing how guarded they are.

Ourania becomes the de facto leader of the movement. An animal-loving psychology student, she shows us how cutely normal she is. She pets her adorable cats, shows us her treasured collection of Disney films and board games. She chuckles that her library includes Freud, a no-no in her circles. In a later scene Dafni, probably genuinely, appears to be a loving grandma. The women are typical Greek bourgeoisie, who would never be suspected of their hateful ideology, until we see it in action.

In one scene, Dafni meticulously cleans windows and then goes to work on the rifles stacked against a wall. The women don’t seem to have a basic understanding of how movies work. They can come on as normal women who love cats and babies, but Bustnes can, and does, let us in on how abnormal they are. Jorge Luis Borges once wrote a story in which a Nazi did not disguise what he was. Borges saw that as the man’s only redeeming characteristic.

In this film, none of the Nazis cop to their beliefs.

Bustnes shows the women videos of Golden Dawn beatings, but they are “What beatings?” True believer Panagiotis has a “Sieg Heil” tattoo on his arm because he “liked the font.” According to the women, Golden Dawn thugs have a right to demand i.d. papers from immigrants and smash up marketplace tables they use to display their wares.

Near the end of the film, adherents march through the streets chanting, “Albanians, you will never be Greek, communists, you will be turned into soap, Fuck the Jews.” In the 2015 election, GD was the third biggest party in the Greek parliament.

A humanist, Busntnes practically begs the Golden Dawn girls to admit that they support an inhuman cause. Their lack of response is an indicator of where the world might be heading.

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Maurie Alioff writes about movies for publications off- and on-line, and is a screenwriter currently collaborating on a documentary featuring Bob Marley’s granddaughter while researching other Jamaica-related projects, including a magical-realist crime story drawing on stories he hears on the island. He has written for radio, journals and TV, taught screenwriting and been a contributing editor to various magazines.

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