Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom’ Sparks Interest in Lost Greek Film

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Freedom, Jonathan Franzen’s successful attempt to write the Good American Novel, mostly lived up to absurdly high expectations, earning both critical acclaim and a spot on the bestseller list. What’s more surprising is that Freedom may have sparked interest in an obscure Greek filmmaker. In an early scene in the novel, protagonists Walter and Patty Berglund go to their university’s art department auditorium to see Nikos Koundouros’ O Drakos, or as it is called in the book, The Fiend of Athens. The Guardian reports that since its appearance in Freedom, “interest in this movie has been steadily growing.” There’s even a rare full subtitled version on YouTube now.

The film is about a meek, bespectacled man who discovers one day that he looks like the wanted photo for a criminal mastermind. He ends up embracing his new life as “the fiend of Athens,” and carries out various insidious acts. Walter and Patty argue about the meaning of the film, and much later in the novel, the mild-mannered Walter similarly embraces his dark side in a chapter titled “The Fiend of Washington.” Since its appearance in Freedom, book and film lovers alike have been aching to see O Drakos. The Guardian reports that Christos Prossylis, the director of the London Greek film festival, asked Koundouros for permission to show his film. The 85-year-old filmmaker was thrilled that people were once again interested in the movie, but didn’t think a subtitled version in English existed. However, Greek film writer John Stylianou took it upon himself to subtitle the movie, and you can now watch O Drakos in its entirety on YouTube.

As the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw points out, there are some notable differences in O Drakos and Franzen’s Fiend. Bradshaw ponders if this is “a time-bomb of added meaning, buried deep in the text.” It’s very possible that Franzen just got the facts wrong. After all, he had to write about the movie first before anyone would translate it.