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Corelli Reunites Greece, Filmmakers

May 17, 2000

SAMI, Greece (AP) _ The war is returning to the island of Cephalonia.

But instead of Italian troops coming across the Ionian Sea, this invasion is mobilized by filmmakers creating World War II-era sets for one of the largest movies ever made in Greece.

Work crews are applying finishing touches to building facades and hunting for extras _ including mules _ for ``Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,″ based on the best-selling novel by Louis de Bernieres about a love affair between a local woman and an Italian officer in Mussolini’s ill-fated occupation of Greece.

The book also covers another pivotal event: the 1953 earthquake that left almost nothing standing, and required set designers to recreate the Venetian-style architecture that once characterized the island.

Filming is scheduled to begin this weekend and is seen as a possible revival in interest in Greek locales among foreign film companies. The last major movie filmed in Greece was 1991′s Italian-Spanish hit ``Mediterraneo,″ also about an Italian soldier smitten by a local woman.

``I had always wanted to film it here and here is where we are,″ producer Kevin Loader said. ``There’s something about this landscape that we wanted to get in the movie ... and historically, this is where it all happened.″

Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage will play Corelli, who falls in love with a local doctor’s daughter, Pelagia, played by Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, best known as the star of Pedro Almodovar’s 1999 Oscar-winning ``All About My Mother.″

The new film will be directed by John Madden, whose credits include the 1998 best-picture Oscar winner ``Shakespeare in Love.″

The sounds of hammers and drills broke the normal winter calm on the streets of Cephalonia’s main port, Sami, about 180 miles northwest of Athens.

``We will have to get more help,″ said cafe owner Evgenios Theofilatos, who opened his business one month early to accommodate the crews. ``If we’re this busy now, I can’t imagine what will happen when the whole cast is here and the tourist season begins.″

Most of the 2,300 residents in and around Sami rely on tourism, farming and raising livestock to make their living. But the movie has offered a spectacular diversion and a chance to make extra money.

Dozens of local workers have assisted British and Irish builders on the sets, which are carefully weathered and battered for a war-torn effect.

The abandoned and quake-leveled village of Dihalia, perched on a cliff above the sea, will be temporarily resurrected with movie sets: a cafe, church, houses and a village square.

Casting coordinator Stavros Kaplanidis, meanwhile, is hunting for at least 400 extras for the 12 weeks of filming.

Many locals who survived the war and the 7.2-magnitude earthquake, which claimed 476 lives on the island, have helped researchers striving for historical accuracy.

Erikaiti Tzaneta, president of the local cultural organization, offered family photos and her great-grandmother’s clothing for study as well as joining others in showing off regional dances.

A researcher, Rea Apostolidis, also looked for details about the Italians’ failed conquest of Greece.

So far, it seems, locals are more excited with the prospect of seeing their island’s history on the big screen than they are star-struck by the chance of mingling with Cage and other actors.

``It will be admirable and honorable for our land,″ said cab driver Dionysis Vitoratos. ``We will have something to brag about.″

``This movie is going for an Oscar. We’ll be lucky, like with `Zorba (the Greek)′ back then,″ Tzaneta gushed, referring to the 1964 movie that was filmed in Crete and won three Oscars.

But others are less than enthusiastic.

Tavern owner Angelos Liberatos complained of Sami being divided in half by the set and worries about noise from battle scenes.

Mayor Gerasimos Artelaris tries to counter the grumbling by predicting that the $35 million movie will keep alive tourist interest started by the mid-’90s publication of ``Corelli’s Mandolin.″

``The island had a 20 percent increase in tourism last year, mostly British, German and Italians,″ he said. ``We already have many visitors to see the set’s construction.″

Media reports earlier this year indicated that ``Corelli″ was slated for filming elsewhere, possibly in Turkey or Albania, because of complications with local residents and authorities, including some who claimed the book gave an unfairly romantic portrayal of the occupation.

``Love during war has always existed,″ scoffed cab driver Vitoratos, who was hurt in the earthquake and fought in the resistance. ``People who said we didn’t want the film done were just spreading dirty rumors.″

Apparently there is no single Corelli-Pelagia story that was used as the basis for the book. But memories of wartime affairs between Italian soldiers and Greek women are still vivid.

In 1998, Angeliki Stratigou and former Italian soldier Luigi Surace rekindled their romance more than half a century after their meeting in the port of Patras in August 1941. They planned to marry last year, but Stratigou died just two weeks before the wedding.

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