Tourism & Cinema on the Island of Ios

The Grecian island Ios is such a tourist-dependent community that it has its own commercial website advertising its wares as a party destination, as if it were a hotel resort instead of a genuine lived-in society with its own populace & culture. The ad copy for the site boasts, “Ios Greece is the number-one party island in the Mediterranean Sea,” which is something you can clearly see reflected in our current Movie of the Month – the horned-up Italian romcom Ginger & Cinnamon. In that film, an aunt & niece duo seek love & sex on Ios at the height of the island’s tourism season, which is overrun with college-age bimbos of all genders in a Spring Break-style bacchanal. One of the more interesting formal experiments in the film is the way it frequently interrupts its fictional story of lost love & lost virginity with real-life interviews with Ios island tourists, who’re blissfully drunk on the non-stop party atmosphere (not to mention all the booze). It makes sense, then, that on the website’s Movies from Ios page, Ginger & Cinnamon is listed as the most prominent cinematic representation of the island. It’s the one that shows the island for the gorgeous, boozy tourist trap that it truly is. What’s puzzling is how that depiction fits in with the other two examples the site lists as representations of Ios cinema, which complicate the Party Island escapist fantasy Ios relies on to survive financially.

The inclusion of Luc Besson’s three-hour free-diving drama Le Grand Bleu on the Movies from Ios page really only emphasizes how few films are produced there, making out Ginger & Cinnamon to be something of a local anomaly. According to the copy, “Only some of the underwater scenes were filmed on Ios. Magnari Beach to be precise,” indicating that there isn’t much of a substantial local connection to Besson’s Cinema du Look epic. The third film listed, however, has just as much connection to Ios as Ginger & Cinnamon, particularly in how it engages with the local tourism industry. The 1963 Greek romcom Aliki My Love was meant to be an international breakout vehicle for its titular star, Aliki Vougiouklaki – then known as the National Star of Greece. The film ultimately didn’t make much of an impression on the international market, to the point where it’s currently only accessible in the US via fuzzed-out bootlegs of VHS recordings from Greek television, hosted on sites like YouTube (I suspect with its more scandalous scenes of a scantily-clad Vougiouklaki removed). However, the Movies from Ios page explains, “This is a magnificent movie for anyone interested in seeing what Ios looked like 50 years ago. It is filled with beautiful footage of this wonderful island in the Aegean Sea that we all love so much. Especially the scene that takes place outside the future location of Disco 69 is interesting to see for anyone spending their nights at that location these days. It has not changed much, only the tree by the wall has grown a lot, otherwise the spot is just as it is today.” The funny thing about this description is that the Ios of Aliki My Love is not at all the Ios of Ginger & Cinnamon; a lot has changed, and the plot of Aliki is explicitly about the urgency of preventing that transformation from happening.

Aliki My Love is a fairly harmless, minor comedy that straddles the border between a Grecian remake of Gidget and a European nudie cutie. The soundtrack is more internationally popular than the film itself, presumably because it features a mostly nude Vougiouklak barely covering her breasts in a classic pinup pose on the cover. She operates as a Nudie Pixie Dream Girl in this way through the film, chipperly pestering & seducing an American everyman who has recently inherited ownership of her island (Ios, fictionalized here as the femme Greek name Eftychia, meaning “Happiness”). Plenty culture-clash humor ensues, with jokes about how the island’s taxi cabs are a fleet of donkeys and their showers are buckets of water poured from rooftops. That humor works best when it’s weaponized against the visiting Americans (such as when Ios villagers laugh at an American lawyer’s shyness over bathing nude in public) or when it’s accompanied by an island-wide song & dance number, Mamma Mia!style. What makes the film interesting the context of its Movies from Ios listing is the way Aliki & her newfound American beau eventually join together to prevent the island from being bought & taken over by real estate developers. The villains of the film want to exploit Ios by transforming the island into the exact tourist trap it had become by the time Ginger & Cinnamon was filmed there, and the triumph of the film is in preventing that tragedy just as much as it’s in the unlikely central romance. It’s also worth noting that this success is accomplished via the discovery of a secret “hamburger sauce” recipe (not unlike the titular cake recipe in Ginger & Cinnamon). It’s all very silly.

The Movies from Ios page notes that during the filming of Ginger & Cinnamon, “The film crew tried to close off parts of the village during some nights as they made the movie. This was quite annoying to the tourists on the island as they were trying to have a good time in the bars and nightclubs.“ The bittersweet joy of Aliki My Love is that it concludes as a fantasy where neither the tourists nor that film crew would have descended upon the island at all, leaving it as an untouched Eden instead of a Party Island nightclubbing destination. Ios is still beautiful, but there’s major cultural difference between its two cinematic representations in Aliki My Love and Ginger & Cinnamon, neither of which put much of a positive spin on Ios’s tourism-dependent modernity. One shows the island at a tipping point where it might have been saved from descending into the boozy tourist trap it would eventually become; the other updates the picture to show that it’s now too late for the island to ever turn back. It’s bizarre to see either featured on a website devoted to attracting more customers into that very industry.

For more on July’s Movie of the Month, the horned up Italian romcom Ginger & Cinnamon (2003), check out our Swampchat discussion, our look at its musicarello inspirations, and last week’s investigation of how a theme song to a Japanese anime television show found its way on the soundtrack.

-Brandon Ledet

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