‘There are certain moonlit nights,
spent at the open-air summer cinemas
Nights that pass and will not come again
With honeysuckle and jasmine’
There is no better evocation of the magic of the summer cinemas of Athens than the lyrics of Loukianos Kilaidonis (a popular singer of the 70s and 80s). It’s true that, lovely and cool, these humble institutions are oases in the big city crush, offering an unrivaled summer treat that surpasses the usual movie-going experience.
Every neighbourhood in Athens has a cinema for its movie fans, whether for students in rebellious Exarchia, the once chic Kolonaki Square or the Plaka quarter favoured by tourists. Atop a building in Plaka such as the Cine Paris or the in Cine Thision on the Apostolou Pavlou pedestrian street under the breathtaking floodlit Acropolis, in cool gardens like the Cine Aigli in the Zappeion and Cine Dexameni in Kolonaki, they have fortunately managed to survive amid the urban sprawl although the plot may unwind alongside mini dramas from daily life spilling out from the adjacent flats…
The films, commercial, comic, first runs or a classic film noir, retrospectives dedicated to masters like Fellini and Hitchcock or even Tarkovski and Bogart fans who want to see Casablanca for the tenth time and cry when Rick says ‘Play it again, Sam’.
For a number of reasons summer neighbourhood movies are a particular treat for Greeks. For one thing, they can smoke! And in the intervals the cafeteria serves cold beers and snacks. Long gone are the days of half a century ago when street vendors caroled ‘pistachios, nougat, peanuts, passatempos (pumpkin seeds) to pass the time.’
The bill of fare of today’s summer cinemas has been modernized, and not surprisingly many little tables have taken the place of movie-goers’ seats for the refreshment of a group of friends. Each cinema has the usual as well as its special snacks: freshly baked cheese pies, pizzas, hotdogs, nachos, sandwiches, grilled cheese and more. Beer and soft drinks as well as freshly home-made sour cherry juice are complemented by raki, whisky, vodka and cocktails, while for dessert there are ice creams and water-ices.
Going to the movies costs no more than 15 Euro, 8 for the ticket and about as much for a snack. And should that not suffice, one can hop out to a nearby souvlaki stall to buy a favourite kebab with trimmings. An evening outing to the movies is available to all, to those who can’t go on holiday, the visiting tourist, the couple in love, a bunch of friends, and, of course, those irredeemably addicted to film viewing. Not to mention the lonely for whom the summer cinemas are an occasion to meet friends or an opportunity to make new ones.