What kind of person is our guy in “Cheap Smokes” after all? Maybe he is as cheap as his cigarettes, so cheap that the only thing he can do is steal the lines of those frequenting the cafe and parrot them, to hit on some girl. Maybe he is just another pickup artist who’d say anything, but still adamantly refuses being a pickup artist. “Who me?”. Maybe he is, as a friend said, the ultimate male fantasy, the guy that will so easily approach a beautiful woman, spend a magical night with her in the empty summer streets of Athens and then steal, or maybe not, a kiss.
Our guy however doesn’t have too much of an opinion of himself. He doesn’t say all the “right” things. He hides his failure behind generalities but they don’t really make him look much better than he really is. He promises to bring a stone from the moon. He fends the organized crime debt collectors with his love for film-noire and his innocent face. Not one thing is true. Our guy is a story teller and just like the girl in the phone booth can’t really get away from him, we can’t get our eyes off the screen.
The same way our storyweaver mesmerizes Sophia, Renos is mesmerizing us, transforming familiar settings in an everyday Athens to magical places through a voice over that disconnects the protagonists from the sounds of the city, through the soundtrack that takes us to Prague and sings about carefree love. And finally, through the surreal elements that remind us that this is just someone’s imagination.
At the same time, all the issues revolving around sex and relationships parade in front of us, as experienced by the Greek society at the turn of the century. The “rules of engagement”, the stereotypes, the beauty standards. It was just like that, and still is, to some degree.
He attacks society itself as well, who always liked to forgive any shady business in the name of “success”. “Success” is embodied by Manolis, but all Manolis really wanted was to live the love he didn’t live in school.
Maybe that journey through Athens that night shows what our guy dreamt love should be. Maybe that night is just a bed-time story. A story playing in his mind, just like it’s now playing in our minds and takes us back to 1999 Greece, when everybody would still live happily ever after.