One of Greece’s most respected veteran directors, Pantelis Voulgaris–who’s virtually unknown outside Europe–has earned a reputation as a subtle prober of his country’s social strata and a sensitive observer of the psychological shifts in everyday life. His debut feature, The Engagement of Anna (1972), which opens the Film Center’s mini retrospective, serves as a lucid introduction to his main thematic concerns and his understated yet insightful visual style. Much of the film’s action takes place in a courtyard of a bourgeois family in an Athens suburb, as family members gather for the first meeting between the maid Anna and her suitor. Gradually their posturing, bantering, and asides–presented as casual cinema verite–reveal a hypocrisy and condescension beneath the altruistic facade. In contrast, Anna, the poor village girl who’s been “adopted” by the grandmother, is shown as an island of seriousness and quiet strength; her docility only strengthens her moral appeal. The film’s mood darkens after Anna and the prospective bridegroom spend the night out on the town: the family now suspects the worst and demands that Anna remain a servant and a spinster. With compassion but also a critical distance Voulgaris unfolds Anna’s anguish in having to choose between her future happiness and the needs of her two families. Her choice is a harsh indictment of a class system in which a working-class girl is always a sacrificial lamb. In the excellent ensemble acting–which at times seems improvised–Anna Vayena’s portrayal of Anna stands out as an excellent study in stoicism. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, February 4, 4:00, 443-3737. –Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.