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Theo Angelopoulos is Greece s most celebrated filmmaker and has been acclaimed by British critics Derek Malcolm and David Thompson as one of the world s greatest living directors. His body of work examines the history of modern Greece from a social and political perspective. This thrid volume includes The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991) Ulysses' Gaze (1995) Eternity and a Day (1998) The Weeping Meadow (2004) and The Dust of Time (2008)
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For the uninitiated Angelopoulos's cinema can seem formidable. His subject is 20th century Greek history and politics, about which audiences are assumed to know in detail. He also assumes audiences have a thorough knowledge of Greek antiquity, especially Homer's Odyssey, Aeschylus's The Oresteia and the Sophocles Oedipus cycle. His films are autobiographical to an extent and it helps to know that Angelopoulos was born in 1935 a year before the onset of the Metaxas dictatorship, that he grew up through World War II with bombs falling around his Athens home, that his sister Voula died early at the age of 11, that his father disappeared in Red December 1944 only to reappear suddenly 5 years later when all his family had assumed him dead, that he was a left-wing democratic socialist (just like his father), and that he studied law and worked for the socialist film magazine Demokratiki Allaghi before making documentaries and then turning feature film director. All these things find their way into his films in various guises as re-occurring tropes.
Angelopoulos’s left wing historical perspective ensures his main themes are as follows: The stunting of political stability in Greece by re-occurring Fascism, the toll of foreign involvement in Greek affairs, the ineptitude of Greek central government, the rise and fall of communism, the toll of a bloody historical past on individuals living within borders which are forever changing, the demythologizing of personality cults, travelling as a metaphor for self-appraisal, and a fundamental negativity about the hopes of Greece finding a brighter future for itself.
Angelopoulos’s directing style is famously elusive. He rejects traditional notions of narrative story-telling and character psychology (though he relents a little on both in the Trilogy of Silence), adopting instead Brechtian alienation which distances us from the stories and his protagonists. His characters are important for what they represent rather than who they are as believable people. This is something that many viewers have misunderstood, seeing much of the dialogue as laughably wooden in their mistaken need to find realistic characters which aren’t there. He deliberately deploys narrative ellipses, forcing audiences to work hard to interact with his films by withholding simple information. His mise-en-scène is worked out very carefully with his ever-present cameraman Giorgos Arvanitis (and with Andreas Sinanos from Ulysses’ Gaze onwards) in which close-ups are ignored in favor of long shots and in which takes tend to be lengthy, slow and incredibly detailed affairs lasting upwards of 5 minutes each. These takes often skip time periods and involve complex tracking shots across meticulously arranged landscapes. He practically invented this 'sequence shot' technique (though some have noted a similarity to Miklós Jancsó) and in The Travelling Players it reaches perfection.
I strongly recommend you buy and watch Volumes 1 and 2 first. You should watch them in chronological order before tackling Volume 3, paying particular attention to The Travelling Players, a key film for unlocking the mysteries of this Greek director’s world view. The Trilogy of Silence in Volume 2 may at first seem to be simpler to grasp than his earlier work, but this is deceptive as it deals with the consequences in Greece of decades of war, Fascism, foreign occupation and general socio-economic (and therefore political) instability. To understand why Angelopoulos’s protagonists are often wanderers, strangers in their own homeland, we have to appreciate the historical reasons for this – reasons which are laid out (albeit opaquely) in the Trilogy of History and in The Hunters. Historical and political complexity returns to The Suspended Step of the Stork and all the films included in Volume 3. We must remember that for Angelopoulos it’s important that the whole area of the Balkans used to belong to Greece thousands of years ago and was subsumed into the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years more. It was the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire that led into World War I, causing all the turmoil of the region in the 20th century that followed. Therefore even though these final films show Angelopoulos venturing across borders into other countries, he is still talking about the history of Greece and its inexorable slide into obscurity mainly due to socio-economic, political and cultural tensions that remain unresolved to this day.
Before I examine the films individually, a word about the DVDs themselves. Each film here is transferred with great care, the picture and sound being extremely sharp. However with the exception of a good 30 minute interview with Angelopoulos on the Weeping Meadow disc there are no extras at all. These films are tough to watch without some prior knowledge of Greek history, politics and culture. I know Angelopoulos considered himself a poetic film maker and expected his audiences to work to meet him halfway, but I really think intelligent commentaries and/or documentaries on all of these films would go a long way to selling these sets. The lack of information provided has led me to make an attempt at filling in some of the gaps in the reviews that follow. Also, I note the absence of the 3 short documentaries made by Angelopoulos. These are The Broadcast, Athens Return to the Acropolis and One Village, One Villager. Surely it makes sense to release them as extras here as I can’t imagine many willing to buy them separately. I shouldn't grumble though as we have all the feature films of a quite wonderful director given at a very cheap price. All three volumes are mandatory purchases for anyone interested in cinema as an art form.
ULYSSES' GAZE (To Vlemma tou Odyssea)
(Greece/France/Italy/Germany, 1995, 169 minutes, colour, aspect ratio: 16:9)
This extraordinary centerpiece of the Trilogy of Borders focuses on the return after 35 years of a filmmaker named ‘A’ (Harvey Keitel) from America to his ancestral hometown in Florina, northern Greece. Ostensibly there to attend a retrospective of his work, his real reason for returning is to research a documentary to be made about the Manakis brothers. They were Balkan cinema pioneers who made a series of films mainly from 1905 to 1912 which record and celebrate the culture of ordinary people going about their lives in turbulent times. Central to A’s research is the quest for 3 missing reels of film which he believes contains the key for resolving the political and cultural tensions that plague the area. The quest takes him across the Balkans to the heart of the Bosnian conflict in Sarajevo. He finds the missing footage at great personal cost, but realizes that the end of one journey is just the beginning of another.
Those familiar with the Trilogy of History will recognize in Ulysses’ Gaze yet another multi-layered allegory arranged this time around the theme of the search for a utopian resolution to the Eastern Question. At Cannes in 1995 Angelopoulos said his film is an attempt to find ‘some kind of spiritual unity in the Balkans, which is the only way for peace in this region instead of all the problems there are now’. He cited the Rigas Feraios Charta, a 1797 map which drew a border around the Balkans constituting a utopian attempt to stamp a unity upon the diversity of the area. In the film, A’s journey follows the extreme northern border of the Feraios map from Florina through Koritsa, Skopje, Plovdiv, Costanza, up the Danube to Belgrade and then on to Sarajevo. The movie then is at base a restatement of a utopian ideal laid down 200 years ago.
The utopian search encapsulated in the Feriaos map is restated in 4 allegorical strands based on the 4 character identities that A assumes. Firstly, ‘A’ is an American director returning to his ancestral homeland. Secondly, he represents the Manakis brothers themselves trying to document the culture of the Balkans. Thirdly, he is Homer’s Odysseus (Ulysses in the Roman myth) returning home via several women all played by Maia Morgenstern. The women are Penelope (in Florina), Calypso (in Kali), Circe (the war widow en-route to Sarajevo) and Nausica (the film archivist’s daughter in Sarajevo). Ithaca is represented by the missing reels of film he eventually finds. Finally, ‘A’ represents the film director himself, ‘A’ for ‘Alexander’ (Theodoros being a corruption of the name) rather than for ‘Angelopoulos’. Therefore in Ulysses’ Gaze we have political history, cinema history, myth and autobiography all merging together to reiterate the utopian search for spiritual unity and peace in the Balkans.
All four layers of the allegory play out dialectically with each other throughout several marvelous Brechtian tableaux. The various identities of ‘A’ come together in the sequence following the opening clip from The Weavers (1905). Cameraman Yanaki Manakis is shooting a film of a ship leaving Thessalonika harbor. He is dressed in 1954 clothes. His assistant and our narrator is wearing 1994 dress. Manakis collapses dead on his chair. The assistant (Angelopoulos himself?) walks down the quay and we are introduced to A. They return to the dead body. The camera zooms in on the ship as it sails past with all three people behind the camera. A sense of precise time muddied, this suggests all three are responsible for the shot (and the film) we are gazing at.
The next sequence in Florina has A there for a retrospective of his films. An outdoor screen has been set up with speakers in the town square. In 1921 the Manakis brothers also set up an outdoor screen on the street calling it ‘Manaki’. Then, as A wanders the streets we hear dialogue from the soundtrack of his film between workmen who have been up electric pylons, a clear reference to the final sequence of Angelopoulos’s previous film, The Suspended Step of a Stork. Then just before the confrontation in the street, the first of the Maia Morgenstern characters, Penelope walks past. A/Ulysses is stunned at meeting his ‘wife’ so suddenly. In this whole sequence then, A assumes all 4 identities simultaneously.
And so it goes throughout the film. My favorite tableau has A arriving in Bucharest in 1994. He opens the train door to find 1945. He meets his mother (Mania Papadimitriou) who pushes him back onto the train and they journey together (the son still played by Harvey Keitel and looking much older than the mother) to Costanza on the Black Sea. There follows a remarkable long sequence shot of a New Year’s Eve party which (the conversation tells us) celebrates a variety of different new years going through to 1950, the year that the whole family return back to Greece. Note the allusion to the Manakis brothers’ Romanian heritage and to the return of Angelopoulos’s father after a long absence making this more than just A’s family. As the camera zooms in we realize the boy could be the returning emigrant son encapsulated by any of A’s identities.
The family reunion is just one of several stunning set pieces which convey Angelopoulos’s complex allegory of spiritual search with admirable clarity. Another has A taking an old woman past the Albanian border to be greeted by a beautiful vista of Albanian deportees, homeless within their homeland, silhouetted motionless against the snow. Later in the film A journeys up the Danube on a barge containing a huge broken statue of Lenin en-route to Germany. The length of this sequence forces us to ponder that ‘Riga’s proposal was as utopian as that of the [eastern European] left’ as Angelopoulos later said. Upright and intact, Lenin’s arm points in a definite direction offering hope. Broken backed, arm pointing in the air, the statue suggests a utopian experiment which has failed and a long tracking shot along the riverside shows people gathering to mourn this failure.
Angelopoulos draws his allegory together impressively at the end in the mist of war-torn Sarajevo. A beautiful tracking shot depicts A and Levy (Erland Josephson) walking down a street strewn with confused passers-by listening to an orchestra playing in a kind of no-man’s land. The orchestra consists of members from all sides of the war – Serbs, Muslims and Croats alike. They play the strikingly beautiful Eleni Karaindrou score we have been hearing throughout the film. The scene obviously represents the utopia of spiritual harmony and peace which A may have found. As they walk the father and daughter separate from A and we see the family introduced in the Costanza sequence flit past in the mist. A is left alone in the blinding mist. He stops, listens to an argument followed by gunfire. People have been killed. The ceasefire hasn’t prevented the killing from going on. A grieves loudly before staggering back past the orchestra still playing (now ironically) while the people on the street meander pointlessly. Angelopoulos’s conclusion here is that the unsettled diaspora of the Balkan peoples, homeless within uncertain homelands with borders uneasily drawn is set to continue. Another journey is required to search for a spiritual solution to the area’s problems. A’s viewing of the mist captured by the Manakis brothers in the ‘lost’ reels of film and his final direct to camera recitation of Homer returns us back to the bleak conclusion of Landscape in the Mist and to Angelopoulos’s other adaptation of The Odyssey, Voyage to Cythera where the return of the old man was a prelude to the start of another journey at the end. Angelopoulos said, ‘similar to Dante’s version, there is a pre-Homeric version [of the myth] that Odysseus set sail again after reaching Ithaca. So the film becomes more a leaving than a homecoming’.
From the film’s opening Plato quote, ‘And, if the soul is to know itself, it must gaze into the soul’ (Alcibiades 133b) to the final Homer monologue, Angelopoulos’s poetic road movie lays itself wide open to accusations of pretension and many critics (especially Roger Ebert) have laid into it with a vengeance. However, I am not alone in finding the film to be intensely moving and extraordinarily beautiful. The screenplay (co-written with Angelopoulos by Tonino Guerra, Petros Markaris and Giorgio Silvagni) is one of enormous sophistication which successfully merges politics, history, myth and filmmaking (most of this director’s central obsessions) into an extraordinary statement on the search for an answer to the Eastern Question. Karaindrou’s musical score is one of exceptional beauty which seems to live within the film rather than having been tacked on from outside. Furthermore, I find the performances of Morgenstern and especially Keitel stunning. It can’t be easy acting out Brechtian parables wherein one is never sure who one is or what one is supposed to represent, but I found Keitel to be spot on throughout. His explosion of grief at the end is completely convincing. People who carp at the wooden script and acting miss the point of using Brechtian alienation in the first place. The film is one of Angelopoulos’s greatest achievements, but I concede it must be a difficult journey if you haven’t watched his earlier films. If you aren’t familiar with this director’s film language Ulysses’ Gaze may well go straight over your head.
ETERNITY AND A DAY (Mia aioniothta kai mia mera)
(Greece/France/Italy, 1998, 127 minutes, Colour, aspect ratio: 16:9)
Just as Angelopoulos followed an interpretation of Homer’s Odyssey in Voyage to Cythera with a deeply interior meditation on old age, the death of Greek culture, the decline of rural communities and Greece’s consequent slide into obsolescence in The Beekeeper, so Angelopoulos follows his somewhat grander Homer-inspired odyssey Ulysses’ Gaze with another interior meditation on very similar themes. The concluding part of his Trilogy of Borders, Eternity and a Day is the story of how a terminally ill old poet named Alexander (Bruno Ganz) spends the last 24 hours before he checks into a hospital to die. He reminisces back over his life to his childhood and his marriage where his life’s commitment to his work has precluded love. In one of his memories he asks his hospitalized mother, ‘why were we never able to love?’ Angelopoulos referred to The Beekeeper as ‘The Silence of Love’ and the same applies here though the situation is not as hopeless. In the course of the day Alexander does find a meaning to his life by helping an Albanian illegal immigrant boy (Achilleas Skevis). He rescues him twice, tries to repatriate him and eventually helps him onto a ship to begin ‘his voyage of life’ away from Greece. Alexander returns to his Thessalonika home aware of his imminent death, but somehow his spirit has been reconciled by the day’s events (especially a fantastic bus ride taken with the boy in the middle of the night) and he looks forward to a tomorrow which will last ‘an eternity and a day’ as he imagines his wife (Isabelle Renauld) telling him while he stares out to sea.
With the main characters of The Beekeeper and Eternity and a Day Angelopoulos creates two metaphors for a sick Greece. The name Alexander is important in itself, the director having already made a complex allegory on Greek history in Alexander the Great where the name became an earlier metaphor for the country. In that film the great emperor was reborn twice as the Greek freedom fighter Theodoros (‘Alexander’) Kolokotronis during the War for Independence (1821-29) and then as a rebel leader who kidnaps foreign aristocrats in 1900. In this film another Alexander signifies the rebirth of the great 19th century national poet Dionysios Solomos who wrote Hymn to Liberty, the words of which are used today in the Greek national anthem. Significant for this film is that Solomos had been living in Italy and returned to the fight as an emigrant in the War for Independence against the Ottomans. This parallels Alexander’s own left wing past and his involvement in the Greek Civil War (1946-49). Also, Solomos had lived abroad so long that he had forgotten Greek and had to ‘buy’ new words from people who lived on his native island of Zakynthos which were later used in the national anthem. In this film, Alexander also buys words from the Albanian boy to continue his final work. The three words he buys are ‘korfulamu’ (a comforting word for the heart of a flower), ‘xenitis’ (the feeling of being an outsider everywhere) and ‘argathini’ (meaning ‘late at night’). These words are as relevant to the dying poet as they are to Greece and its dying culture and they are repeated endlessly by Alexander at the film’s conclusion.
Alexander has dedicated himself to completing Solomos’s greatest poem, The Besieged Free which is about the third siege of Missolonghi (1826), an important event during the war. The main theme of the work is willpower in the struggle for survival. It is precisely Alexander’s (and Greece’s) need for willpower that is Angelopoulos’s main theme in this film. The need is laid out in simple terms beginning with Alexander having to find a new home for his dog. His search reveals a deep generation rift, first between him and his daughter (Iris Hatziantoniou) who he hasn’t told about his illness and her cold husband who won’t allow animals inside their apartment. Callously, they have already sold the beloved family home and the father is visably shaken by the news. Then there is a wider generation rift as shown when he interrupts wedding celebrations to ask his housekeeper Urania (Eleni Gerasimidou) to take his dog. The intrusion underlines the obsolescence of the old in the world of the young. He is no longer wanted or needed despite Urania’s offer to accompany him to the hospital. His dog taken care of and his Thessalonika home sold, he becomes the archetypical Angelopoulos stranger homeless in his homeland. There is nothing left for him to do except die along with the rest of his generation in Greece, a man and a country in terminal decline.
The Beekeeper was completely bleak on this point, but there is hope in Eternity and a Day with the will to survive for Alexander and Greece coming from three sources. The first is the cherishing (or even the creation) of one’s happiest memories. In Alexander’s case it is his childhood and his long-dead wife. In the film this is shown through several glorious flashbacks which show him as an old man revisiting (and reimagining) events – a boat trip, the birth of his daughter, a thunderstorm, dances and parties on the beach. The second is his recognition of Greece’s rich cultural heritage which, once realized, enriches life beyond all imagining. This is shown by scenes of Solomos (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) reciting his own poems. We know Alexander’s absorption in his work has compromised his personal relationships, but the cherishing of artistic heritage is still an important thing for both himself and for Greece. The third is his resolution to confront the contemporary problem of immigration and help the Albanian boy. Focusing on these three sources of willpower, Alexander (and Greece) is given new vigor and the film ends on a positive note.
The last source comes into greatest focus in the film. Immigration and the multitude of clashing ethnic cultures co-existing in the Balkan region amounted to the biggest problem facing Greece in the 1990s, the fall-out of the Bosnian War being far-reaching. Angelopoulos shows the problem should be dealt with by authorities through spiritual understanding rather than Fascistic enforcement of law and order. Alexander first meets the boy when he rescues him from a police charge on the streets. The police operate double standards, picking up vagrant immigrants while allowing sinister street gangs to do their job for them through human-trafficking. Authority is something to be feared rather than to be respected as the boy retreats from every uniform in sight and the Albanian border is depicted as a horrific death zone with numerous bodies impaled on barbed wire. If the boy’s homeland is a Nazi death camp surely the Greek authorities should deal with its immigration-induced problems with greater sensitivity. Angelopoulos’s Greece is always a harsh, unforgiving place and through Alexander’s actions he is showing the authorities how illegal immigration should be dealt with. This cry for a greater spiritual understanding in the Balkans ties the film very closely to the previous two films of the Trilogy.
Visually, the film is a treat. Angelopoulos and Arvanitis/Sinanos conjur up extraordinary long sequence shots which transcend time and place with copious use of tracking (both forwards and backwards) and slow zooms. Focusing mainly on the relationship between the old man and the boy, the use of Brechtian tableaux is muted with only one tour-de-force sequence towards the end as our two main protagonists take a bus ride. The bus is obviously a studio set. Angelopoulos deliberately exaggerates the artificiality by making it bigger and keeping it stationary while it is supposed to be moving down rainy streets. Onto the bus come figures from Alexander’s past – himself as a left wing protester who falls asleep carrying a huge red flag, himself as a student having an argument with his girlfriend (possibly his future wife), Solomos in 19th century black cape and top hat reciting the poetry which Alexander has spent his life completing, and then an unlikely trio of classical musicians whose music the two enjoy as they share the happiest moments of the whole film. Bruno Ganz puts in a wonderful performance here even if his voice is dubbed. His (and Greece’s) plight is given extraordinary resonance by Angelopoulos’s gift for capturing mood, memory and nostalgia, fusing dream with reality to astonishing poetic effect. Then another beautiful Eleni Karaindrou musical score ensures the film resonates strongly long after it finishes. It’s a hugely impressive profoundly personal work which effortlessly reaches out to broader themes and concerns. It thoroughly deserved the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1998.
I have run out of space here. The last two films of this collection have been released individually by Artificial Eye. The discs are exactly the same so I have decided to review them there. Simply follow the two links below to continue reading.
TRILOGY: THE WEEPING MEADOW (Trilogia I: To Livadi pou dakryzi)
(Greece/France/Italy/Germany, 2003,162 minutes, Colour, aspect ratio: 16:9)
TRILOGY ΙΙ: THE DUST OF TIME (Trilogia II: I skoni tou chronou)
(Greece/Russia/Italy/Germany, 2008, 133 minutes, Color, aspect ratio: 16:9)
career of Theo Angelopoulos, one of the most idiosyncratic and interesting of modern directors. These
transfers are solid and well done.
Now we need a region 1 release so that most Americans who don't own a region free DVD player can enjoy
them. (Some of the films are available in the US individually, from other companies, but many of the transfers
range from not-very-good, to downright awful.)
While sadly under known here in the U.S. Angelopoulos is now widely recognized by critics as one of the most
important and brave film-makers of recent years. He has an amazing eye, using poetic images to tell a complex story
often in very long unbroken takes. An early film, on the first box set is 4 hours long, and contains only 80 cuts!
Many of his films are an attempt to make sense of recent Greek history - which may sound off-putting to someone
not familiar with that country's convoluted 20th century political and cultural history. Yet I am neither Greek, or
a student of the many regimes and movements that came and went, and I find most of Angelopoulos'' films fascinating
and worth while.
That said, all the films have their flaws. Like any adventurer, Angelopoulos can fly to close to the sun, and sometimes
the films are obscure, the acting can be variable. Sometimes they can feel cold, at others, schmaltzy.
Yet the power of his images, and the boldness of his vision has made me feel patient with his arguable miss-steps.
He's not a film-maker for everyone. Personal taste will be a major issue in how you react to his work. But if you are
interested in challenging, grown up films, it's worth at least trying a couple of his best works like "The Weeping Meadow"
or "Ulysses' Gaze".
Some specific notes on the films in this set;
The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991) On first viewing, this was not an Angelopoulos film I loved. Of course
it looks great, that's a given. But the central story line - a journalist tracks Marcello Mastroianni who may well
be a famous politician and philosophic author who simply vanished one day, to a refugee zone on the
edge of the Greek border where he lives in squalor with the others there - doesn't pack the punch it seems it might.
The film is really a chance for Angelopoulos to ask some interesting and pointed questions about the nature of
borders; national, emotional, racial, from ourselves, between men and woman. The problem, for me, was that
the Mastroianni mystery is far less powerful and interesting then the stories of those living destitute lives around
him, who aren't runaways by choice, but in order just to survive. So, for me, it felt like we were focused on the wrong
plot, or certainly the more intellectual, less moving one.
Also, the dubbing of Mastroianni into Greek is pretty awful, to the point of being distracting. Oddly, that's something
I didn't find in Angelopoulos' earlier "The Beekeeper" (in fact, it was so good in that film, I thought perhaps
Mastrionni spoke Greek, and was able to do his own lines).
There are, of course, some memorable and lovely scenes here. Am amazing tracking shot as the camera goes by box car
after box car housing refugees from different places, deliberately and chillingly recalling the trains of doomed
concentration camp victims in WWII.
The wordless slow seduction of the journalist in a restaurant is odd, and amazingly tense, as the two people simply
look at each other in fairly wide shot for the longest time, the tiniest shifts in body language and facial expression
telling the kind of story that is usually filled with bantered pointless dialogue.
And the film's opening and closing images are particularly powerful.
But at 132 minutes the film feels like it takes more time to say what's on it's mind than it needs and it made me miss
the more complex earlier Angelopoulos films which were denser both in terms of cinema technique and in the complexity
of the stories themselves. When Angelopoulos really is emotionally engaged with his characters, as in "Voyage to Cythera"
or "The Weeping Meadow" he can be a wonderful humanist film-maker. But when his heart is on ideas not human beings,
he is better when he goes all out in that direction, as in "The Traveling Players" or "The Hunters". When he splits the
difference, you end up with films that lack in ideas, style and heart, like "The Beekeeper" and this. That said, of course at
some point I'll give it another chance.
Ulysses' Gaze (1995) On the surface, this is deeply flawed; there's some awkward dialogue, Harvey Kietel is OK, not amazing,
the female characters are thin. But it's so damn full of breathtaking images, brave cinematic choices, multi-minute long shots,
and a heart rending climax, that the flaws don't seem important some how.
The story: A Greek film director caught in his own mid-life artistic and personal crisis goes on an odyssey to find
lost footage by Greece's first filmmakers, traveling through the Balkans and revisiting his own life in the process.
I can certainly understand the mixed reviews. This isn't an easy film, and if watched in the wrong mood, or without
knowing what you're getting into (a slow, thoughtful 3 hour rumination on life, the past and art) could be very
off-putting. But accepted on its own terms, warts and all it's an amazing odyssey; visual, emotional and thematic.
Eternity and a Day (1998) The most Bergmanesque of Angelopoulos' films. Simpler and less epic than most of
his work, with fewer of his trademark breathtaking images and grand themes. Yet this story of a dying writer
spending his last day before entering the hospital -- never to leave - has a deeply elegiac melancholy, and
his attempts to find meaning by saving an Albanian street urchin are often moving, if occasionally sappy.
The same is true of Bruno Ganz' (unfortunately dubbed) relationship with his wife and family, told mainly in flashback.
Much is moving, some is hokey and forced. But Angelopoulos'' use of images to make film a poetic medium is always
worth watching, even when flawed.
The Weeping Meadow (2004) Perhaps the most emotional of Angelopoulos' films. While it occasionally flirts with melodrama,
it's ultimately heartbreaking while losing none of the film-maker's usual formal rigor and visual beauty. A couple try to find
a way to stay together in the face of wars, both civil and international, as well as fighting small town prejudice and rejection.
Not an easy film, and some of the history may be confusing unless you happen to be up on the history of Greece in the 20th
century (I'll admit I'm not), but very worth the time and effort.
The Dust of Time (2008) The last film of Angelopoulos'' career, before his recent death. Like all of this great director's
challenging work, I have a feeling this will improve with repeated viewings, as the sometimes disparate story stands
make their connections more clear. On first look I found this full of thrilling moments and beautiful images (as one comes
to take for granted with Angelopoulos), as well as a terrific, fun and heartbreaking performance by Bruno Ganz.
However, I also found myself more lost than usual, even being used to Angelopoulos' complex, time, place and style
shifting. At the end of the day I felt unsure how it all added up, or even that the pieces really did all fit. One writer said
they felt a bit like they were watching someone else trying to do a film in Angelopoulos' style, and not quite pulling it off.
That's perhaps a bit harsh. but there's some truth in it.
It felt less sure handed than I'm used to. Character motivations and story choices felt forced or distractingly hard to buy. Even
when Angelopoulos' earlier films confused me, I always felt strongly that the film-maker was never confused, he knew just how
and why the pieces fit together, intellectually, thematically and emotionally. This time I wasn't quite as sure.