Reviews

Theo Angelopoulos' 1995 film Ulysses' Gaze clocked in at three hours, sent some viewers scrambling hastily for the exits, and left others hunting for superlatives like "masterful," "powerful," and "brilliant." It is certainly not a film for the Star Wars crowd, but at that length and with a glacial pace, Ulysses' Gaze demanded patience even of the art house groupies. Patience, though, was fully rewarded and the superlatives earned. Angelopoulos proves to be a poet of the screen, probing deeply, raising fundamental questions, and offering up characters, imagery, and screen magic second to none.

Eternity and a Day, a risky title for a film that will be reviewed by some critics with a ninety-minute attention span, actually runs a mere two hours and ten minutes, though it does show signs of cutting from what one imagines was a longer director's cut. By way of comparison, recent films like There's Something About Mary and Message in a Bottle were films of similar length: two hour films that seemed like four - all of it wasted. Angelopoulos may challenge the patience of our hurried age, but he challenges the intellect and the spirit as well, and he emphatically does not waste your time.

Time is a central concern to celebrated writer Alexandre (Bruno Ganz); he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. As he makes preparations prior to entering the hospital, he travels in and out of his past and in and out of fantasy, seeking to make peace with a lifetime reaching its end. The fluidity of time and character in the narrative structure is a hallmark of Angelopoulos' work and a direct descendant in technique and tone of films by Ingmar Bergman. It is both an ideal format for allowing onscreen explorations of interior journeys and a format that no other medium than film is better suited to exploit.

Most of Alexandre's family get screen time: his mother (Despina Bebedeli), elegant in her prime, now living out her days in a nursing home, unable to console Alexandre from the fog into which aged minds retreat; his beautiful and loving wife Anna (Isabelle Renauld), who died young, but left him letters expressing how she treasured the days and her love for him; his daughter (Iris Hatziantoniou), attentive, but too focused on her own life to sense what is happening in her father's. There is a somewhat formal, disconnected feel to the way these characters interact on screen because Angelopoulos is projecting the entire film from Alexandre's point of view and the characters are his interior remembrances of the past; it is as if he were outside his own life looking in, but looking in only from his own memories. The other characters are mostly the shadows from his past, not living antagonists to Alex' protagonist.

The major character in the present is an Albanian refugee (Achilleas Skevis), a street boy Alex saves, first from the police, then, in an extraordinary scene that has a tone of (nonsexual) corruption and moral decay (instantly evoking the tone of Kubrick's orgy in Eyes Wide Shut), from kidnappers supplying the foreign adoption trade. The boy and Alex are both disconnected, both fearful - the boy of what is to come, still at the very beginning of his life, Alex of what he leaves behind at the end of his. The boy also represents emotionally for Alex the hope and the expectations of youth, when there seems to be unlimited time, time which is running out for Alex. The slow departure of a huge, brightly lit ship into the dark night, taking the boy to a new life, but away from Alex, is a perfect example of Angelopoulos' stately pacing which allows room to absorb the beauty of the image and the implications of the event, and to savor the emotional richness of the moment.

Eternity and a Day has an abundance of imagery from the director's fertile imagination. There are at least three variations on people at fences, most graphically, a shot at the Albanian border where a high wire fence is dotted with clinging would-be refugees yearning to be on the other side. There is a poet from the nineteenth century, in stovepipe hat, buying words for his poems. Ships and busses recur. One fine scene has Alex and the boy riding a bus while a parade of passengers gets on and off, including a trio of musicians who set up on the bus and play a minor key waltz. There are three people on bicycles who pedal in and out of scenes, dressed in bright yellow slickers. There is a plenitude of abandoned buildings and empty rooms.

Angelopoulos choreographs groups of people moving in an almost ritual manner: a family party on the beach, the family walking slowly over a dune as if arranged for a portrait; a street wedding in which the families of the bride and groom approach from different sides, carrying their chairs; a group of young mourners at a hospital in procession to a memorial rite.

Angelopoulos' poet from another age purchases a collection of unrelated words and then, later in the film, has put the words together into meaningful verse. It is a statement about the work of an artist, a collector of diverse elements then molded into a coherent, beautiful whole. Eternity and a Day is the work of an artist.

© Arthur Lazere

from: www.culturevulture.net
thanks Arthur Lazere


 

Greek art-film master Theo Angelopoulos is to the movie what Thomas Pynchon is to the modern novel his work is so sublime, so profound, so sophisticated, so ravishingly executed that few of us can be bothered with it. In the '90s, his very excellence defines him as marginal. The sublime inheritor of the Bergman-Antonioni-Tarkovsky mantle, Angelopoulos doesn't screw around he makes art, not entertainment, and he makes it with such a formal grace that regular moviemaking can look like crayon scribbles by comparison. It's not overstating the case to say his Landscape in the Mist may be the greatest film made anywhere in Europe since WWII, or to say that his Ulysses' Gaze is the most awesome (and overlooked) elegy Eastern Europe has yet received. In an ideal world, every Angelopoulos film would be an event, and indeed, at the Cannes Film Festival they usually are. Last year, Eternity and a Day won the Palme d'Or, even though it was widely considered to be a slight entry into the Angelopoulos canon, a mere doodle. With this filmmaker, even the toss-offs are award-worthy.

But in truth, Eternity and a Day isn't a doodle, it's Angelopoulos' answer to Bergman's Wild Strawberries and Fellini's 8 +, a dreamy, subjective voyage through the memory-toggled consciousness of an aging artist alone in a crowded world. Bruno Ganz plays Alexandre, a famed Greek poet who has just learned that he is terminally ill, and thus decides to empty out his life, closing up his beach house, saying goodbye to his daughter (Iris Hatziantoniou), finding a home for his dog, and semi-consciously rummaging through his memories of his childhood and of his late wife (Isabelle Renauld). Along the way, he encounters an Albanian orphan boy (Achilleas Skevis) who is rounded up off the street to be sold to adoptive Westerners, and then escapes. Dying himself, Alexandre can't just bring the child home with him, and so the two traverse the troubled landscape, looking for separate answers.

It's a more cliched structure than Angelopoulos usually uses, and although it sounds like Central Station, Kolya, etc. all over again, Angelopoulos is less interested in circumstance or character than in giving you massive moments so spellbinding and vivid they make you rethink what movies can do. Here, as in all of his films, there's no question that the film's melancholic crisis is Europe's, not merely the hero's. Some scenes are amazing: Alexandre watching the immigrant orphans escaping a police raid in the middle of a busy street; Alexandre following the hoods who are selling the children to kid-hungry Americans; the dozens of refugees clinging to a huge barbed-wire fence in the blinding snow at the Greek-Albanian border. Perhaps no other filmmaker uses the passage of real time so expressively. So, sure, Eternity and a Day may not be top-shelf Angelopoulos it lacks the heartbreaking wallop of Landscape or the breadth of Ulysses but neglecting it is like saying you give up on movies.

© Michael Atkinson


 

The prescreening joke about "Eternity and a Day" was whether this is the films title or its running time. The joke has resonance for moviegoers who know Theo Angelopouloss fondness for extremely long takes and leisurely, meditative storytelling; as it happens, the Greek filmmakers new drama is more stately and static than its material requires, but its extraordinary degree of pictorial appeal offers partial compensation. Bruno Ganz plays an ill and aging poet who spends a difficult day remembering his dead wife, befriending a little Albanian boy who wants to stay in Greece as an illegal immigrant, and ruminating on literary matters including the challenge of expressing oneself in a country (or an existence) where one chronically feels like a stranger in a strange land. The movie is less imposing than "Ulysses Gaze," which earned a second-rank Cannes prize (prompting a grumpy acceptance speech from the auteur) three years ago, and I found it less entrancing than such recent Angelopoulos works as "Landscape in the Mist" and "The Suspended Step of the Stork." Still, it has a great deal of somber beauty to recommend it.

© David Sterritt


 

Not too many great directors are sitll working in the cinema. Lovers of good film would doubtless know men like Godard, Bertolucci (whose latest "Besieged" takes him into personal waters he had not previously charted), of course Martin Scorcese, and maybe Zhang Yimou. But few in America are familiar with the films of the 62-year-old Greek master Theo Angelopoulos, whose earlier works were politically on the left (in the days of the Greek military junta) and which include, recently, "Ulysses' Gaze" starring Harvey Keitel, about the downfall of Communism in Eastern Europe. Now that Greece is again a democracy, Angelopoulos has turned--like Bertolucci--to making more personal films, perhaps even more poetic than before with the occasional burst of melodrama. He is best known for the unique use to which he puts his camera, the very opposite of MTV style. He tends to track his subjects slowly, eschewing the fancy editing that Bertolucci freshly used to capture various expressions on the face of that remarkable new actress, Thandie Newton, in "Besieged." Yet he is no fan of naturalism. As his camera slowly pans, he may throw in a sequence of magic realism, placing his hero effortlessly into time travel--which is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of his latest work, "Eternity and a Day."

Known in Greek as "Mia eoniotita ke mia mera," this Palme D'Or winner at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival is a deeply felt character study highlighting a dying poet named Alexandre (Bruno Ganz). He has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. We see him on his final day before he is to check into a hospital, an eventful day that leads him into one high adventure which, in turn, helps him to reminisce about his some of his better times with his late, lovely wife Anna (Isabelle Renauld). As he shifts back and forth in time from the seaside home in which he spent many happy days, Angelopoulos's cameraman, Girgos Arvanitis, appropriates both the coastal beauty of the country and the craggy rocks which give off a desolate, wintry feeling. Two events cause Alexandre to drift off into Proustian memories: one, the discovery of several letters which his departed wife had left for him; the other, his sheltering of an Albanian orphan boy of Greek ethnicity (Achilleas Skevis), who is at first chased by police while washing auto windshields with a gang of other abandoned kids and later abducted by band of brigands to be sold to rich tourists as illegal adoptions.

The present-day scenes are the more compelling ones, particularly one which takes place at a deteriorating, vacated hotel, where tourists stop, look at the boys who are lined up in a rogue's gallery, and make their selections. By helping the boy run away and befriending him, Alexandre, now facing death, is able to restore his own spirit while protecting the lad. His strong identity with the boy is fed by his own view of himself as an outsider. At an earlier time, his parents took him to Italy, where he lost not only his sense of place but his language. Upon his return to Greece, the alienated writer found that he had actually to purchase words from others--a situation which he dramatizes for us by having his new disciple literally go up to people, carry back Greek words to Alexandre, and gain the reward of a few drachmas.

At 132 minutes, "Eternity and a Day" may feel like just that to the MTV generation (who would not likely be seen in the Angelopoulous' audience) but despite the director's inadequacy fully to capture the character of Anna, the film is quite worth viewing particularly for the scenes between Alexandre and the boy he has saved. We see elements here of "Voyage to Cythera," which deals with a filmmaker who wants to make a movie about an elderly political refugee, who watches the old man and follows him, until the old man's life takes on the elements of story. In this case the refugee is a kid, who acts as catalyst for the poet's own meditative journey. We're not clear whether the remarkable Bruno Ganz is actually speaking Greek through the film. If so, the dubbing is remarkable as is the English translation--which appears to capture the poetry of the spoken Greek. For a specialized audience, especially attuned to this director's previous political works like "The Travelling Players," the current, more personal film is a fine reflection on the life of a man who felt himself an outsider for a good deal of his days but has begun the process of healing through his memories and through his existential commitment to an orphan boy.

© Harvey Karten


 

Eternity and a Day is a deliberately paced drama of extraordinary physical beauty, but its human center is too vacant to resonate.

In 1988, Theo Angelopolous made a film called Landscape in the Mist, but that title is equally appropriate for his last two films, Ulysses Gaze, and his latest, the Cannes Film Festival winner Eternity and a Day. With both, Angelopolous shows a predilection for large, beautiful landscapes both natural and man-made, especially those shrouded in a wet, ghostly fog. Many of these images are admittedly stunning in their stark austerity, but the unfortunate by-product of such large expansive beauty is the dwarfing of the human element. Angelopolous clearly has huge ambitions, but unlike a Lean or a Kurosawa, he isnt as able to ground his grand visions in the human specific. The landscapes in the mist overwhelm the behavior of the human characters that populate them, and so these films, which purport to tell entirely human stories (unlike those of say, a Stanley Kubrick), are tinged with a frosty impersonality.

Eternity and a Day features an older Greek man named Alexander who is dying of some unnamed ailment, living his last day before entering a hospital to wait out his death. Played with a strong, quiet dignity by veteran actor Bruno Ganz (most recognizable for Wings of Desire), Alexander takes stock of his life, and comes to some sad, unfortunate conclusions. He was a poet who dedicated his life to finishing the work of another dead poet, and in the process failed to pay proper attention to the living in his life. He finds this out firsthand, when he re-examines a letter left to him by his long dead wife, a letter that outlines one particular day where she wished he was more emotionally present. He is stricken with the sadness of missed opportunity, and so he roams the Greek countryside, mulling over such mistakes. In the midst (and the mist) of the mulling, he comes across a street urchin, a young Albanian boy who is part of a group of street urchins running from unsympathetic police and black-market orphanages looking for new product. Alexander, in a last grasp at emotional connection, takes the boy under his wing and tries to put him in a safe place.

That last sentence implies much more eventfulness than Eternity and a Day is ready to provide. With very limited success, the movie alternates its focus between Alexanders ruminations of his past, which are often beautifully literal, and his relationship to the boy, which becomes more maddeningly surreal as the film progresses. Neither of these concerns can manage to escape the suffocating self-indulgence of Angelopolous, who has no trouble spending an endless amount of time leaving the camera on images that have nothing but the most peripheral relevance to the story hes trying to tell. At one point we see a young married couple, who are complete strangers as far as the film is concerned, dancing during their outdoor wedding for what seems a lifetime as Alexander looks on. Yes, hes watching two lovers begin their lives as his squandered love life is ending, and so he has more reason to feel regret, but this is a fairly obvious point that can be gleaned pretty quickly. It is a pretty, vivacious image, but how long is too long to hold on it? At what point does a held image of beauty cease to become poetic, and turn into monotonous indulgence? Angelopolous forces such distinctions to be made.

Perhaps if he spent less time catering to his own taste for imposing scenery he could have made a more fully realized connection between Alexanders two concurrent preoccupations. But the connection turns out to resonate just as weakly and obviously as the dancing couple - the kid is Alexanders last shot at caring for a person. That sort of human concern is nothing to sneeze at, but that is precisely what Angelopolous does. In addition to the directors slower than snail pacing, where little time is dedicated to people actually doing anything, the poet-boy relationship dissolves into a cold, murky abstraction, though not without the sort of cutesy, unearned emotionality thats par for the course with such a coupling. The only place Angelopolous can find real, textured emotionality is in Alexanders flashbacks to that wasted day with his wife. They have a warm, loving feel to them, and make for the only case where Alexanders melancholy is made palpable. They work as a literalization of Alexanders thoughts and feelings, which are what Eternity and a Day is ultimately about. Thoughts and feelings. Not majestically misty vistas. This is a story that takes place behind the characters eyes, not in front of them, no matter how beautiful and impressive those sights may be.

© David Luty


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