Reviews

CANNES (Variety) - A celebrated author faces the end of his life in Cannes Palme d'Or winner "Eternity and a Day," the impressive latest offering of Greek maestro Theo Angelopoulos.

One of the director's most accessible pieces, the film is certain to win him friends -- but doubtless some naysayers also -- on the festival route this summer. Boosted by its prize, the picture is assured theatrical bookings in territories where this kind of lyrical, intelligent fare attracts upscale audiences, with Eurotube airings sure to follow.

Since his first film, "Reconstruction," made almost 30 years ago, Angelopoulos, a philosopher as well as a poet, has created a great body of work with 11 imposing feature films. Most of his pictures have centered on journeys undertaken by his protagonists, journeys that often lead through dank, misty landscapes to the very frontiers of Greece. The collaboration between Angelopoulos and his great cinematographer, Giorgos Arvanitis, has provided unforgettable imagery, often via long, complicated tracking shots.

Angelopoulos' Euro political themes and his rigorously stately pacing have proved a turn-off for some audiences, with even some literate film buffs considering these elements precious. Although they are found in "Eternity," there's also a new tenderness and emotional intensity.

Since the early '80s, Angelopoulos has often employed foreign actors to play the leading roles in his films, among them Marcello Mastroianni and Harvey Keitel. This time Swiss thesp Bruno Ganz has come on board to portray Alexander, a celebrated scribe who still lives in the gracious old family house where he grew up, by the sea in Thessaloniki. But now the house, slightly damaged in a recent earthquake, is surrounded by ugly apartment blocks, and his daughter and son-in-law have decided to sell it.

Alexander has to leave in any case because he's seriously ill. He's certain that once he admits himself to hospital he'll never leave, and so he's immersed in nostalgia during what could be the last days of his life. He especially remembers his late, beloved wife, Anna. In a poignant scene, he shows his daughter a letter her mother had written to him soon after she was born.

Alexander's chief regret is that he's never completed anything to his own satisfaction. He's been working on the last unfinished work of a 19th-century poet, but this, too, has to be set aside: his most pressing task is to find a home for his dog. His son-in-law won't have the animal, which Alexander eventually leaves with his faithful servant.

But on this particular Sunday he unexpectedly finds himself involved with a complete stranger, a little boy (Achileas Skevis) who's one of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Greek-speaking area of neighboring Albania. Having rescued the kid from a gang engaged in selling such youngsters to wealthy Greeks apparently ineligible to adopt a child legally, Alexander tries to get him back to his grandmother in Albania (unaware at first that the child has lied and the grandmother doesn't exist).

This provides the reason for the journey, a crucial ingredient in Angelopoulos films. Typical of the filmmaker is an indelible image in which the old man and the boy reach the misty frontier and are confronted by a surreal image of figures hanging on the barbed-wire barrier.

Equally impressive is a later scene staged in a bus, where the other passengers include a sleepy leftist carrying a red flag, a group of musicians and the 19th-century poet whose work Alexander has been attempting to finish.

Throughout this gloriously photographed film, Angelopoulos seamlessly switches between present and past, with the protagonist reliving key moments from his life while clinging to the simple, unexpected friendship of the abandoned child. Interestingly, even in the flashbacks, Alexander is portrayed by Ganz, rather than a younger actor, with no attempt to make the thesp look more youthful.

It's the touching central relationship with the boy, plus the premonitions of mortality, that give this impressive film its firm center.

Ganz, dubbed into Greek, is a solid presence as the troubled protagonist, while young Skevis is fine in the surefire role of the child. In the radiant flashback sequences, Isabelle Renauld glows as Anna, the wife Alexander adored and who lives on his dreams and memories.

Cinematographer Arvanitis was joined as director of photography on this visually rich film by his longtime assistant, Andreas Sinani. The crisp, clear images and the fluid, sinuous camera movements are testament to the superb craftsmanship of both men. Another regular collaborator, Eleni Karaindrou, provides a typically haunting music score.

"Eternity and a Day" finds Angelopoulos refining his themes and style. Just as other great filmmakers have in the past explored similar themes time and again, so Angelopoulos has evolved and come up with one of his most lucid and emotional journeys thus far.

David Stratton


 

AN exquisite stillness infuses the perfect architecture of every image in Theo Angelopoulos' ode to a writer's life. Pity it's so long and so slow. Alexander is dying of cancer. This is his final day. Tomorrow, he goes into hospital for the last time.

"My only regret is that I never finished anything," he says. Even now, after years of effort, he has failed to complete a 19th century poem by a Greek depressive, who only spoke Italian.

During his final day, he becomes involved through magic realism with moments from memory, visiting again his beautiful wife (Isabelle Renauld), realising that he has never known how to love, always escaping into a creative forest where artists stumble like blind horses. By chance, he finds himself helping an Albanian boy, an illegal immigrant, who has been kidnapped by a criminal gang. Such activity takes his mind off regret and the sadness of his own selfish existence. The film won top prize at Cannes last year. The quality of cinematography and performance of Austrian actor, Bruno Ganz, as the old man with dog, is indisputable.

Angelopoulos likes to linger. Every shot would benefit from a tighter edit. A grey figure against a grey sea under grey skies holds the attention briefly.

A man in pain, lonely as a stone, shadows the gaiety of his young wife in love. The hurt transfers to the audience. Even the dog looks miserable.

The Wolf


 

Not many critics sitting around in the Majestic Bar back at the 1975 Cannes festival knew much about the first two films of critic-turned-filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos – save that Reconstruction (1970) and The Days of '36 (1972) had been shot in Greece under a dictatorship (the junta was overthrown in 1974).

But here was a cineaste who could talk at length on cinema and politics and one who enjoyed listening to another's critical opinion of what the festival had to offer each day. So when it came time for his own Travelling Players to screen in the Directors' Fortnight, the Majestic Bar that night exploded into a week-long Greek celebration to honor a genuine auteur director discovered almost overnight.

Ever since, Theo Angelopoulos has been generally referred to as "a critics' director" – and, indeed, no film artist apparently feels more at ease among critics (to use that term in its hallowed sense) than he does. Angelopoulos probably should have won the Golden Palm three years ago at Cannes for Ulysses's Gaze, and, according to at least one inside report, he narrowly missed winning the Golden Lion at Venice in 1988 for Landscape in the Mist (awarded the Silver Lion instead). No matter, he has pocketed one International Critics (FIPRESCI) Prize after another – the last for Ulysses' Gaze (to accompany the Special Grand Jury Prize of the International Jury) and the first for Travelling Players two decades before, both in Cannes.

Mia Eoniotita Ke Mia Mera (Eternity and a Day), Theo Angelopoulos's eleventh feature film, will therefore be watched closely at Cannes, if for no other reason than because it's well positioned on the last day of the competition. But there are, of course, other reasons. This marks his fourth appearance in the Riviera sweepstakes – after Voyage to Cythera in 1984, The Suspended Leg of the Stork in 1991, and Ulysses's Gaze in 1995. Although each jury decision is subject to pressures of an unknown nature, let's just say that a slot on the next to last day could save a lot of people embarrassment.

The cinema of Theo Angelopoulos is the result of infinite preparation and teamwork in collaboration with a closely knit production crew. Yorgos Arvanitis, his cameraman from the very beginning, is internationally renowned for his long-take sequences, powerful rhythmic movements, and deliberately orchestrated zooms timed with the changing positions of the protagonists. Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra, who has collaborated with Antonioni and Tarkovsky (among other giants of the cinema), has been with Angelopoulos for the last six films, ever since Voyage to Cythera.

Yannis Tsitsopoulos has edited his last four films, for which Eleni Karaindrou has also composed the music. All these, in addition to Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau, Harvey Keitel and Maia Morgenstern on the other side of the camera – now Bruno Ganz and Isabelle Renauld in Eternity and a Day.

It's the director's stamp on his work that fascinates most of all. In Travelling Players we are offered a history lesson on Greek history from 1941 to 1949, from the beginning of the Second World War to the end of the Civil War, all encapsulated within a modern interpretation of Aeschylus' Oresteia. In Ulysses's Gaze Harvey Keitel returns from his long voyage to encounter modern-day female variants on Homer's epic, each played with a haunting presence by the same actress (Maia Morgenstern).

Voyages and landscapes – including rooms and spatial entities – can be found at the core of his cinematic vision. In Eternity and a Day Alexander (Bruno Ganz) is putting his affairs in order in his roomy villa, ready to depart for the hospital "on a long voyage" when the pain is no longer bearable. For the moment, however, he has time to reflect on his past, triggered by the letters of his wife Anna (Isabelle Renauld). But the present too has a way of breaking the spell – in the person of a little Albanian boy.

Ron Holloway


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