Review

Harvey Keitel Naomi Levy and the "Wives"... Maia Morgenstern Ivo Levy ... Erland Josephson Taxi Driver ... Thanassis Vengos Nikos ... Yorgos Michalokopoulos Old Woman ... Dora Volonaki Maverick Greek director Theo Angelopoulos' latest epic is a tremendously challenging and demanding work that will leave audiences who latch onto its style and mood satisfied but utterly drained. The three-hour pic, as usual with this helmer, takes its own sweet time to make a devastating statement about the tragic Bosnian conflict; it's certainly not for the impatient viewer. Despite the presence of Harvey Keitel in the lead role, it will take a brave distrib to take a risk on this prestige item Stateside. Theatrical release in other Anglo countries is also iffy, but in Europe the director's rep and the powerful subject of the film should guarantee specialized release.

The Odyssey theme suggested in the title (but nowhere else in the film) is just the starting point for a journey across the Balkans from Athens to Sarajevo by a Greek-American filmmaker, never named in the film but called simply "A" in the credits. Keitel gives another of his gutsy performances as this obsessive character.

A has returned to Greece after a 35-year absence because he's making a documentary about the work of the legendary Manakia brothers, pioneer filmmakers at the turn of the century who traveled through the Balkans, ignoring national and ethnic strife, to record ordinary people (especially craftsmen) on film. A has heard that three reels of undeveloped film shot by the brothers exist in the Sarajevo Film Archive, and is determined to locate it, despite the conflict in Bosnia.

Along the way he has a variety of encounters. He helps an old woman cross into Albania in search of the sister she hasn't seen in 47 years; in Albania, he meets a woman who accompanies him on the train to Bucharest, where flashbacks intro A's mother. In one of the film's most magical sequences, which unfolds entirely in one lengthy shot, A's family celebrates the new year in Constanza over a period of five years (1945-50), during which period the Communist Party extends its grip on the bourgeoisie. Another striking sequence depicts a giant statue of Lenin being transported on a boat down the river to Belgrade. In the Serbian capital, A meets an old journalist pal and they drink to now-dead friends, including giants of cinema such as Murnau, Dreyer and Welles. Finally, two hours into the pic, A arrives in shattered Sarajevo. On the occasion of his return home for a screening, a first-generation Graeco-American filmmaker known only as 'A' begins the quest of a film historian's lifetime, searching for vintage reels of film shot by two brothers recording ethnic conflicts in the Balkans. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes. See Jean-Luc Godard's 'Contempt' for another meditation on 'going home again' and the filmmaker's art Greek filmmaker living in self-imposed exile in the United States rectums to Florina, the city of his birth, for a special screening of one of his most controversial films. But A. is looking for something else: the long-lost reels of the first film ever shot by the Manakias brothers.

When cinema was still in its infancy, these cineastes tireless sly traveled the length and breadth of the Balkans with their cameras. Unconcerned about national or ethnic differences, they assembled a testimonial to a region and its cultures. But do these never-developed reels containing the first images ever photographed on film really exist? And if so where are they? Journeying from Koritsa in Albania to Skopje in Macedonia; from Bucarest to Costanza in Romania; along the Danube that leads him into former Yugoslavia to Belgrade and finally to Sarajevo, A. continues his search. Along the way, he encounters facets of his own history, the past of the Balkans and of the women he perhaps might have loved there. A. follows the clues that lead him to the Manakias brothers' lost reels in a forgotten cinematheque. But, having been abandoned by inspiration, his search more than anything represent a hunger for the innocence of the brothers' creative gaze for that original state of purity that might bring him inner peace.

A man (Harvey Keitel) travels across the Balkans of the '90s, the Balkans of discord, fanaticism and war. It is a journey echoing the myth of Ulysses (Odysseus), a quest leading the hero from Greece to Albania, from Bulgaria to Rumania up to Constanza on the Black Sea, and from the Danube to the former Yugoslavia: Belgrade, Vukovar, Mostar, Serajevo. The pretext, or deeper motive of this journey is the search for a short film that has remained undeveloped since the beginning of the century. It is perhaps the very first film made by the Manakis brothers, the pioneers of the Balkan cinema. A quest for the pristine gaze of lost innocence

Greek-American filmmaker, known simply as "", returns to his hometown in northern Greece for a screening of his latest controversial film. His real reason for coming back, however, is to track down three long-missing reels of film by Greece's pioneering Manakia brothers who in the early years of cinema traveled through the Balkans, ignoring national and ethnic strife and recording ordinary people, especially craftsmen, on film. Their images, he believes, hold the key to lost innocence and essential truth, to an understanding of Balkan history Thus he embarks on a search that takes him across the war-torn Balkans, a landscape of spectral figures and broken dreams, right to the heart of darkness: a damaged film archive in Sarajevo where his quest ends. 's journey in the film is roughly the journey in the myth of The Odyssey. The persons meets along the a are persons Ulysses also meets on his journey, women, friendly persons from the past, family members from the past, persons that mark the course of a life r the voyage of two lives - the life of the Manakia brothers and the life of himself - transferred, of course, into the modern world and with the historical burden each one of these persons carries with him r her. Like a latter-day Ulysses, "" finally finds his "Ithaca", the missing, undeveloped film and is at last united with the work of the Manakia brothers... his gaze communes with theirs and another journey begins.


 

The idea for a film is something that one can't say when it is born r how. There are things ne reads, experiences, people ne meets, things ne hears, stories that ne stores in a sort of memory "store-room", without shape and form and that at some point due to some strange reason that n one ever really knows how or why you drag up as if from the depths of a well and they come t the surface. Sometimes the event is so sudden that one wonders and you ask yourself how it came into being. Then there is a time when all these elements begin to select themselves, either in harmony with each other r refuting each other. n the end, a theme emerges, a relationship, dramatic material, a series of images ery often far removed from the material one started off with. This is somewhat how ULYSSES' GAZE was born


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