With Ulysses' Gaze, veteran Greek director Theo Angelopoulos attempts to put a century of ambiguity, ethnic conflict and bloody turmoil that has shaped central Europe into perspective. In this ambitious and complex film, an anonymous film maker (played by Harvey Keitel) embarks on a mythical and spiritual odyssey of almost Homeric proportions through contemporary Europe.

Keitel's character returns home after a 35 year absence to attend a retrospective of his work and premiere his controversial new film. But he also has another agenda - to track down three rolls of undeveloped film supposedly shot by the Manakias brothers, two legendary pioneering Greek film makers, at the beginning of the 20th century. His journey eventually takes him across Central Europe, from his homeland to the bloodshed and destruction of war-torn Bosnia. The long journey is also a deeply personal one for the film maker, as he embarks on a journey of self- discovery and also confronts the demons of his own recent past.

Keitel's voice-over narration has a lyrical note that contrasts with some of the horrors depicted by the camera. However, Ulysses' Gaze finds Keitel at his most somnolent, and his performance here lacks his usual passion and intensity. Keitel walks through the part with a perpetually dour expression, and it seems almost as if his heart wasn't in the material.

Ulysses' Gaze is certainly an epic piece of film making from Angelopoulos, whose studies of the human condition usually deal with issues of cultural identity and dislocation, and the nobility of suffering. Cinematographer Yorgos Arvatitis superbly uses the wide screen format, capturing the contrasting landscapes of Europe, from the beautiful snow-covered vistas of Albania through to the rubble-strewn, bomb-shattered streets of Sarajevo.

Angelopoulos captures some evocative, striking images in a stunningly visual portrait that brings to life the full tragedy of the region. Angelopoulos bluntly points out that it was in Sarajevo that the seeds of W.W.I were sown, and that recent events have completed some sort of mythic cycle of death and violence. The brilliantly staged and devastating final scene is a shattering and potent indictment of the horror and sheer futility of war, and seems to encapsulate Angelopoulos' grand themes.

Angelopoulos has a penchant for long takes and still, silent moments drenched with hidden meanings. However, he maintains a languid and meandering pace throughout, and, at almost three hours, this soporific and sedate film is intimidating, and something of a tough slog for audiences. It's a pity that he couldn't have cut to the chase a good deal sooner by giving the film a tighter structure and stronger focus that might have made it more accessible.
* At the Trak from August 14.
© Greg King 1997 Melbourne Australia


I saw that this whole experiment we call civilization is only a beginning. There are too many people dying and suffering to call this a civilization, this is only a beginning of something.

When I read the script for (Director Theo Angelopoulos') "Ulysses' Gaze", I knew that I could not say no. It was a classic story of THE story of the soul's search for the soul. Reading the script was like reading a great novel, seeing a great painting, or listening to a great work of music. It was an experience that took me someplace I hadn't been before having that experience.

The film has opened all over the world, to great critical acclaim for the most part. America is the only major country where there is no distribution for "Ulysses' Gaze", because studios believe that these stories (from abroad) cannot generate dollars. We miss out on so many stories from around the world. I suggest that repertory films showcase directors from around the world.

© Copyright 1996 Urban Desires

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