This is a wonderful collection of early works by one of the masters of the cinema. Angelopolous made films like no one else's, creating his own language of image and
time. His films, especially these early works can be challenging, and even frustrating at times. They take work, and without a knowledge of Greek history (especially
in the 20th century) they can be down right baffling at moments.
Also, his first films, for me, are less than perfect -- an artist finding his voice, sometimes awkwardly (although there are many who see the first films as outright
masterpieces). I do know his films always grow with re-watching. There are always new details, new connections, new understandings.
It's very sad that this great artist's works are not more widely known and appreciated. Hats off to Artificial Eye for making these films easily available.
I can't think of any other modern film-maker who so deeply and rigorously explored his country's 20th century history, psychology, national myths, politics,
and societal strengths and weaknesses in film after film as Angelopoulos does in his early films. Later, he turns to more personal, humanistic film-making,
just as brilliant in its own way But his multiple films deeply and creatively exploring how his nation came to it's current state represent something
special, even to someone like myself who didn't grow up in that particular culture.
The DVD quality in the set is quite high. There is some controversy as to whether 'The Hunters' is the "right" cut, as it appears to be about 20 minutes shorter than
another extant version (However, that version seems to be impossible to find with English subtitles). On the other hand, Angelopoulos himself is supposed to
have approved this version. We may never know the whole story, but I will say this is the only version I've seen, and it blew me away.
Some comments on the 4 films:
Reconstruction (1970) A beautifully photographed, elegiac meditation on truth, love, change and loss.
While far from my favorite film by Angelopoulos, it is exquisitely shot in gorgeous, stark black and white, and very impressive as a first feature. As mentioned, I
get more out of it on each viewing.
This exploration of the nature of truth revolving around the murder of a husband by his wife and her lover in a tiny Greek hamlet, and the subsequent investigation
by the police and the press is emotionally reserved to the point of disconnection at times. And Angelopoulos' first experiments with time-shifting - which I love in
his later woks - on first viewing left me confused and frustrated more than enlightened. But once I was prepared for its fragmented approach, I found its
sometime confusing density powerful.
I also realized how much more than just a noir murder tale this is. It's the story of the death of a way of life as well, as the rural towns of Greece were abandoned
for money and hope in the big cities and abroad.
Days of '36 (1972) A step towards Angelopoulos' greatness
An even more difficult and abstract film than Angelopoulos' debut, his 2nd feature deals with a man arrested after a political leader is assassinated. The man seems
to have been part of the assassination plot, but it is left somewhat ambiguous what his role was. In jail he takes prisoner of an official who may or may not also be
his cohort. While the hostage situation is at the very center of the plot, we are never in the room with the two men, and never know quite what is or isn't going on
Tied directly to specific events in Greek history of 1936, when Greece fell into dictatorship (I suspect only a deeper knowledge of that history would have let me
experience all the film's many levels), and made during the second period of dictatorship 30+ years later (and so Angelopoulos had to be ginger in how blatant
anti-government his stance was) on the broader scope the film is about the desperate stupidity of power, seen here via the various odd ways in which those in
power try to deal with the hostage crisis; rendering them at first impotent, and then violent.
The pace is very slow. This is a comparatively short film by the director's standards, but actually felt longer than some of his epics. Without an emotional center
or any character(s) we can identify with, using all non-actors as cast, many of whom give fairly stiff performances, the film teeters on the edge between
fascinatingly enigmatic and simply frustrating and confusing. It's all a metaphor for a society going wrong, for the rise of fascism, but it's convolutions, distant
performances, and (for Angelopoulos) naturalistic visual style never really allows us inside as his later, greater, more poetic, theatrical and emotional
But it is beautifully made, shot from always interesting angles. Angelopoulos had yet to fully embrace his trademark super-long, flowing elaborate takes, (often
multi-minute mini-films within a film) but there is a step in that direction from "Reconstruction".
"Days of 36" is a transitional film. Angelopoulos starts to find the voice that would lead to his masterpieces, starting with his next film, "The Traveling Players",
where his intellectual rigor would be balanced by an incredibly cinematic vision, and the beginnings of his expressions of a sense of loss and pain, so one is
drawn deeply in, even as you occasionally get lost on a literal level.
Not a great film, but an intellectually interesting one, and required viewing for anyone interested in the arc of the work of this great master of images. And I
suspect, as with all this film-makers' dense films, I will only get more from it on repeated viewings.
The Traveling Players (1975) Angelopoulos' first masterpiece
Perhaps a flawed masterpiece, but for me his first great film. As with all of his films, it's challenging, and if you want to be cranky you can pick at it. But why?
First and foremost, 'The Traveling Players' is a technical achievement; almost 4 hours long and only about 80 cuts in the whole film! (or 132 depending on the
source. I will admit I didn't sit there and count!) It goes against all we've gotten used to in film story-telling, and does it brilliantly.
The story follows a troupe of actors back and forth through the years 1939 to 1952. They're thrown about by the violent, sometimes absurd tides of Greek
history, with victory over the Nazi's giving way to the rise of local fascists at home.
The film is very Brechtian and distanced in style. We hardly get to know the characters at all, despite the running time. It's much more interested in the great
tides of politics and time than individuals - which is both a strength and its weakness. I was always interested, sometimes horrified, but only occasionally
touched emotionally. Also, some of the good/bad of the politics felt simplistic and polemic.
That said, despite its length, I very much look forward to re-watching it it. I suspect I'll appreciate the amazing scope of it's vision and the bravery of it's
style even more without expecting to get caught up in the people in a conventional way. I will say, to make a deliberately paced, intellectual, 4 hour borderline
experimental film and never be boring is in itself an amazing accomplishment!
Comparing the Artificial Eye version to the highly praised Greek New Star release (which Angelopoulos personally supervised), I found they were nearly
identical in image quality. Perhaps the New Star had a tiny edge, to my taste in the color arena. The New Star is just slightly cooler in tone, faces are less
ruddy. But the image is so similar I imagine they likely come from the same master.
There's a bigger difference in sound. The New Star has a 5.1 dolby re-mix which I found slightly cleaner and more appealing than the Artificial Eye's simple
dolby stereo. However, one could make a good argument that the theatrical release wasn't mixed in 5.1, so the stereo mix is more true to the original. In any
case, the good news is that this new version lives up to the out-of-print Greek release that was under Angelopolous' direct control.
The Hunters (1977) My favorite film of the set
A powerful, surreal examination of politics, time, guilt and memories. An amazing follow up and companion piece to the epic 4 hour "The Traveling Players",
Angelopolous further refines his complex visual style, jumping backwards and forwards in time, often, remarkably all in the same shot. (There are several
very long takes here that are simply astounding, tracking us right out of the 1970s into the 1960s and then the 1940s and back again without a cut).
A group of hunters in 1977 find a communist revolutionary, dressed in 1940s clothing, freshly shot to death in the snow. But how can this be? All the
Communists were executed or exiled back in 1949.
The subsequent surreal exploration of the past and present - of each character and of Greece itself - is a challenging statement on guilt, denial, moral confusion
and self- deception. This may be the best of all Angelopoulos' films at making multiple time periods dance together in the same scenes, often in the same
shot, sometimes in the same frame (!). He uses cinema in a unique way to examine how the past shapes the present, and how we in the present then
re-shape the past in our memories. I found this the most emotional and moving of the 4 films in the set. And while it is generally serious, the film
also has a bleak, rueful, darkly playful sense of humor. Read more ›