Artificial Eye did the film lovers world a massive favor by putting together 3 box sets that spanned the
career of Theo Angelopoulos, one of the most idiosyncratic and interesting of modern directors. These
transfers are solid and well done.
Now we need a region 1 release so that most Americans who don't own a region free DVD player can enjoy
them. (Some of the films are available in the US individually, from other companies, but many of the transfers
range from not-very-good, to downright awful.)
While sadly under known here in the U.S. Angelopoulos is now widely recognized by critics as one of the most
important and brave film-makers of recent years. He has an amazing eye, using poetic images to tell a complex story
often in very long unbroken takes. An early film, on the first box set is 4 hours long, and contains only 80 cuts!
Many of his films are an attempt to make sense of recent Greek history - which may sound off-putting to someone
not familiar with that country's convoluted 20th century political and cultural history. Yet I am neither Greek, or
a student of the many regimes and movements that came and went, and I find most of Angelopoulos'' films fascinating
and worth while.
That said, all the films have their flaws. Like any adventurer, Angelopoulos can fly to close to the sun, and sometimes
the films are obscure, the acting can be variable. Sometimes they can feel cold, at others, schmaltzy.
Yet the power of his images, and the boldness of his vision has made me feel patient with his arguable miss-steps.
He's not a film-maker for everyone. Personal taste will be a major issue in how you react to his work. But if you are
interested in challenging, grown up films, it's worth at least trying a couple of his best works like "The Weeping Meadow"
or "Ulysses' Gaze".
Some specific notes on the films in this set;
The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991) On first viewing, this was not an Angelopoulos film I loved. Of course
it looks great, that's a given. But the central story line - a journalist tracks Marcello Mastroianni who may well
be a famous politician and philosophic author who simply vanished one day, to a refugee zone on the
edge of the Greek border where he lives in squalor with the others there - doesn't pack the punch it seems it might.
The film is really a chance for Angelopoulos to ask some interesting and pointed questions about the nature of
borders; national, emotional, racial, from ourselves, between men and woman. The problem, for me, was that
the Mastroianni mystery is far less powerful and interesting then the stories of those living destitute lives around
him, who aren't runaways by choice, but in order just to survive. So, for me, it felt like we were focused on the wrong
plot, or certainly the more intellectual, less moving one.
Also, the dubbing of Mastroianni into Greek is pretty awful, to the point of being distracting. Oddly, that's something
I didn't find in Angelopoulos' earlier "The Beekeeper" (in fact, it was so good in that film, I thought perhaps
Mastrionni spoke Greek, and was able to do his own lines).
There are, of course, some memorable and lovely scenes here. Am amazing tracking shot as the camera goes by box car
after box car housing refugees from different places, deliberately and chillingly recalling the trains of doomed
concentration camp victims in WWII.
The wordless slow seduction of the journalist in a restaurant is odd, and amazingly tense, as the two people simply
look at each other in fairly wide shot for the longest time, the tiniest shifts in body language and facial expression
telling the kind of story that is usually filled with bantered pointless dialogue.
And the film's opening and closing images are particularly powerful.
But at 132 minutes the film feels like it takes more time to say what's on it's mind than it needs and it made me miss
the more complex earlier Angelopoulos films which were denser both in terms of cinema technique and in the complexity
of the stories themselves. When Angelopoulos really is emotionally engaged with his characters, as in "Voyage to Cythera"
or "The Weeping Meadow" he can be a wonderful humanist film-maker. But when his heart is on ideas not human beings,
he is better when he goes all out in that direction, as in "The Traveling Players" or "The Hunters". When he splits the
difference, you end up with films that lack in ideas, style and heart, like "The Beekeeper" and this. That said, of course at
some point I'll give it another chance.
Ulysses' Gaze (1995) On the surface, this is deeply flawed; there's some awkward dialogue, Harvey Kietel is OK, not amazing,
the female characters are thin. But it's so damn full of breathtaking images, brave cinematic choices, multi-minute long shots,
and a heart rending climax, that the flaws don't seem important some how.
The story: A Greek film director caught in his own mid-life artistic and personal crisis goes on an odyssey to find
lost footage by Greece's first filmmakers, traveling through the Balkans and revisiting his own life in the process.
I can certainly understand the mixed reviews. This isn't an easy film, and if watched in the wrong mood, or without
knowing what you're getting into (a slow, thoughtful 3 hour rumination on life, the past and art) could be very
off-putting. But accepted on its own terms, warts and all it's an amazing odyssey; visual, emotional and thematic.
Eternity and a Day (1998) The most Bergmanesque of Angelopoulos' films. Simpler and less epic than most of
his work, with fewer of his trademark breathtaking images and grand themes. Yet this story of a dying writer
spending his last day before entering the hospital -- never to leave - has a deeply elegiac melancholy, and
his attempts to find meaning by saving an Albanian street urchin are often moving, if occasionally sappy.
The same is true of Bruno Ganz' (unfortunately dubbed) relationship with his wife and family, told mainly in flashback.
Much is moving, some is hokey and forced. But Angelopoulos'' use of images to make film a poetic medium is always
worth watching, even when flawed.
The Weeping Meadow (2004) Perhaps the most emotional of Angelopoulos' films. While it occasionally flirts with melodrama,
it's ultimately heartbreaking while losing none of the film-maker's usual formal rigor and visual beauty. A couple try to find
a way to stay together in the face of wars, both civil and international, as well as fighting small town prejudice and rejection.
Not an easy film, and some of the history may be confusing unless you happen to be up on the history of Greece in the 20th
century (I'll admit I'm not), but very worth the time and effort.
The Dust of Time (2008) The last film of Angelopoulos'' career, before his recent death. Like all of this great director's
challenging work, I have a feeling this will improve with repeated viewings, as the sometimes disparate story stands
make their connections more clear. On first look I found this full of thrilling moments and beautiful images (as one comes
to take for granted with Angelopoulos), as well as a terrific, fun and heartbreaking performance by Bruno Ganz.
However, I also found myself more lost than usual, even being used to Angelopoulos' complex, time, place and style
shifting. At the end of the day I felt unsure how it all added up, or even that the pieces really did all fit. One writer said
they felt a bit like they were watching someone else trying to do a film in Angelopoulos' style, and not quite pulling it off.
That's perhaps a bit harsh. but there's some truth in it.
It felt less sure handed than I'm used to. Character motivations and story choices felt forced or distractingly hard to buy. Even
when Angelopoulos' earlier films confused me, I always felt strongly that the film-maker was never confused, he knew just how
and why the pieces fit together, intellectually, thematically and emotionally. This time I wasn't quite as sure.