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July 15 – August 22, 2016

Eternity and History – The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos

Greece’s most prominent director of the post-1968 era, Theo Angelopoulos (1935-2012) was a master stylist. His investigations into Greek history and politics, fascism and resistance, and spiritual anomie and emotional devastation place him on equal footing with filmmakers like Tarkovsky, Bertolucci and Wenders. Yet Angelopoulos’ commitment to his home country, his emergence in the 1970s instead of the 1960s, and the long running times and shot lengths of his films marginalized him after his first masterpiece, The Travelling Players, premiered in Europe. Angelopoulos’ major films were not shown in their first run in the US. Only in the 1990s, in the last phase of his career, did Angelopoulos’ work begin to make its way onto American screens. By then he seemed like a last auteur, a terminal point in world cinema at the end of the 20th century.

Raised in Athens, where his father was kidnapped by secret police and deported, Angelopoulos intended to become a lawyer, but quit law school and moved to Paris to study film at IDHEC. He worked for Jean Rouch, the ethnographic documentary filmmaker, and ushered at the Cinémathèque Française. Under the influence of films by Welles and Mizoguchi, along with silent cinema and Hollywood musicals of the 1950s, he returned home a committed leftist, a film critic and a would-be director. He began his career in Greece at “the time of the Colonels,” the same period of crackdown and repression Costa-Gavras exposed in Z (1969), the film that put Greek cinema on the map for a new generation of politically engaged viewers.

Angelopoulos developed a style of historical reconstruction defined by a roving camera, employing crane shots, long dolly tracks and slow zooms. Initially compared to the work of Hungarian film director Miklós Jancsó for that reason, Angelopoulos’ oblique approach to historical inquiry has affinities with the work of Straub and Huillet, who also rejected simple recreations of history in favor of demystified representations of history’s meaning in the present.

With his third feature film, The Travelling Players, Angelopoulos’ early style reached its zenith. This 222-minute film was something wholly new: a penetrating, ever-moving deconstruction of Greek history and myth akin, in some ways, to Nashville (released the same year), but more ambitious and strange than Altman’s film. After his early history films, Angelopoulos embarked on two modern series: a “trilogy of silence” and a “trilogy of borders.” Killed in a motorcycle accident while filming on location, he did not live to complete a final trilogy on Greek history. 

Rather than a last auteur, Angelopoulos now seems ahead of his time. As Greece has declined into economic collapse and political reaction under the modern imperialism of the EU and the World Bank, and as the country’s refugee crisis has steadily worsened, with displaced populations fleeing war in the Middle East and massing on its borders, the themes of Angelopoulos’ cinema are pressing once again. As both “slow” cinema and a new generation of Greek filmmakers (Yorgos Lanthimos, Athina Rachel Tsangari) have reached international prominence, the time has come to see Angelopoulos’ work in terms of present catastrophe, not historical injustice. – A. S. Hamrah, film critic, n+1 and Harper’s Magazine

Special thanks: David Schwartz—Museum of the Moving Image; the Greek Film Centre; Katerina Angelopoulou; Argyro Nicolaou.

All prints courtesy the Greek Film Centre.

Friday July 15 at 7pm
Sunday July 31 at 7pm

Landscape in the Mist
(Topio stin omichli)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Michalis Zeke, Tania Palaiologou, Stratos Tzortzoglou
Greece 1988, 35mm, color, 127 min. Greek with English subtitles

The bleakness of life on the road continues in the last film in Angelopoulos’ “trilogy of silence.” An adolescent girl and her little brother flee their small town in search of their absent father, who they believe has emigrated to Germany. Between hopping trains and hitchhiking, they befriend a young man who helps them on their way. Despite moments of awkward tenderness, this harsh film refuses to sentimentalize the experiences of its characters and the conditions of their lives. The children are told again and again that “there is no father, there is no Germany,” yet they grimly travel north toward the border and their fate. As in The Beekeeper, the materiality of film itself intrudes on the children’s journey, in the form of some 35mm frames that seem to guide them to the end.

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Sunday July 17 at 7pm

The Travelling Players (O thiasos)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Eva Kotamanidou, Aliki Georgouli, Stratos Pahis
Greece 1975, 35mm, color, 230 min. Greek with English subtitles

Angelopoulos weaves through time, turning it inside out as the troupe of actors in The Travelling Players moves through the landscape of Greek history in the years between 1939 and 1952. Violence and politics infect the players’ lives, as their story becomes a doomed Oresteia enacted as the Greek left is crushed during the Second World War and its aftermath under British liberation and then the Marshall Plan. The Travelling Players has the scope of a David Lean epic with none of the heroics. The film is an anti-epic, bravura in its camera movements yet micro-concentrated on events in the collective life of the film’s central troupe. Angelopoulos’ feel for American musicals turns this film into a war movie unlike any other, defined by the tropes of the director’s cinema: lurking, trench-coated policemen and thugs in Halloween masks, refugees, offscreen riots, firing squads, massacres and rigged elections.

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Monday July 18 at 7pm

The Weeping Meadow
(To livadi pou dakryzei)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Alexandra Aidini, Nikos Poursanidis, Giorgos Armenis
Greece 2004, 35mm, color, 163 min. Greek with English subtitles

A painstaking reconstruction of something impermanent, the post-World War I refugee village assembled in The Weeping Meadow was built by Angelopoulos to be lost in a flood. The first in his last, incomplete trilogy on Greek history, this film takes place in 1919, after the newly formed Soviet Union has exiled Greeks from Odessa. A stately formalism overtakes Angelopoulos’ style in his penultimate anti-epic, with every other scene a major pictorial triumph of staging, camera movement and photography. The Weeping Meadow is his 1900 or Once Upon a Time in America—without heroics, without the hope of trade unionism or America, which exist here as ideals and dreams in the process of being crushed by world war. Print courtesy Museum of the Moving Image.

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Friday July 22 at 7pm
Friday July 29 at 9:30pm

Reconstruction (Anaparastasi)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Toula Stathopoulou, Yannis Totsikas, Mihalis Fotopoulos
Greece 1970, 35mm, b/w, 97 min. Greek with English subtitles

Shot in stark black-and-white by Giorgos Arvanitis, the cinematographer Angelopoulos worked with through the late 1990s, this first feature, a crime story set in the present, introduces Angelopoulos’ visual strategy and his core theme. Under rain clouds and mountains, the disenfranchised inhabitants of a forsaken village reenact Greek tragedy as the economy and the police herd them to destruction. This true-crime tale, influenced by the interrogation scenes in Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil and his version of Kafka’s The Trial, combines film noir, neorealism and alienation. Reconstruction signaled a decisive break in Greek cinema from its Golden Age of the 1950s and ‘60s, the Melina Mercouri and Zorba the Greek period of high-grade international entertainment that brought Greece to the world stage and into pop-culture consciousness.

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Friday July 22 at 9:30pm

The Broadcast (Ekpombi)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Theodoros Katsadramis, Lina Triantafillou, Yannis Kostoglou
Greece 1968, 35mm, b/w, 22 min. Greek with English subtitles

Angelopoulos’ first completed film, begun in 1966 and completed in the wake of the 1967 coup that established a military dictatorship in Greece, The Broadcast is a subtly absurdist and deadpan satire about a group of television journalists who conduct a poll to determine the attributes of “the ideal man” and then try to find someone to match those characteristics. At a time when many of the filmmakers of the Greek New Wave, who had made their first features in the early and mid-1960s, were fleeing government crackdown, Angelopoulos managed to sneak this slyly and gently subversive film past the censors. Angelopoulos would come to regard The Broadcast as an experimental homage to the “free cinema” of the period.

Athens, Return to the Acropolis (Athina, epistrofi stin Akropoli)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos
Greece 1983, DCP, b/w, 55 min. Greek with English subtitles

As part of a television series devoted to Europe’s major cities, Angelopoulos was commissioned to make this film about Athens. Although much of Angelopoulos’ cinema is set among the villages of the northern countryside, he was born and raised in the city, so this film finds the director musing on an Athenian past that is variously ancient, national and personal, as well as clips from the “history” films The Travelling Players, The Hunters and Alexander the Great.

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Saturday July 23 at 7pm
Saturday August 6 at 7pm

The Hunters (Oi kynigoi)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Mairi Hronopoulou, Eva Kotamanidou, Aliki Georgouli
Greece 1977, 35mm, color, 168 min. Greek with English subtitles

After the corpse of a partisan who fought for Greek independence is discovered in the snow, hidden guilt overwhelms the New Year’s Eve celebration of a town’s bourgeoisie. The absurdity of a present day in which the guilty escape punishment and thrive becomes an absurd spectacle culminating in orgasmic dancing with imaginary rulers and death by firing squad. The great beauty and rigor of Angelopoulos’ uncompromising mise-en-scène reaches an apotheosis in The Hunters, in which he pulls back the curtain of mid-20th-century Greek history to expose who is really running the show. Here, collective guilt mixes with congealed satire and fresh blood, revealing a town’s leading citizens to be a troupe of puppets celebrating the way they concede to power in order to lead comfortable lives.

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Sunday July 24 at 7pm

Days of ‘36 (Meres tou ’36)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Vangelis Kazan, Kostas Pavlou, Petros Zarkadis
Greece 1972, 35mm, color, 105 min. Greek with English subtitles

Set in 1936 at the end of the Second Hellenic Republic, which had abolished the Greek monarchy, and right before the dictatorship of Ioannis Metaxas and his “4th of August” regime, Days of ’36, the first film in Angelopoulos’ history trilogy, follows a kidnapping and an absurd government crisis to a deadly conclusion. Angelopoulos shot much of the film in a former Turkish fort in Crete where communist political prisoners and freedom fighters had been tortured and killed in the civil war following the Greek liberation at the end of World War II, rather than in the mountainous regions of northeastern Greece he preferred. As a result, Days of ’36, a film of assassinations and executions, glints with a harsh Mediterranean light that pins corrupt bureaucrats and ineffectual politicians against a de Chirico backdrop of public squares, trapping them under floodlights in courtyards at night.

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Monday July 25 at 7pm
Friday August 12 at 9pm

The Beekeeper (O melissokomos)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Marcello Mastroianni, Nadia Mourouzi, Serge Reggiani
Greece 1986, 35mm, color, 117 min. Greek with English subtitles

The bleak industrial landscape of northern Greece, dotted with truck stops and lunch counters, dominates this road movie as much as Marcello Mastroianni does. The great star of Italian cinema is deglamorized here, as a lonely beekeeper driving a truck across Greece. He becomes involved with a young hitchhiker whose name we never learn. The Beekeeper seems inspired by the truck-driver sequence in Chantal Akerman’s Je tu il elle, an unsavory episode made into a covert incest tragedy by Angelopoulos. It ends in an abandoned cinema, a location that also links the film to Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road. Unlike road movies by Wenders, Jarmusch or Kaurismäki, The Beekeeper never resorts to hip or ironic gestures or references, even as it wanders into Blue Angel and Lolita territory.

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Friday July 29 at 7pm

The Dust of Time
(I skoni tou hronou)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Willem Dafoe, Bruno Ganz, Michel Piccoli
Greece/Italy/Germany/Russia 2009, 35mm, color, 133 min. Greek, English, Russian & German with English subtitles

Angelopoulos’ last film—a quintessential “late work”—sketches his themes, placing them in a 21st-century context where they don’t exactly fit. The film is as purposefully senescent as most of its characters, revealing a filmmaker uncomfortable with today’s Europe, exiled from Greece in order to make a film for the international marketplace rather than for art houses. Willem Dafoe plays a film director akin to the ones in Voyage to Cythera and Ulysses’ Gaze, but without the detachment and authenticity of Giulio Brogi in the former or the intensity and emotionality of Harvey Keitel in the latter. An international-intrigue thriller touching on terrorism, body scanning and homelessness, The Dust of Time litters dozens of smashed television sets on the stairs of a luxury hotel. Post-cinema, it’s also post-TV.

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Saturday July 30 at 7pm

Alexander the Great
(O Megalexandros)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Omero Antonutti, Eva Kotamanidou, Grigoris Evangelatos
Greece 1980, 35mm, color, 199 min. Greek with English subtitles

In Alexander the Great, Angelopoulos turns an incident from 19th-century Greek history into a fable of absolute power corrupting a village. The film contrasts imperialist notions of Greece as Byronically Romantic with the brutal reality of primitive conditions and massacres. Here, Alexander is a tribal warlord and former political prisoner who kidnaps British tourists, holding them for ransom until Britain and the Greek puppet government in Athens meet his demand for amnesty for his band of freedom fighters. Angelopoulos asks viewers to see the ruins of Greece not so much as the remnants of a noble past but as the evidence of ongoing pillage. More crazily leftist than the previous three history films, the film marks a break between his historical reconstructions and the “trilogy of silence” that followed.

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Monday August 1 at 7pm

Ulysses’ Gaze
(To vlemma tou Odyssea)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Harvey Keitel, Erland Josephson, Maïa Morgenstern
Greece 1995, 35mm, color & b/w, 176 min. English, Greek, Romanian, Albanian, Bulgarian, Serbian & Kurdish with English subtitles

Harvey Keitel, playing a controversial Greek-born American filmmaker, finds himself stranded in a country he has not visited for decades and goes on the hunt for reels of undeveloped film shot in 1905 by the Manaki Brothers, Macedonian photographers during the decline of the Ottoman Empire who made the first motion pictures in the Balkans. Angelopoulos created this epic tour of post-communist Eastern Europe as both a modern Odyssey and a study of collapse during wartime. Ulysses’ Gaze presents the end of the 20th century (the century of cinema) as a dangerous failure redeemed only by expressions of mourning or grief; dialogue in the film contains a dedication “to the world that hasn’t changed for all our dreaming.” For Angelopoulos, recording and preserving history on film serves as the only redemption in a world where monumental statues of great leaders end up toppled, beheaded and sold down the river.

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Friday August 5 at 7pm

The Suspended Step of the Stork (To meteoro vima tou pelargou)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Gregory Patrikareas, Marcello Mastroianni, Jeanne Moreau
Greece 1991, 35mm, color, 136 min. Greek with English subtitles

In the first film of his “trilogy of borders,” Angelopoulos gives in to the hopelessness and confusion of politics in a new video age, even as he hopes for more connection with the world outside Greece and Albania. A TV journalist (Patrikareas, billed as Gregory Karr) spots a lost soul (Mastroianni) in a refugee village and becomes convinced he is a politician and intellectual who has willfully disappeared himself from the Greek Parliament. The journalist seeks out the politician’s wife (Moreau) to confirm his suspicions and becomes romantically entangled with the man’s daughter, who is on the verge of marriage with a young man on the other side of the border. The arbitrariness of borders and the impossibility of finding truth in video images converge across class lines in this murky introduction to the post-communist geopolitical conflicts of Eastern Europe in the 1990s.

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Monday August 15 at 7pm

Voyage to Cythera
(Taxidi sta Kythira)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Giulio Brogi, Manos Katrakis, Mairi Hronopoulou
Greece 1984, 35mm, color, 133 min. Greek with English subtitles

A successful middle-aged filmmaker looks on as his father returns from exile in the Soviet Union to find his village being expropriated not by communists but by capitalists who want to turn it into a ski resort for Western European tourists. Angelopoulos’ first film set entirely in the present is startling and energizing, even as past conflicts haunt the story. Predating and predicting Antonioni’s Identification of a Woman and Tarkovsky’s Sacrifice, Voyage to Cythera confronts the future refugee status of all those unable or unwilling to participate in tourist economies. Looking more contemporary than even the director’s last works, the film seems like a product of our time more than the 1980s. Angelopoulos’ use of fog, mist, rain and the sea reaches a new level here, underscoring the indifference of a society turning away from injustice, distracted by personal problems and entertainment.

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Monday August 22 at 7pm

Eternity and a Day
(Mia aioniotita kai mia mera)

Directed by Theo Angelopoulos. With Bruno Ganz, Achileas Skevis, Isabelle Renauld
Greece 1998, 35mm, color, 137 min. Greek with English subtitles

Angelopoulos’ death-haunted border trilogy ends with this chilling look at the failure of poetry in the face of human trafficking. Ganz stars as a celebrated writer, a terminally ill widower whose daughter has married a feckless yuppie. His solace in memories of his wife and regrets about the failures in their marriage are interrupted by an odd version of Death in Venice: he becomes obsessed with saving a little boy from living on the street or being sold to wealthy Western Europeans who want to adopt children. They travel toward the Greek-Albanian border, despite the child’s reluctance, making a final tour of the landscapes and weather patterns that obsess Angelopoulos, a filmmaker whose films mirror life in that they can be long, but the last moments go by too fast.

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