The poet of the cloudy paradise, the director who managed to fit in absolute cinematic silence what cannot be fitted in long dialogues, the philosopher who sought the truth through nature and the existential background of people; Theo Angelopoulos.
By Alexandros Theodoropoulos
The birth of the great Greek artist on April 27, 1935 in Athens, now seems an “eternity and a day” away. But it’s much closer than it seems.
The Journey to the 7th art
After school he began studying law at the University of Athens in 1953, but soon dropped out. He left for Paris in 1961 where he started courses in French Literature, Filmography and Cinema.
When he returned to Greece in 1964, his love for cinema had already blossomed. He worked for the newspaper "Democratic Change" as a film critic, until 1967, when the long journey of his artistic creation started; a journey that would establish him as one of the greatest film directors in world history.
The Baptism of Fire was the short film "Broadcast" (1968), followed by his first feature film, "Reconstruction" (1970) which won several awards at Thessaloniki Film Festival as well as at other international festivals, marking the beginning of Modern Greek cinema.
"Reconstruction" captures a crime of passion in a remote village of Epirus, Greece, during the years of the military dictatorship and was the first connection of Greek cinema with the European cinematic modernism of the time.
A film that balanced between family drama and crime drama decrying the forgotten Greek countryside, introduced Angelopoulos to the international stage as a director who exerts strong socio-political criticism through his films.
The "Trilogy of History" was the first film trilogy of Angelopoulos's career and was strongly historical, political and social, depicting the Greek reality. This trilogy brought the cinema of Angelopoulos very close to those of great film directors of the time such as Andrei Tarkovsky and Pier Paolo Pasolini.
In "Days of ‘36" (1972) which was the first film of the trilogy, Angelopoulos introduces cinematic silence as a force greater than dialogue and succeeds in decrying the years before the dictatorship of Metaxas, through carefully selected closed spaces where history and politics take place away from us and the rest of the world.
In 1974, Theo Angelopoulos made one of his most iconic films, "The Travelling Players”, which stunned audiences and critics at every level, winning 13 awards. In order to secure political permission to make the film, Angelopoulos submitted a fake script to the acting government minister of the time.
The film narrates the culmination of Fascism in the late 1930s, the Nazi occupation and the Civil War through the eyes of an acting troupe that toured Greece in the years 1939 - 1952.
"The Travelling Players", through a circular narrative structure, unique music and theatrical precision of scenes, managed to combine all the arts, intertwined within 4 hours of cinematic excellence of Angelopoulos’ unique view.
With the film “The Hunters” (1977) which linked politics with surrealism and was nominated for the Palme d’Or in Cannes, Theodoros Angelopoulos completed his first trilogy with Modern Greek history being the common central theme.
He later said that his goal through these 3 films was to understand Greece.
The "Trilogy of Silence" that followed in the years 1984 - 1988 includes the films: "Voyage to Cythera" (1984), "The Beekeeper" (1986) and “Landscape in the Mist” (1988).
In "Voyage to Cythera" - which recounts the return of a former communist (Manos Katrakis) from the Soviet Union to his Greek homeland after 32 years - the great director and screenwriter gave us perhaps the greatest scene in the history of Greek cinema.
The scene, where two remarkable actors, Manos Katrakis and Dionysis Papagiannopoulos, just before their swansong, portray two elderly political opponents of the Greek Civil War, who meet many years later on a street in their village and the following astonishing monologue of the latter follows:
"They forced us to fight each other. We destroyed ourselves. You from the one side, I from the opposite side. We both lost. The man with the man, the wolf with the wolf. Nothing is left here."
Through 6 sentences of script austerity, Theodoros Angelopoulos together with Thanasis Valtinos and Tonino Guerra managed to create a landmark scene of the Greek cinema and captured the modern history of 20th century Greece, resulting in a message of national unity that needed to be achieved at all costs even so many years later.
The film was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival, where it eventually won Best Screenplay.
Themes of clear historical and political perspective had begun to set for Angelopoulos, so in "The Beekeeper" where he worked with the great Italian actor Marcello Mastroianni, but also in the poetic "Landscape in the Mist", he dealt with themes that were more existential and philosophical.
The Peak and the Eternal Legacy
The 1990s brought the "Trilogy of Borders" with the films: "The Suspended Step of the Stork" (1991), "Ulysses’ Gaze" (1995) and the award-winning "Eternity and a Day" (1998).
In these films, Angelopoulos engaged with themes concerning the personal and professional wandering of man, the attempt to reach atonement, death, and the existential issues of the contemporary artist within a hard social space-time.
“Eternity and a Day" won the Palme d’Or for Best Picture at the 1998 Cannes Film Festival and Theo Angelopoulos became part of world cinema hall of fame.
Other important films followed until his last trilogy which remained unfinished, as on January 24, 2012, he was fatally injured by a passing motorbike during the break of shooting his new film "The Other Sea" in Drapetsona.
Throughout his career, Theodoros Angelopoulos worked with great actors such as Manos Katrakis, Marcello Mastroianni, Willem Dafoe, Harvey Keitel etc., was adored by prominent directors and writers from all over the world, led, won awards, but mainly: he dreamed a better world through his art.
A world, that left behind a legacy in Greek cinema, culture and the arts of our country. His harsh criticism towards the passions of the country that gave birth to him is perhaps his best gift to Greece; a bright and at the same time foggy path. Just like him.