“Film is one of the three universal languages, the other two: mathematics and music.” - Frank Capra
Last week I reviewed “Voyage to Cythera” an Angelopoulos film, which disappointed us greatly. It was an exasperating, slow moving, artsy film that had almost no plot and even less dialogue. I promised this week to review another Greek film we watched and which in contrast was infinitely more enjoyable. This too was “artsy”, but there was a plot, there was incident, dialogue, great cinematography and overall, for us at least, provided a much engaging and enjoyable viewing experience.
The film was the 2011 Stelios Haralambopoulos film “I Ypografi” ('The Signature'), starring Georges Corraface, Maria Protopappa, Alexia Kaltsiki and Nikos Kouris. Haralambopoulos also wrote the screenplay and cinematography was by Elias Kostandakopoulos. The excellent soundtrack was composed by Nikos Kypourgos.
The plot has as follows: Maria Dimou (Maria Protopappa) was a celebrated artist and her life’s work will be presented in a retrospective exhibition prepared by art historian Anna (Alexia Kaltsiki). Anna discovers that crucial to preparing a meaningful exhibition is Angelo (George Corraface), who was Maria’s partner just before her sudden and unexplained death. As the preparations for the exhibition progress, Anna finds that Angelo’s attitude and what he discloses creates more mystery and raises more questions about Maria and her work than before Anna met him.
This is a movie full of atmosphere, romanticism, mystery and perhaps even a touch of film-noir. It has wonderful cinematography, and many of the location shots are in Arcadia, the place of many an ancient Greek myth and the Renaissance ideal of an earthly paradise. The film makes many a reference to the Latin phrase “Et in Arcadia Ego”. This famously appears as the title of two paintings by Nicolas Poussin (1594–1665). They are pastoral paintings depicting idealised shepherds from classical antiquity, clustering around an austere tomb. The more famous second version of the subject, measuring 87 by 120 cm, which is in the Louvre, Paris, and also goes under the name “Les bergers d’Arcadie” (“The Arcadian Shepherds”).
The translation of the phrase is “Even in Arcadia, there am I”. The usual interpretation is that “I” refers to death, and “Arcadia” means a utopian land. It would thus be a memento mori. During Antiquity, many Greeks lived in cities close to the sea, and led an urban life. Only Arcadians, in the middle of the Peloponnese, lacked cities, were far from the sea, and led a rustic life. Thus for urban Greeks, especially during the Hellenistic era, Arcadia symbolised pure, rural, idyllic life, far from the city. This theme is picked up in the movie and the way that death enters the plot in the beautiful mountainsides of Arcadia is a reminder of our mortality and our human foibles.
The main theme of the film is love and what we are capable of achieving in the name of love. However, it also explores artistic inspiration, talent and the price of fame. There are strong performances from the leads and while the pacing is slow, there is a fast moving climax. Although the dialogue can occasionally seem banal, at least there is an intelligent build-up to the denouement. This is not a detective story so one cannot accuse the writer/director of “lack of suspense”, but there is a sense of mystery and a great deal of melancholy and drama as the tragic love story resolves itself.
This is not a masterpiece of the seventh art, but we found it to be and enjoyable and wonderful film after watching the annoying “Voyage to Cythera” of Angelopoulos.
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