We watched two Greek films at the weekend. One much fêted and critically acclaimed “art cinema” film that we detested with a vengeance, and one lesser known film that we enjoyed considerably and recommend most highly. Cinema is an art that has many facets and while one may view it as “high art” capable of expressing subtle nuances of emotion and thought, it also has an entertainment value, and above all one would desire to be able to watch films with interest and engagement – no matter what the purpose behind their making is. I’ll review the rotten egg this week and review the movie we liked next week…
Theodoros “Theo” Angelopoulos (Greek: Θεόδωρος Αγγελόπουλος; 27 April 1935 – 24 January 2012) was a Greek filmmaker, screenwriter and film producer. He is an acclaimed and multi-awarded film director who dominated the Greek art ﬁlm industry from 1975 on. Angelopoulos is one of the most influential and widely respected filmmakers in the world. He started making films in 1967 and in the 1970s especially made several movies with a strong political message. He later chose to make films full of subtle emotional content, characterised by slightest movement, slightest change in distance, long takes, and complicated but carefully composed scenes. At the best of times, this type of film can be seen as offering a hypnotic, sweeping, and profoundly emotional cinema; at the worst it may be described as soporific, boring, unengaging.
We watched his “Voyage to Cythera” of 1984, starring Manos Katrakis, Mairi Hronopoulou, Giulio Brogi and Dionysis Papagiannopoulos. This is about a film director who is searching for the right actor to cast in his movie (to play his father, perhaps – is the director making an autobiographical film? Who knows?). Suddenly an old man who is the director’s father (or maybe not) a political revolutionary and ex-patriot returns home after decades of exile in the Ukraine to reclaim his place in Greek society and family. But he is unwilling to sell his land to make way for a giant new construction project, making him hated amongst his neighbours who are anxious to get cash for their rocky soil. He feels alienated from his family and decides to go and live in a hotel rather than the family home. Before long, the man is found to no longer have standing as a Greek citizen, and his placed on a raft off shore while the authorities decide what to do with him.
The film is painfully slow and exasperatingly obscure (although it is said to be one of Angelopoulos’ most accessible films). I do not consider myself a Philistine nor stupid, however, this film (that we sat through till the bitter end two hours later) frustrated and annoyed us. Other directors have made films about similar topics that were uncomfortable, challenging, emotionally draining, but for goodness sake they were engaging and made the viewer desperately want to watch the next scene. Angelopoulos repels the viewers and throws them is a sticky mess of soft, yielding mud. Sure enough there are some “beautiful” shots, but we cannot watch them for minutes on end – that is what photography is for. A movie is meant to capture movement and action. Waiting for someone to say something that is enlightening and propel the plot forward is painful for viewers of this movie. The plot does not march forward it is dragged forward unwillingly by a snail.
After a few minutes of watching this (in fact at about half an hour into the movie) we considered stopping watching it. We did not care what was going to happen to the characters and the film seemed to have little plot or character development. This was confirmed as we kept watching, albeit painfully… We decided to watch till the end as the film was a famous and critically acclaimed one. At the end we decided that we were savages and devoid of any art appreciation skills and pronounced the film a dud. Or maybe we decided to say that the emperor had no clothes on
One of the few redeeming features of the film was the music by Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou (born 1941). Her first Soundtrack album was released in 1979 for the movie “Periplanissi” by Chistoforos Christofis. In 1982 she won the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and was noticed by Theo Angelopoulos, the president of the committee. They collaborated in the last eight films of the Greek director from 1984 to 2008. Karaindrou is very prolific. Until 2008 she had composed music for 18 full-length movies, 35 theatrical productions and 11 Serials and Television films. She has also worked with Chris Marker, Jules Dassin and Margarethe von Trotta. A musician of extraordinary sensibility, she received in 1992 the Premio Fellini by Europa cinema.
This is the fourth Angelopoulos film I have watched, and unfortunately it is the fourth film of his I have disliked. Watch it at your peril, considering what the critics have said who have raved about this movie (at the time of writing this IMDB rated the film at 7.9/10) and what I have written. I rate it at 4/10…