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The Cinema of

Theo Angelopoulos
Edited by
Angelos Koutsourakis
& Mark Steven

With a foreword by Alexander Kluge

The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos
The Cinema of Theo Angelopoulos
Edited by Angelos Koutsourakis and Mark Steven
© editorial matter and organisation Angelos Koutsourakis and Mark Steven, 2015
© the chapters their several authors, 2015

Edinburgh University Press Ltd

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Patents Act 1988 and the Copyright and Related Rights Regulations
2003 (SI No. 2498).

List of Figures vii

Note on the Text ix
Alexander Kluge

Introduction – Angelopoulos and the Lingua Franca of Modernism 1

Angelos Koutsourakis and Mark Steven

Part i Authorship
  1 Theo Angelopoulos as Film Critic 23
Maria Chalkou
  2 Two Short Essays on Angelopoulos’ Early Films 39
Nagisa Oshima
  3 Generative Apogee and Elegiac Expansion: European Film
Modernism from Antonioni to Angelopoulos 45
Hamish Ford
  4 The Gestus of Showing: Brecht, Tableaux and Early Cinema in
Angelopoulos’ Political Period (1970–80) 64
Angelos Koutsourakis
  5 Angelopoulos’ Gaze: Modernism, History, Cinematic Ethics 80
Robert Sinnerbrink

Part ii Politics
  6 Angelopoulos and Collective Narrative 99
Fredric Jameson
  7 Theo Angelopoulos’ Early Films and the Demystification of Power 114
Vrasidas Karalis
vi  c o nt e nts

 8 Megalexandros: Authoritarianism and National Identity 129

Dan Georgakas
  9 Tracks in the Eurozone: Late Style Meets Late Capitalism 141
Mark Steven

Part iii Poetics
10 Cinematography of the Group: Angelopoulos and the Collective
Subject of Cinema 159
Julian Murphet
11 The Narrative Imperative in the Films of Theo Angelopoulos 175
Caroline Eades
12 Syncope and Fractal Liminality: Theo Angelopoulos’ Voyage to
Cythera and the Question of Borders 191
Dany Nobus and Nektaria Pouli
13 Landscape in the Mist: Thinking Beyond the Perimeter Fence 206
Stephanie Hemelryk Donald
14 An ‘Untimely’ History 219
Sylvie Rollet

Part iv Time
15 Angelopoulos and the Time-image 235
Richard Rushton
16 Memory Under Siege: Archive Fever in Theo Angelopoulos’
Ulysses’ Gaze249
Smaro Kamboureli
17 ‘Nothing Ever Ends’: Angelopoulos and the Image of Duration 264
Asbjørn Grønstad

Afterword – Theo Angelopoulos’ Unfinished Odyssey: The Other Sea275

Andrew Horton

Theo Angelopoulos’ Filmography 292

Notes on Contributors 301

 I.1 The Travelling Players3

 I.2 The Suspended Step of the Stork8
 2.1 The Travelling Players42
 3.1 The Broadcast46
 4.1 Reconstruction71
 5.1 Ulysses’ Gaze 87
 5.2 Ulysses’ Gaze 89
 6.1 Megalexandros111
 7.1 Days of  ’36 119
 8.1 Megalexandros133
 9.1 The Dust of Time149
10.1 Diagram for the opening scene of Days of  ’36165
10.2 The Hunters166
11.1 Eternity and a Day179
12.1 Voyage to Cythera197
13.1 Landscape in the Mist209
14.1 The Suspended Step of the Stork228
15.1 The Weeping Meadow 243
16.1 Ulysses’ Gaze 259
17.1 The Dust of Time 265
  A.1 Andrew Horton and Theo Angelopoulos on set for The Other Sea 276

T his book would not have been possible without the support of a great
number of people. First, we are indebted to the School of the Arts
and Media at the University of New South Wales for sponsoring the ‘Theo
Angelopoulos: History as Form’ symposium in 2013. Particularly, we would
like to thank the heads of the research committee, George Kouvaros and Chris
Danta, who supported our application for funds related to the symposium and
the book. We are grateful to Phoebe Economopoulos for providing us with
rare documents on the filmmaker’s oeuvre and for doing her best to answer
our enquiries while working on the project. We would like to thank Julian
Ross, Precious Brown and Eszter Katona for translating chapters published
in this volume. We are obliged to Go Hirasawa for putting us in touch with
Nagisa Oshima Productions; and many thanks are due to the latter for allow-
ing us to reprint two essays by this great filmmaker. An earlier version of Dan
Georgakas’ chapter appeared in The Journal of Modern Greek Studies (18.1
2000: 171–182) and we thank the journal for permission to reprint some of this
material. We would also like to extend our thanks to George Kouvaros and
Andrew Horton for reading sections of the book and for helping us to improve
them. Kristin Grogan did an excellent job proofreading the manuscript. We
remain indebted to the two anonymous reviewers of the book proposal. We are
thankful for Hazel Reid from Words Around, who copy-edited the manuscript;
she has been superb to work with. Gillian Leslie, the commissioning editor for
Film Studies at Edinburgh University Press, believed in this book from the
very beginning and we are obliged to her for helping us to bring this project
into shape. Working with Richard Strachan from EUP is also a pleasure.
Finally, we would like to thank all our contributors for their passion, patience
and hard work.
Note on the Text

I n each chapter, we provide in parentheses the original foreign title and the
year of release only for the first mention of each film. Similarly, for each
character mentioned we provide in parentheses the name of the actor portray-
ing the character only the first time the character is named in that chapter.
Alexander Kluge
Translated by Eszter Katona

I n film history, there is one sentence that is for me irrefutably true: the
not-filmed criticises that which is filmed. A variant of this assertion can
be found in Angelopoulos’ To Βλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995), in
which a Greek director (played by Harvey Keitel) comes back from the USA to
Europe and goes in search of undeveloped rolls of film by the Manakis broth-
ers from 1905. This film is about the question of tradition, about the contra-
dictions between the past and the present historical moments. Angelopoulos
tells a story about Greece while directing his gaze to other countries. Rainer
Werner Fassbinder told me once that he really loved American cinema, but
that he understood himself primarily as a German filmmaker. It was the
issues of his homeland, the conflicts of his origin that he wanted to deal with
in his films. Angelopoulos’ last project was to be dedicated to the Greek crisis.
He was a patriot of film history; he wanted to tell the history of his country
through the medium of film art.
For me, the theme of the Odyssey-film is a fundamental beginning: every
ambitious director searches for missing rolls of film. This is an ambition that
authors of moving images carry within themselves. We are archaeologists,
predators of the past, spinning threads of time through the centuries. Our
model is Arachne. A similar principle in literature: the Library of Alexandria
burnt down but we refabricate its texts with the novels, plays and poems of
Angelopoulos’ technique is the protest. His films are realistic because they
refer to a reality in which people try to orientate themselves. This connects
them with the wanderings of the Odyssey. The opposite of unfamiliarity
is trust: the places around me, the objects in my field of vision, the people
that I touch. Trust is a category of intimacy and openness. We are currently
witnessing that in many countries around the world: people are losing collec-
tive confidence in and sympathy for their governments. Angelopoulos would
foreword  xi

have accompanied these developments with his own eyes. He would have
responded to these intense political eruptions in Ukraine, Syria, or Northern
Iraq with his sense of time. The long takes and uncut images are to accustom
the viewer to the place of action and characters. The breathing of the film cor-
responds to the demands in the lungs of the viewer.

Angelopoulos and the Lingua

Franca of Modernism
Angelos Koutsourakis and Mark Steven

T he twenty-eighth Cannes Film Festival in 1975 was marked by the

­enthusiastic reception of a film that did not officially represent Greece,
the country of its production. The right-wing government of the time refused
to nominate it because it considered the leftist portrayal of modern national
history offensive. Yet a Greek filmmaker and his crew managed to smuggle a
copy of this film and show it as part of Pierre-Henri Deleau’s renowned pro-
gramme, the Directors’ Fortnight. The filmmaker was Theo Angelopoulos
and the film Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975). While the organisers
of the festival were trying to find ways to sidestep the rules stipulating that
only national commissions could be awarded festival prizes, by May 20, 1975
this 230-minute film had enjoyed its fourth screening in Cannes. Deleau’s
anecdote typifies the passionate response of the cinéphile community:

I remember once we had a four-hour film, and we thought no one would

stay until the end. But it was Angelopoulos’ The Travelling Players: it
got a standing ovation. At the back of the auditorium, there was this
strange-looking man walking up and down in an almost military fashion,
staring straight at Angelopoulos, who had his back to the stage. The man
started to walk towards him and Angelopoulos began to get worried.
Then he went down on his knees, kissed Angelopoulos’ feet and left
without saying a word. It was Werner Herzog. Later, when I mentioned
this to Werner, he told me that the film had made him jealous so he
had to genuflect before the filmmaker. That’s the rivalry between great
filmmakers, a kind of good jealousy. (cited in Mandelbaum 2008)

Eventually, the Cannes Film Festival broke its own rules, and The Travelling
Players received the FIPRESCI Grand Prix. The film’s storyline follows a
group of actors who travel in Greece during the turbulent years 1939–1952,
2  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis and m ark steven

so as to perform a traditional bucolic drama, Golfo. Their performances are

routinely interrupted by the major traumatic events of Greek history: the
Metaxas dictatorship in the 1930s, the Italian invasion in 1940, the German
occupation, the Greek Civil War, and the years after the defeat of the Left in
the Civil War.
The following year, Hugh Jenkins, the UK minister of Arts, said that The
Travelling Players ‘was the most original and most important movie of 1975’,
(cited in Stamatiou 1976) and the film was subsequently awarded Best Film of
the Year by the British Film Institute. In France and Britain, writers in journals
such as Positif and Sight and Sound announced the birth of ‘a new epic cinema’
(Jordan 1975) and ‘a film reverberating with metaphor and meaning’ (Wilson
1975: 58), while in Germany a film critic went so far as to claim that The
Travelling Players was as significant in the history of cinema as The Battleship
Potemkin (1925) and Roma Città Aperta (Rome Open City, 1945) (Buchcka cited
in Themelis 1998: 126). Meanwhile, the film was successfully sold in Europe, in
Asia and in South America, and Angelopoulos thus became a world-renowned
director, whose unique style would influence filmmakers across the globe.
These filmmakers include Chen Kaige,1 Jorge Sanjinés, Bernardo Bertolucci,2
Jessica Hope Woodworth, Peter Brosens, Bahman Ghobadi, and many more.
But who was this Greek filmmaker who emerged from relative obscurity
to become one of the canonical figures in modernist European art cinema?
In France, this was not the first time he had been the topic of discussion
within cinéphilic circles. In 1962, studying at the Institut des hautes études
cinématographiques (Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies) in Paris,
Angelopoulos acquired notoriety for refusing to shoot the compulsory short-
film assignment using the standardised dramaturgical tropes. Instead, he
decided to re-shoot a scene from Roger Vadim’s Les liaisons dangereuses
(Dangerous Liaisons, 1959) using a 360° pan. While his colleagues at the
Institute responded wholeheartedly to the young filmmaker’s completed
project, his teacher took disciplinary action and recommended Angelopoulos’
expulsion from the school. A protest letter was signed by his classmates, as
well as by important film intellectuals such as George Sadoul and Jean Mitry,
but it all came to no avail. Forced to leave the IDHEC, Angelopoulos found
temporary refuge in Jean Rouch’s Musée de l’Homme, where he familiarised
himself with formal tropes associated with cinéma vérité. Angelopoulos was
also a committed cinéphile. Prior to studying cinema he worked as a ticket
seller in the Cinémathèque in Paris and as he recalled he became one of the
rates de la Cinémathèque (rats of the Cinémathèque), and watched a plethora of
films ranging from classical Hollywood to European and Asian cinema. Such
was his belief in the visual capacity of the medium to communicate meaning
that he enthusiastically watched dozens of Japanese films, even though there
were no subtitles available (Archimandritis 2013: 24).
in troduction   3

Figure I.1 The Travelling Players

4  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis and m ark steven

Angelopoulos’ Parisian training was fundamental to his subsequent desire

to make films that would engage with questions of national and historical
specificity by using the late modernist style and a visual language that, as
Alexander Kluge points out in the foreword to this book, could address his-
torical concerns, dreams and failures on a global scale. Thus, not unlike other
representatives of the New Waves in World Cinema, his project was thor-
oughly anti-nationalist. As Paul Willemen rightly observes, films concerned
with issues of national specificity are always ‘anti-nationalist’ because they
refuse to subscribe to nationalist homogenising projects (2006: 36). In the case
of Angelopoulos, one needs to add, they also play a political role, since they
intend to actively shape the audience’s view of the historical particularity and
therefore situation of a specific country.
The mode of late modernist art cinema, as András Bálint Kovács observes,
was (and it still remains) particularly pertinent in this regard, precisely because
it also served the ‘modernization of a traditional national cultural environment
through its integration into the modern cinematic universe’ (2007: 181). In
Angelopoulos’ case, this modernisation also involved building an audience by
writing seriously about cinema hence, like a number of filmmakers associated
with the Nouvelle Vague, he started his career as a film-critic. Yet the task of
modernising the Greek cultural landscape had, for Angelopoulos, a utopian
dimension. In 1969, in an interview with his friend Vassilis Rafailidis, he
explained that the cinema they desired was not the escapist one that helps one
forget about everyday problems, but a cinema that keeps insistently remind-
ing the viewer of his or her everyday reality (cited in Rafailidis 2003: 137).
Tellingly, this desire went hand in hand with a belief in using a set of stylistic
and formal narrative devices associated with modernism. As Kovács argues,
the endeavoured modernisation of national film cultures in the 1960s relied
deeply on ‘the employment of a set of universal stylistic solutions’ (2013:
3–4) that were successfully applied to different cultural traditions. In this
context, the modernisation of different national film cultures entailed a wish
to use cinema as a means of rethinking the reality of the nation by appealing
to an audience beyond the national borders. This grand project initiated by
the modernist art cinema says something about the utopian dream of cinema
turning into a universal language of images, a dream very much thwarted by
the emergence of sound and spoken dialogue.
It is possible to concede here that the late modernist cinematic project
was an attempt (albeit a failed one) to internationalise different film cultures
without evading questions of national and historical specificity. Put simply,
one cannot dissociate the films of Godard, Fassbinder, Pasolini, Visconti,
Antonioni, Solanas, Jancsó, Oshima, the Taviani brothers, Pereira dos Santos,
Rocha, or Angelopoulos from the national and historical contexts to which
they refer. The fact that many of these filmmakers were more popular abroad
in troduction   5

than in their homelands testifies to the great potential that modernist art
cinema had in globalising national film cultures that shared common stylistic
elements and modernist norms. Indeed, one might venture to suggest that
modernist art cinema is a good example of a sustained attempt to allow for the
inclusive mobility and exchange of cultural objects, which were able to address
a number of national historical questions. Alain Badiou, a confirmed adversary
of abstractly universal ideas, has indicated the ways that filmmakers commit-
ted to national historical enquiries have produced films with universal appeal.
In a passage worth quoting, Badiou claims that:

During at least one temporal sequence, the cinema’s mass dimension

was not incompatible with a direct concern to invent forms in which
the  reality of a country occurs as a problem. This was the case in
Germany, as the escort of leftism (Fassbinder, Schroeter, Wenders . . .),
in Portugal after the 1975 revolution (Oliveira, Botelho . . .), and in Iran
after the Islamic revolution (Kiarostami). In all of these examples it is
clear that what cinema is capable of touches the country, as a subjective
category (what is it to be from this country?). There are cinema-ideas
concerning this point, such as its previous invisibility is revealed by the
event. The cinema is then both modern and broad in its action. A national
cinema with a universal address emerges; a national school, recognizable
in everything up to its insistence on certain formal aspects. (2013: 143)

The productive paradox in Badiou’s formulation is precisely that filmmakers

preoccupied with their national reality managed to increase the visibility of
their outputs and the national questions these outputs sought to address by
means of their reliance on a set of transnational stylistic features. For instance,
Fassbinder’s films, which were very much concerned with Germany’s
Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with the past), travelled success-
fully abroad precisely because of their employment of recognisable formal
solutions, such as excessive melodramatic pathos, formal abstraction and
Brechtian technique, all of which were successfully reconfigured by the enfant
terrible of the New German Cinema. It is precisely because of what we are
calling the ‘lingua franca’ of modernist formal traits that audiences across the
globe had the opportunity to engage not only with the formal innovations of
his films but also with the historical past of Germany.
Theo Angelopoulos is another example of a filmmaker whose films are
deeply immersed in the historical experiences of his homeland, while the
international appeal of his work can be attributed to his firm commitment
to modernism as a formal response to the crises and failures of world history
in the twentieth and twenty-first century. Angelopoulos was one of the most
prominent and committed cinematic formalists whose monumental images
6  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis and m ark steven

respond to urgent historical questions that remain pertinent even today. Let
us consider his work following the commonplace (and at times problematic)
periodisation of his oeuvre. In his first two films, Η Εκπομπή (Broadcast,
1968), and Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970) the question of representa-
tion figures strongly and both films blend reality and fiction to address issues
of mediation. The influence of Jean Rouch is apparent for in Broadcast we are
dealing with the ways the media manage not only to regulate identity con-
struction but also to cultivate fantasies of social mobility and individualism.
In Reconstruction, the very issue of representation becomes the central task of
the film. The attempt to reconstruct a murder never shown on screen diverts
the viewers’ attention from the particular (an isolated dramatic event) to the
general, namely the social and political causes of the crime and the ethics of
representation. Thus the pressing question here could be summarised as such:
how can one use the language of cinema to represent a dramatic event and
create a dynamic relationship with history?
In the historical tetralogy3 – Μέρες του ’36 (Days of ’36, 1972), The Travelling
Players, Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977), Ο Μεγαλέξανδρος (Megalexandros,
1980) – the question of historical representation is the central theme of each
film. In each one the emphasis is placed on modern Greek history; but the
scope of these films encourages the viewer to reconsider the European post-
war historical narrative. The films ask us to see history not from the point of
view of grandiose historical figures, as it is the case of most period films, but
from the point of view of the people as a collective subject. In Days of ’36,
memories of the pre-war fascist dictatorship allude to the traumatic reality
of the 1967–74 US-backed military junta of the colonels. In The Travelling
Players, the employment of the myth of Atreides in a modern context results
in the first cinematic recounting of modern Greek history from a leftist point
of view. The formal texture of the film and its reliance on myth, folk songs
and camera testimonies makes much, according to Angelopoulos, of histori-
cal memory not as an individual recounting but as the collective memory of
the people (cited in Archimandritis 2013: 32). In Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters,
1977) the victors of history, the Greek bourgeoisie, are forced to do their own
Vergangenheitsbewältigung, and come face to face with their responsibilities
regarding their own role in turning Greece into a US-client state marked by
electoral fraud and military coups. Finally, in Megalexandros the parable of a
failed socialist experiment becomes a prescient metaphor for the forthcoming
collapse of the dream of socialism in Eastern Europe.
In the trilogy of silence, Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage to Cythera, 1984),
Ο Μελισσοκόμος (The Beekeeper, 1986), and Τοπίο στην Ομίχλη (Landscape
in the Mist, 1988) the emphasis shifts to the effects of history on individuals
whose lives are marked by forced displacement, and failure to adapt to a world
with no utopian aspirations. The trilogy of borders that follows consists of
in troduction   7

Το Μετέωρο Βήμα του Πελαργού (The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991), Το
Bλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995) and Μια Αιωνιότητα και μια Μέρα
(Eternity and a Day, 1999). It focuses on the after-effects of contemporary
history drawing attention to issues of economic and political migration and to
the lack of collective dreams during the reanimation of political conflicts in the
Balkans. The last two completed films, Το Λιβάδι που Δακρύζει (The Weeping
Meadow, 2004) and Η Σκόνη του Χρόνου (The Dust of Time, 2008) are the
opening instalments of an unfinished trilogy, cut short by the director’s unex-
pected death in 2012. In these films, Angelopoulos returns retroactively to
historical questions. The Weeping Meadow reassesses Greece’s modern history,
while The Dust of Time endeavours to come to terms with some of the major
events following the end of World War II, transitioning from the final days of
Stalinism to the wholesale advent of neoliberalism in the 1990s.

Let us then summarise some of the main themes in Angelopoulos’ filmogra-
phy, which are: the crisis of representation and the force of mediation; the
question of representing history and how to come to terms with the past; the
failures of the utopian aspirations of the twentieth century; issues of forced
political or economic migration and exile; and the persistence of history in
a supposedly post-historical present. Given the contemporary relevance of
these questions, it is somewhat surprising to see the lack of critical atten-
tion that Angelopoulos’ cinema has received in the Anglophone scholarship,
particularly in light of the fact that there is a large body of scholarship on the
filmmaker in French, German, Spanish and Italian. Thus, with the exception
of Andrew Horton’s sustained engagement with Angelopoulos’ cinema, and
despite David Bordwell’s polemical claim that against hackneyed postmodern-
ist formulas, Angelopoulos’ cinema shows that ‘cinematic modernism can still
open our eyes’ (2005: 185), it seems that Angelopoulos’ work has not received
the attention it deserves within the Anglophone Academy.4
There are three main reasons for this lack of critical attention. Firstly,
Angelopoulos is a belated modernist and as such he might be thought of as
a hard-to-place and seemingly paradoxical filmmaker, since his oeuvre suc-
cessfully combines the sombre with the poetic, the austere with the stunning,
defamiliarisation with pathos and melancholy. Moreover, his visual composi-
tions borrow stylistic elements from European and Japanese art cinema as well
as from classical Hollywood, including from Vincente Minnelli’s musicals and
Howard Hawks’ and Billy Wilder’s noir films. His films can communicate
scepticism towards the image as well as revel in their own visual indulgence.
Let us illustrate this using one of Angelopoulos’ many powerful compositions.
8  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis and m ark steven

Figure I.2 The Suspended Step of the Stork

Near the end of The Suspended Step of the Stork a young journalist (Gregory
Carr) who has been working on the disappearance of a Greek politician (Marcello
Mastroianni) is framed with his back to the camera while gazing onto the lake-
side landscape in the border area in the North of Greece. The character’s voice-
over cites a lost politician’s book (mentioned earlier in the film) in which that
politician addressed the need to invent a new collective dream for the twenty-
first century. ‘Why not assume that today is the 31st of December 1999’. As the
camera follows the journalist walking along the embankment, we see a group
of repair workers in yellow raincoats climbing a number of telephone poles and
trying to connect the wires. The antithesis between the grey landscape and the
yellow raincoats generates a contrast in colour composition that produces a
visual surplus, while the extra-diegetic music generates a sense of melancholy.
Yet this compositional excess invites us to immerse ourselves in the image and
enjoy the richly designed audiovisual material, but it also asks us to step out of
it and connect it with our historical present. The formal surplus here addresses
a concrete historical question – the absence of utopia – by articulating a belief
in the image’s capacity to challenge the reality outside the diegesis.
It would not be overreaching to suggest that the difficulty in classifying
Angelopoulos derives from the fact that, from the beginning until the end of
his career, his films communicate a firm belief in cinema as a medium of com-
munication. As most of this volume’s contributors acknowledge, Angelopoulos
extenuated the formal experiments that were initially introduced to the
medium in the 1960s. It is perhaps because of this belatedness that he did
not subscribe to facile and at times repetitive postmodern critiques of the
image. When he started making feature films in the 1970s the belatedness of
in troduction   9

his style was more apparent due to the temporal proximity to the 1960s, while
by the 1980s and 1990s he appeared as a marginal figure within a postmodern
cinematic landscape: a living anachronism.
Angelopoulos was a firm believer in art cinema as a specific mode of aes-
thetic production, and perhaps this is another important reason why he has
been ignored by Anglophone film criticism. For many years, the very term ‘art
cinema’ has been a dirty word within Anglophone film studies. As Rosalind
Galt and Karl Schoonover observe, the cultural studies turn and the embrace
of postclassical film theory are the two main reasons why, following the 1990s,
little attention has been paid to rethinking art cinema as an aesthetic category
(2010: 5). Furthermore, from the 1990s onwards, formal questions had lost
their connection to political issues and there was an assumption that art cinema
stood for a dead end formalism, which was not grounded in the nexus between
form, politics and history. It was therefore a reflexive action on the part of cul-
tural studies scholars to dismiss art cinema as ‘elitist’ and ‘bourgeois’. This was
strengthened by what W. J. T. Mitchell describes as ‘the democratic or level-
ling fantasy’ (2002: 172), according to which postmodernism has diminished
the boundaries between high art and mass culture. The paradox, however, is
that this thesis was not inclusive, since on the one hand it led to the legitimi-
sation of objects produced for mass consumption, but on the other hand art
cinema was summarily dismissed as a retrograde category.
In Angelopoulos’ case, his persistence in the art-cinematic project was
directly interrelated with a desire to use cinema as visual testimony to his coun-
try’s history. Prior to making his first feature film he stated the need to follow
the path laid by the Cinema Novo filmmakers and make films that stand as ‘tes-
timonies on a specific topographical space’ (cited in Rafailidis 2003: 153). It is
therefore no accident that, as mentioned in the beginning of this introduction,
his work has influenced filmmakers in countries such as China, Iran, Brazil,
Bolivia and in Europe, who also wished to address the troubling historical
legacy of their countries. This is particularly important since filmmakers such as
Nelson Pereira dos Santos5 and Jorge Sanjinés, who have openly acknowledged
Angelopoulos’ influence (see Hanlon 2010: 352; Leontis 2005), are part of the
Third Cinema tradition, which has been defined in opposition to Eurocentric
models of filmmaking. Equally important is to acknowledge that Japan was the
largest market for his films. This speaks volumes about their ability to resonate
with audiences around the world. It is fair to suggest that Jacque Rivette’s view
that Kenji Mizoguchi’s cinema (a filmmaker whom Angelopoulos admired
during his youth) speaks the familiar language of mise en scène, equally applies
to Angelopoulos’ oeuvre (cited in Bordwell 1997b: 79).
The third and perhaps most important reason why Angelopoulos’ films
have not received the critical attention they deserve has to do with the fact that
they are deeply imbricated in modern Greek history. As Fredric Jameson says
10  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis and m ark steven

in his contribution to this book, ‘Greece has gone through a collective experi-
ence of which most other modern nations have only known bits and pieces’.
While Angelopoulos’ films engage history on a global scale, Greece nonethe-
less remains his oeuvre’s centre of gravity, and it is also the geopolitical site of
historical misunderstanding. What is difficult about these films is to hear their
historically specific echoes. For these historical echoes to be audible, a historical
overview is required that might help the reader and any prospective viewers of
Angelopoulos’ films.6


1. World War I
Wolfram Schütte suggests that Angelopoulos along with Luchino Visconti,
Carlos Saura and Andrzej Wajda are the four main European filmmakers
whose national history is instrumental in understanding the political, aesthetic
and historical consequences of their works (1992: 10). Angelopoulos’ films
are preoccupied with the tormented history of Greek modernity, a history of
internal political and social conflict, and foreign intervention in the country’s
internal affairs. Yet while his films explore historical incidents from the late
1920s to the present, these historical conflicts date back to the beginning of the
twentieth century, and the years before World War I, which saw the country
split into different political camps.
Before entering World War I Greece was divided. On the one hand, the royalist
camp supported neutrality while the republicans, led by Eleftherios Venizelos,
were pro-Entente. In August 1916, the ‘National Defence’ led by the Venizelists
staged a coup to challenge the King, Constantine I. By October 1916 the national
schism widened, since Venizelos had set up a provisional government based in
Thessaloniki and the country was thus divided both geographically and politi-
cally. In November 1916, Allied forces and Venizelists fought against the Greek
army controlled by the King. By 30 May 1917, the King was dethroned and, on
14 June, Venizelos became the Prime Minister of a reunited Greece. By the end
of June, Greece joined the Allied forces against the Central Powers.

2. After the War: the Asia Minor Catastrophe

In November 1918 the Socialist Labour Party of Greece (SEKE) was founded
and it opposed the approaching war led by the Allies against the declining
Ottoman Empire. Venizelos and the Republicans supported the Greek nation-
alist expansion widely known as Μεγάλη Ιδέα (Great Idea) and, on 15 May
1919, the Greek army (with support from Allied forces) landed in Smyrna,
in troduction   11

which was Ottoman territory at the time. This episode revived Turkish
nationalism led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The following year, on 10 August
1920, the Treaty of Sèvres was ratified and territories of the former Ottoman
Empire were removed by the Allies. The humiliating terms of the treaty
intensified an already existing Turkish nationalism. In the Greek elections that
took place the same year, the royalists took power after an electorate campaign
that supported the withdrawal of troops from Asia Minor. Ignoring their
election promises, the royalists continued the Greek offensive in Turkish ter-
ritories, while they also restored, with a dubious plebiscite, King Constantine
I who was not regarded favourably by the Allies. By the end of August 1922,
the Turkish nationalists had defeated the demoralised Greek army. Large
numbers of the Greek and Armenian populations were slaughtered and a wave
of refugees flooded the country (Agamemnon’s five-minute monologue in The
Travelling Players refers to these events). Following a peace treaty between
Greece and Turkey, which was signed in 1923 in Lausanne, the two countries
agreed to exchange populations so as to prevent future territorial conflicts. An
estimated number of 1,220,000 Greeks and 45,000 Armenians left Asia Minor
and Eastern Thrace to be placed in Greece, and 519,000 Muslims evacuated
from Greece were relocated in Turkey.

3. The Years After the Asia Minor Catastrophe and Metaxas

The majority of refugees joined either the Socialist Labour Party of Greece (in
1924 it changed its name to the Communist Party) or republican anti-royalist
parties, and they also played an important role in trade unionist activities.
These refugees suffered long-term discrimination while providing cheap
labour during the country’s industrialisation in the early 1920s. Following the
Asia Minor debacle, Venizelist officers led by Nikolaos Plastiras staged a mili-
tary coup. King Constantine resigned and was succeeded by King George II.
In October 1922, five former government officials and a General Officer were
executed for their role in the Asia Minor catastrophe. In 1924, the institution
of monarchy was abolished. The 1920s comprised a period of political instabil-
ity that included Theodoros Pangalos’ dictatorship from 1925 to 26 while they
were also marked by fierce political opposition between the Venizelists and the
Populist Party. In the 1928 elections, the Communist Party managed to elect
10 MPs. After the Great Depression in 1929 there was growing industrial
arrest between 1924 and 1934; this led to the increase of Communist Party
membership. In 1929 Venizelos’ government, with the support of the right-
wing anti-Venizelists, voted in the Idionym Law, which penalised those who
instigated industrial disputes. Thousands of Communist Party sympathisers
were deported to islands, hundreds were imprisoned and tortured and many
12  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis and m ark steven

were murdered. On 25 November 1935, King George II was restored and

he then called elections on 26 January 1936. None of the parties managed to
form a majority and the previous Prime Minister, Konstantinos Demertzis,
continued to run the government until 13 April 1936, when he died suddenly
and was succeeded by Ioannis Metaxas. Metaxas took advantage of the politi-
cal crisis and by 4 August 1936 had formed a dictatorship with the blessing of
the two main political parties. Angelopoulos’ second feature, Days of ’36 takes
place within this period. Metaxas was an admirer of Mussolini and Hitler
and his regime persecuted brutally any form of political opposition including
­communists, trade-unionists and moderate republicans.

3. World War II and Civil War

Despite his fascist sympathies, Metaxas rejected an ultimatum on 28 October
1940 to allow the Italian army to enter Greek territories and so Greece entered
the war against the Axis forces. The Greek army successfully pushed the
Italians back into Albania and this was hailed as one of the first military tri-
umphs against the fascist alliance. On 6 April 1941 the German army invaded
Greece, which was now supported by British, Australian and New Zealand
forces. On 27 April, Athens fell and Greece was officially under occupation.
The Axis forces plundered the country’s resources and one of the conse-
quences was a major famine in the winter of 1941–2 during which more than
100,000 people died. On 27 September 1941 the National Liberation Front
(EAM) was founded mainly by members of the Communist Party. This was
the political wing of a mass resistance movement; its military division was
the National People’s Liberation Army (ELAS), which inflicted important
blows on the occupying forces. EAM was enthusiastically joined by young
people and women who were attracted to its campaigns of solidarity across
the country as well as by the way it linked the fight against the Axis forces to a
fight for social justice. The British collaborated with EAM and ELAS to fight
the Germans but they were simultaneously apprehensive of the communists’
popularity. This was the reason why they took steps during the war to enforce
a government of national unity, which would come to power by the end of the
warfare and enfeeble the communist influence.
During the war there was already tension between the EAM/ELAS and
Nazi collaborators, such as Organisation X led by Georgios Grivas. These ten-
sions intensified following the end of the war, when the British proceeded to
collaborate with their former enemies against EAM/ELAS. One of the major
incidents of the time was τα Δεκεμβριανά – the December–January 1944–5
battle of Athens that started when British soldiers and former Greek Hitler
sympathisers opened fire against the pro-partisan crowd (this is shown in The
Travelling Players) killing twenty-eight people. The Guardian has recently
in troduction   13

published an article describing this as ‘Britain’s Dirty Secret’ (Smith,Vulliamy

2014). The battle between the Greek partisans and the British and Greek Nazi
collaborationists lasted until 6 January 1945.
On 12 February 1945, EAM signed the Varkiza agreement and committed to
disarm in exchange for amnesty, an ambiguous decision that still preoccupies his-
torians (there is a scene of ELAS’ disarmament in The Travelling Players). In the
following elections that took place on 31 March the Communist Party abstained.
Meanwhile the People’s Party government, led by Dino Tsaldaris, restored the
monarchy. The years of 1945–6 are now known as the years of the White Terror,
since the promises of political amnesty were not kept and the EAM/ELAS par-
tisans were brutally persecuted by former Nazi collaborators. In October 1946,
the communists announced the foundation of the Democratic Army and from
December 1947 the Communist Party was made illegal. The Democratic Army
took to the mountains and the third phase of the Greek Civil War started (The
Travelling Players and The Weeping Meadow dedicate significant screen time to
the traumas of the Civil War). In March 1947, Harry Truman convinced the
US congress to provide military and economic aid to Greece so as to prevent
communist expansion. Britain was nearly bankrupt and decided to withdraw.
The Truman doctrine was thus decisive for the outcome of the Civil War, which
ended by 1949 with the defeat of the Democratic Army. Some Communists
managed to escape to the countries of the Eastern Bloc (such as Spyros [Manos
Katrakis] in Voyage to Cythera and Heleni [Irène Jacob] in The Dust of Time)
and were only given amnesty during the 1980s after the election of PASOK (a
Greek Socialist Democratic Party) to government. However, following the end
of the Civil War, most of the communists, left-wing sympathisers and resist-
ance fighters were prosecuted. Many were deported to concentration camps on
islands such as Makronisos and Gyaros, where they were tortured and forced
to sign declarations of repentance (there are references to these concentration
camps in The Travelling Players and in The Hunters).7 Greece was thus one of
the few European countries that not only failed to acknowledge the antifascist
struggle of its people but it also had post-war e­xperience of concentration
camps, which were funded by its Western allies.

4. After the Civil War and the Military Junta of 1967

The end of the Civil War found Greece divided. After the warfare, the
post-civil war government’s reliance on American economic and military aid
turned Greece into a US-client state. In 1952 Greece joined NATO and the
American influence was consolidated. In the elections of 1958, EDA (United
Democratic Left), which was the political front for the banned Communist
Party, secured 28 per cent of the vote and became the leading party of
the opposition. This result caused scepticism in the army and among the
14  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis and m ark steven

political elites who responded by strengthening the so-called shadow-state

(παρακράτος), a network of policemen, army officers and gangs of lumpen
thugs who suppressed civil rights so as to reduce the leftist influence on the
political landscape. One of their most notorious activities was the assassination
of the left-wing politician, Grigorios Lambrakis, on 22 May 1963 (Lambrakis’
assassination is represented in The Hunters). By the mid-1960s the main actors
in parliament were the right-wing Populist Party (ERE) led by Konstantinos
Karamanlis and the Centrist Party led by George Papandreou. In 1965, a
political crisis between the Prime Minister, George Papandreou and King
Constantine II led to political instability that lasted for two years (in The
Hunters there are references to this period in a scene that shows shadow-state
thugs attacking members of the EDA in an election rally). The fact that some
members of the Centrist Party considered a post-electoral coalition with the
Left caused alarm in the army, which under US support staged a coup d’état
on 21 April 1967. For seven years the country experienced heavy political
repression while imprisonment, torture and deportation of political dissidents
were part of the regime’s tactics. On 14 November 1973 students at the Athens
Polytechnic, influenced by the 1960s’ movements and the May of 1968,
staged a massive demonstration against the regime, which was suppressed,
with bloodshed, by the army three days later. In 1974, the colonels tried to
stage another coup d’état in Cyprus and overthrow the democratically elected
President Makarios. This gave Turkey the pretext for invading the island,
which as a result of that invasion was eventually divided into two. The political
crisis that ensued forced the colonels to resign and parliamentary democracy
was thus restored.

5. After the Junta and into the Twenty-first Century

After a plebiscite held on 8 December 1975 the voting populace rejected the
restoration of the monarchy. The right-wing party, New Democracy, led by
Konstantinos Karamanlis, won the first two elections held in 1974 and  1977
respectively. Karamanlis’ government legalised the Communist Party, which
participated in the elections from 1974 onwards. In 1981 the Socialist Democratic
Party PASOK led by Andreas Papandreou won the elections and worked to alle-
viate the Civil War traumas. In 17 August 1982 the government recognised the
national resistance led by EAM and ELAS. A year earlier Greece had joined the
European Communities (the precursor to the European Union). PASOK ruled
the country until 1989 pushing reforms that would restore the social fabric. Yet
these years were marked by a depoliticisation that was intensified by the popu-
lation’s turn towards consumerism as well as by political scandals, favouritism
and political corruption. The second period in Angelopoulos’ oeuvre and par-
ticularly films like Voyage to Cythera and The Beekeeper echo this political stag-
in troduction   15

nancy. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent to the Third Balkan War,
Greece was overwhelmed with refugees from the former  socialist states and
from states devastated by civil war. The Suspended Step of the Stork and Ulysses’
Gaze dwell on these geopolitical changes, while in Eternity and a Day the ques-
tion of borders becomes an existentialist metaphor for the historical disillu-
sionments within the temporal structures of late modernity. In 2009, fears of a
sovereign debt crisis and, one year later, a conditional loan of €110 billion from
the Eurozone and IMF lead to the imposition of severe  austerity measures,
which were met with civil unrest. This situation and its political backlash were
to have been the focus of Angelopoulos’ unfinished film, The Other Sea.
From this brief overview of Greece’s modern history we can understand
that it is a country variously marked by the trauma of foreign intervention,
military coups, class struggle, civil war and migration. We can thus appreci-
ate Angelopoulos’ formal interrogation of Greece’s history as a cinematic and
historiographic project. Another aspect that invites further attention is that,
despite recent developments in the field that tend to concentrate on discus-
sions of world or global cinema, one cannot completely disregard the nation.
We do not intend to return to questions of national cinemas, but to point out
that film scholarship needs to engage with concrete historical facts instead of
treating history as an abstract theoretical concept. This relates intrinsically to
Willemen’s argument that it is not sufficient to study World Cinema applying
the official Euro-American theory and ‘ignore the specific knowledges that
may be at work in a text’ (2006: 35).

This book is divided into four sections, each comprising multiple chapters
that deploy a specific critical approach to various aspects of Angelopoulos’
cinema: these sections are concerned respectively with authorship, with poli-
tics, with poetics, and with time. Before summarising the individual chapters,
it will be important to emphasise that the critical approaches taken up in
these sections are not exhaustive and that the thematic categories are far from
exclusive. Rather, these sections have been designed to emphasise points of
continuity between the chapters, so that each section might convey a specific
narrative about Angelopoulos and his cinema. These separate narratives
overlap significantly, not least because their areas of focus are all layered
within a cumulative object of study, the director’s oeuvre, from which it is
impossible to completely separate any one element.
The first section, on authorship, is interested in the formation of
Angelopoulos as an auteur, and its chapters demonstrate the formative
relationships between his evolving aesthetic and the work of other artists.
16  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis and m ark steven

Maria Chalkou provides a detailed survey of Angelopoulos’ work as a film

critic, demonstrating the various ways in which the director was personally,
professionally, intellectually and aesthetically invested in cinema even before
stepping into the role of filmmaker. Chalkou’s essay ‘attempts to throw light
upon unknown aspects of his cinéphile background; to trace critical attitudes,
emerging ideas, early tastes, and unexplored influences; and to consider how his
criticism relates to his eventual ideas on cinema and filmmaking practices’. She
not only shows how wide-ranging Angelopoulos’ taste in film really was, she
also demonstrates how several of the features that would define Angelopoulos’
own aesthetic output emerged from his cinéphilic predilections and critical
style. The late Nagisa Oshima provides a unique perspective on Angelopoulos,
approaching his work from the standpoint of a contemporary auteur and
directorial colleague. The first of his two short essays reflects upon several
meetings with Angelopoulos, and the second provides a filmmaker’s appraisal
of Angelopoulos’ technical accomplishments. Oshima tentatively attributes
their friendship ‘to the similarity in approach we feel our films take, but it is
also thanks to Theo’s love for talking. Or, we could even say love for giving
speeches’. Hamish Ford then situates Angelopoulos within the compositional
context of post-war cinematic modernism. He finds it productive to think
about Angelopoulos in relation to Michelangelo Antonioni because, he insists,
‘through their work we can chart the complex development of European
feature film modernism itself’. If Antonioni is one of Angelopoulos’ major
inspirations, then another source of formative energy is found in the work of
Bertolt Brecht. Angelos Koutsourakis ‘aims to clarify the often hinted at but
not theoretically qualified Brechtian aspect of Angelopoulos’ cinema’, and
he does so by reading Angelopoulos’ 1970s films with an eye for Brechtian
forms and tropes, focusing specifically on the Brechtian concept of Gestus and
its application within the filmic medium. Closing this first section, Robert
Sinnerbrink explores how, in Ulysses’ Gaze, Angelopoulos strives to ‘combine
history, myth, and politics in ways that constitute a cinema of historical
experience, collective memory, and ethical responsiveness’. For Sinnerbrink,
who emphasises a critical thought that underwrites the chapters by Ford and
Koutsourakis, Angelopoulos’ methods here are paradigmatically modernist.
The second section, on politics, is interested in the various ways that
Angelopoulos’ cinema evolved in relation to his political commitments and
in response to the vicissitudes of modern history. Fredric Jameson’s chapter
explores the role of collective narrative in Angelopoulos’ films from the 1970s.
It begins from the premise that ‘our failure to grant Theo Angelopoulos the
position he deserves in modern cinema’ stems from the fact that modern
Greek  history remains ‘far less familiar than that of the Western European
countries’. According to Jameson, ‘Greece has gone through a collective experi-
ence of which most other modern nations have only known bits and pieces’, and
in troduction   17

his essay explores some of the ways that Angelopoulos depicts this experience as
a kind of modern epic. Also looking at films from the 1970s, Vrasidas Karalis
discusses the various ways that Angelopoulos forged a cinema of ‘demys-
tification’, whose individual films, argues Karalis, ‘contested history  as  the
justifying discourse of power and authority, and critically recentred crucial
elements of historical knowledge in order to offer a new critical language of how
power functions in the public sphere and on the mental construction of contem-
porary subjectivity’. Dan Georgakas then focuses on Megalexandros, which was
released in 1980 and which is generally considered to emblematise a moment
of political disenchantment for the director. Alternatively, Georgakas views
the film as an expression of political transition, in which Angelopoulos’ sym-
pathies shifted from state socialism and party politics to anarchism or anarcho-
communism. ‘Megalexandros’, he argues, ‘rather than simply being abstractly
anti-­authoritarian or anti-Stalinist, affirms a non-coercive pathway to the
socialist future’. The final chapter in the second section, by Mark Steven, leaps
forward to the very end of Angelopoulos’ career. This chapter argues that the
director’s late style mediates a political response to the ascent of neoliberalism
in Europe and especially in Greece. For Steven, Angelopoulos’ ‘late style is
equally a response to its unresolvable material conditions as it is to the oeuvre
from which it evolved’.
The third section, on poetics, is interested in the evolution of particular
forms and how they are deployed narratively. Julian Murphet accounts for one
of the director’s technical signatures, ‘the long-take circular or semi-circular
pan in long shot, stretching from between 180° and 720°’, which he describes
‘as the great auteur’s most distinctive device for dynamic group framing.’
According to Murphet, when Angelopoulos uses the panning shot he is
deploying ‘cinema’s most trenchant shorthand for the totality as such: a camera
movement whose logic is not self-regarding but self-effacing, committed to
opening up the space that surrounds the frame, dismantling the fourth wall,
and disintegrating the privileged position of the spectator’. Caroline Eades
charts the development of what she calls the ‘narrative imperative’ through
Angelopoulos’ films. In her argument, this imperative manifests structurally
when the director submits ‘the function and signification of images, mise en
scène, even music, to the advancement of the plot, the characterisation of its
protagonists, and the construction of a diegetic world’. Locally, however,
Eades also finds the narrative imperative as a driving force behind the numer-
ous explicit references to Greek tragedy and Homeric epic. Dany Nobus and
Nektaria Pouli write exclusively on Voyage to Cythera, from 1984, arguing
that it ‘constitutes a creative hinge in Angelopoulos’ career’, whereby an indi-
viduating and ultimately humanising ‘re-calibration of creative effort applied
as much to the characters in his films as it did to himself, as the director of the
films’ characters’. Stephanie Hemelryk Donald analyses another crucial aspect
18  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis and m ark steven

of Angelopoulos’ characterology as it plays out in Landscape in the Mist, from

1988: namely, his depiction of children. In Donald’s view, children express a
unique vitality within the filmic apparatus: ‘The adult world is dangerous to
them, possibly fatally so. Nevertheless it has no capacity to progress without
their energy and their will’. Helping us segue into the book’s final section,
Sylvie Rollet charts a formal dialectic as it plays out through Angelopoulos’
later films, arguing that here ‘the historical stage is treated as a psychic scene.
The “liberal democratic consensus” rests upon the repression of conflict,
so the mourning of combat and revolutionary dreams are forbidden. What
is repressed can only return in a spectral form’. While Rollet’s argument is
tonally philosophical, it nonetheless directs its questions at what she calls a
‘poetics of form’, probing the way that these spectral returns emerge ‘through
the images, the sounds, and the narrative’.
The fourth and final section, on time, is interested in the temporal thematic
that Angelopoulos pursued for the duration of his career, usually in relation to
memory and memorialisation. Richard Rushton uses the philosophy of Gilles
Deleuze to chart the transition between the ‘politics’ of Angelopoulos’ early
films and the ‘humanism’ of his later work, a distinction that several other
chapters also discuss. For Rushton, however, Deleuze’s concept of the ‘time-
image’ provides a means of distinguishing between two aesthetic modalities
by way of their articulations of the past, of time and of memory. ‘The key
distinction,’ he argues, ‘is between what Deleuze calls a recollection-image, and
that which he terms pure recollection. While the early films are constructed by
way of recollection-images, the later films offer what Deleuze calls pure recol-
lection.’ Taking up the idea of recollection, for Smaro Kamboureli cultural
memory creates virtual spaces in which ‘different temporalities’ are brought
together and ‘experienced simultaneously’. Kamboureli takes up Jacques
Derrida’s concept of ‘archive fever’ to explore this aspect of cultural memory
in Ulysses Gaze. In her view, the film compulsively returns to its historical
antecedents, but in doing so it confronts the countervailing logic, that ‘the
archive never fully yields its secrets’. Asbjørn Grønstad accounts for the final
film Angelopoulos made, The Dust of Time, as an apotheosis to the director’s
visual investment in duration. ‘It would seem,’ argues Grønstad, ‘that the tem-
porality of history is couched in opacity, whereas the work of memory strug-
gles to bring a sense of lucidity to the past, to past experience, and, finally, to
the experience of the past in the present.’ For Angelopoulos, he argues, this
sense of memory is to be thought of in relation to a decisively visual imagina-
tion: ‘Images,’ writes Grønstad, ‘play a pivotal role in this memory work . . .’
Concluding this book is an afterward by Andrew Horton, who in addition
to being a recognised expert on Angelopoulos could also consider the director
as both a friend and colleague. Horton’s afterward presents the first critical
account of Angelopoulos’ final, unfinished film, The Other Sea. Horton was
in troduction   19

on the film’s set only a week before Angelopoulos was fatally struck down by
a motorcycle, and had been following closely the development of this project,
providing suggestions for the final version of the script. Here he considers this
unrealised film as the capstone to a long career, arguing that it would have syn-
thesised many of the lifelong concerns and stylistic singularities that defined
Angelopoulos’ oeuvre.

1. Kaige was a member of the jury at the 1998 Cannes film festival that awarded
Angelopoulos the Palme d’Or for Eternity and a Day. He confessed to Angelopoulos that
he managed to watch special screenings of a smuggled copy of The Travelling Players in
China during the late 1970s. The film exercised a fundamental influence on his career.
2. Bertolucci has acknowledged Angelopoulos’ influence in his epic 1900 (1976) and he
maintained that despite their similarities, The Travelling Players was a better film, see
(Horton 1980: 15).
3. Let us here state that we accept David Bordwell’s periodisation (Bordwell 2005: 143) and
we consider Megalexandros to be the logical extension of the three films that preceded it
(Days of ’36, The Travelling Players and The Hunters). The reason for this is that despite
the film’s pessimistic tenor, history is still treated as a learning process (albeit ex negativo)
and as Angelopoulos has stated it is after this film that he abandoned the view of
‘ “History” with capital “H” ’ (cited in Horton 1997b: 109). Let us state that not all the
scholars in this book share this viewpoint.
4. Of course there are a number of important articles and book chapters on his early films
(Tarr, Proppe 1976; Wilson 1975; Samardzija 2006), as well as numerous book chapters
focusing on the late period of his oeuvre (Everett 2004; Rutherford 2002; Eleftheriotis
2010; Calotychos 2013; Stathi 2013), but overall the critical interest does not justify
Angelopoulos’ importance in the history of World Cinema.
5. This is also noteworthy given that dos Santos started making films twenty years before
Angelopoulos, but he has acknowledged the latter’s influence upon his later films.
6. To summarise the historical facts, we have consulted the following books: David H. Close,
The Origins of the Greek Civil War; Vasilis Rafailidis, Ιστορία (κωμικοτραγική) του
Νεοελληνικού Kράτους; Richard Clogg, A Concise History of Greece; John S. Koliopoulos,
Thanos M. Veremis, Modern Greece: A History Since 1821.
7. Few people outside Greece know about the existence of these post-war concentration
camps and it is surprising that the Anglophone resources on the History of Greece we have
consulted do not mention anything about them.


Theo Angelopoulos as Film Critic

Maria Chalkou

M ost of the prominent filmmakers of New Greek Cinema – a politicised,

auterist and art-oriented trend which dominated the Greek filmscape
of the 1970s and 1980s – started their careers as assistant directors and film
practitioners in the studios of the Greek commercial film industry of the 1950s
and 1960s. Theo Angelopoulos, one of New Greek Cinema’s leading direc-
tors, followed, however, a different path and entered the field professionally as
a film intellectual. After studying filmmaking in Paris, he returned to Athens
and, from 1964 to 1967, worked as a film critic for the newspaper Δημοκρατική
Αλλαγή (Democratic Change), while between 1969 and 1971 he c­ontributed
occasionally to the journal Σύγχρονος Κινηματογράφος (Contemporary Cinema).
The time frame of Angelopoulos’ critical activity is particularly intriguing
since the 1960s were the formative years of New Greek Cinema. It was also
a period of political upheaval and instability in Greece, of exceptional vitality
in the arts and, in terms of production and attendance, unparalleled growth of
the domestic film culture. This chapter focuses on the most intensive period of
Angelopoulos’ critical writing – his criticism for Democratic Change – during
the turbulent but creative pre-dictatorship 1960s. It attempts to throw light
upon unknown aspects of his cinéphile background; to trace critical a­ ttitudes,
emerging ideas, early tastes and unexplored influences; and to c­ onsider how his
criticism relates to his eventual ideas on cinema and filmmaking practices.


Democratic Change, the evening newspaper of the left-wing party EDA,1 was
founded in February 1964, after the liberal Ένωση Κέντρου (Centre Union
Party) came to power, and it was closed down by the military Junta in April
24  m a r i a c halko u

1967. In the 1960s, cultural life was hugely significant to the Greek Left as it was
a vehicle for resisting the political establishment and promoting oppositional
ideas. In line with Lenin’s statement about cinema being the most important of
the arts and acknowledging film’s enlightening potential, the Greek Left was
decidedly open to film culture in general (Rafailidis 1966: 124–8). Like other
leftist newspapers and journals of the time (such as Επιθεώρηση Τέχνης [Art
Review]), Democratic Change gave preference to cinema, and created a promi-
nent space for writing on film.
One of the most compelling elements of film criticism in Democratic Change
was that it attracted a group of young, leftist, militant and mostly first-time
writers who were soon to become leading figures of New Greek Cinema either
as filmmakers or critics. They included the film director Fotos Lambrinos
(February 1964–August 1964); the major female figure of New Greek Cinema,
Tonia Marketaki (March 1964–September 1965); the cinematographer Alexis
Grivas who, under the pseudonym Fotis Alexiou, corresponded from Paris
(November 1964–August 1966); and from September 1965 to April 1967,
the most emblematic and influential critic of New Greek Cinema, Vassilis
Rafailidis.2 Angelopoulos first joined on 8 December 1964 and contributed
regularly until the closure of Democratic Change. He served exclusively as a
film reviewer and was the paper’s most enduring film critic, although also the
most laconic. He kept a relatively low profile, never covering film festivals
or writing informative or opinion pieces and he played a secondary role to
Marketaki and later Rafailidis who functioned as the dominant critical voices.
The film section of Democratic Change was impressively rich and showed
that its content and practice were influenced by contemporary French film
journals such as Cahiers du Cinéma (notably Marketaki, Angelopoulos and
Grivas had studied or were still studying in Paris and all the critics experi-
mented with filmmaking).3 It comprised tributes to and interviews with
exceptional filmmakers and actors (including interviews with Carl Theodor
Dreyer, Agnès Varda and Masaki Kobayashi as well as tributes ranging from
Robert Aldrich to Luis Buñuel), international film festival coverage (such as
Cannes, Venice, Karlovy Vary and Moscow), translated articles (for example,
by Georges Sadoul), best film listings and weekly film reviews. Attention was
also given to domestic film and the annual Week of Greek Cinema, state poli-
cies and censorship issues, film societies and seminars, alongside new move-
ments and Eastern European cinemas. Led by the critics, Democratic Change
also played an active role in instigating debates on Greek cinema4 and holding
events such as the First Athens’ Greek Cinema Week (24–30 October 1966).
In almost two and a half years, Angelopoulos wrote 221 mostly short
reviews, which were representative of the wide spectrum of films on offer at
the time in Greece (Chalkou 2008: 64–86). The huge majority were about
European films (French, Italian, British, German, Nordic, Spanish, Eastern
the o ange lo po ulos as film critic  25

European and co-productions), around sixty concerned American movies,

a handful were on Japanese cinema and only a few covered domestic films.
Characteristic of his critical texts was his purely cinéphilic and surprisingly
apolitical perspective. His writing was not didactic and he did not discuss the
films in ideological, moral or political terms (dominant practices among his
fellow critics) but only made occasional and brief comments on socio-political
issues and with little relation to Marxist ideas. While Angelopoulos’ criticism
revealed a loose intellectual engagement with the Left, it nonetheless con-
firmed a passionate commitment to cinema. His overall approach resembled
Truffaut’s statement when leaving the editorial team of the then highly politi-
cised Cahiers: ‘We spoke of films only from the angle of their relative beauty’
(cited in Turim 2002: 398).
Apart from a significantly different point of view, he also brought to the
newspaper a refreshingly playful style of writing, often characterised by an
elliptical presentation of the storyline, witty and humorous remarks, and at
times poetic language. Occasionally he eschewed plot summaries entirely,
either discussing the motifs and traditions of a genre, or contemplating rather
than describing a film’s story. His writing was rich in background informa-
tion on film history, literature and theatre, with references to music, painting,
and comics and comparative discussions of the films. Furthermore, revealing
his professional training as a filmmaker with a directorial eye, he was the first
from the newspaper’s critics to use technical cinematic vocabulary, employing
French terminology, such as ‘travelling’ (tracking shot), cadrage (framing),
decoupage, sequence, raccord (link), and so on, which were later broadly
adopted by film criticism in Greece.


To those who are familiar with Angelopoulos’ interviews, it is not surprising
that he had a taste for popular and genre cinema, and specifically for crime
films and film noirs, thrillers, adventures, comedies, westerns and musicals.
He reviewed a huge number of popular movies, both American and European,
often treating cinema as a matter of genuine visual pleasure and entertainment.
While his colleague Rafailidis drew a clear demarcation between quality and
commercial cinema and encouraged the audience to watch ‘difficult’ and ‘dis-
quieting’ films, emphasising that cinema is not escapism (DC 20 June 1966)5,
Angelopoulos, by contrast, did not hesitate to recommend films in terms of
pure enjoyment and visual spectacle, often concluding his pieces with the
statement ‘the two most enjoyable hours of the week’ (DC 16 March 1965).
In this respect he enjoyed action scenes (fighting [DC 8 December 1964] judo
and karate displays [DC 29 December 1964]), which he found ‘enthralling’
26  m a r i a c halko u

(DC 23 February 1966), for him the politically charged battles between whites
and Indians were ‘always visually full of flavour’ (DC 11 October 1966), he
was a fan of Eddie Constantine (DC 16 February 1965), and he even recom-
mended The Masque of the Red Death (1964) as an ideal film of its genre (DC
12 October 1965).
Perhaps one of the most striking issues in the context of a leftist newspaper
was Angelopoulos’ infatuation with James Bond films. In contrast to Rafailidis
who spoke of ‘the shame of James-Bond-ism’ and saw in Bond the symbol of
‘the modern superman who hardly distances himself from the Nazi ideals’(DC
28 July 1966), for Angelopoulos Bond was ‘elegant, irresistible, cynical, and
necessary’(DC 21 December 1965). He gave an assertive review of Thunderball
(1965) and repeatedly returned to the subject when discussing spy films and
adventures, which he saw as imitative, praising the original. What attracted
Angelopoulos about Bond was ‘the balanced architecture of the story’, ‘the use
of the setting as an aesthetic event’ (DC 23 March 1965), ‘the elegant irony of
Sean Connery, the humour of the dialogues, the realism of the effects’, ‘Ian
Fleming’s orgy of fantasy’ (DC 24 February 1965). As far as Thunderball was
concerned, the ‘purely spectacular aspect’ was of ‘important interest’, ‘photo-
graphic compositions [were] more tenacious’ and underwater scenes, where
‘plasticity is combined with narrative harmoniously’, were most beautiful.
And although he observed a hint of flaccidity, ‘this did not mean that the film
is viewed without pleasure and without succeeding in offering almost the same
thing with the previous ones: an adventurous narrative, a “popular” hero, a
cocktail of colours full of flavour, two enjoyable hours, regardless of suspect
views’ (DC 21 December 1965).
In his interviews Angelopoulos spoke of his fascination with detective
stories, both novels and films, which stemmed from his childhood and
adolescence (Fainaru [1999] 2001:125) and was reflected in his work. His
first lost short film, for example, was a ‘nod to film noir’ (Horton 1997: 20),
Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970) is a crime story and Μέρες του ’36
(Days of ’36, 1972) allude to gangster movies (Gregor [1973] 2001: 15). In
Democratic Change he reviewed many crime-related movies and displayed
a thorough knowledge of the relevant genres and literature. He praised
American B-movies (DC 15 February 1967) and singled out ‘the unparalleled
period of American crime 1941–8 that historians call “golden” and the nos-
talgics call “unique”’ (DC 12 October 1965) for having ‘a taste for complaint
and criticism, which occasionally has led to a sort of modern tragedy with
unexpected symbolical implications’ (DC 4 January 1966). He considered
the best features of American noir to be its narrative departure from complex
social reality, surprising authenticity, narrative density, formal austerity,
‘asthmatic pace’ (DC 2 October 1965), ‘spoken word reduced to the absolutely
necessary for the development of the narrative’, emphasis on sound and the
the o ange lo po ulos as film critic  27

realistic treatment of décor (DC 4 January 1966). He also paid attention to

contemporary crime (he gave an extensive and assertive review of The Killers
[1964] as a sincere adaptation of Hemingway’s fictional world [DC 3 January
1965] and particularly liked French film noir, which he saw as drawing from
the American tradition (DC 12 October 1965). He was enthusiastic about Le
deuxième soufflé (Second Breath, 1966) by Jean-Pierre Melville, finding excep-
tional density, plasticity and pictorial beauty in its narrative and deeming it
one of the most important crime films ever made (DC 24 January 1967).
Angelopoulos considered the Western to be a genre in decline. He
thought its thematic core – ‘the ballad of the lonely man’ with ‘­ambiguous
origins,  [. . .] a suitcase in his hand, a few cigars and a pistol’ (DC 22
January 1964) – had been ‘consumed long ago’ (DC 11 October 1966). His
disappointment in the genre is expressed most eloquently when discussing
Nevada Smith (1966), in his remark that ‘Hollywood is ageing badly’ (DC
15 November 1966). ‘Convention is always lurking at the edge of the story’
destroying any attempted progress. Hollywood needs a radical overhaul
although its current circumstances make that impossible (DC 11 October
1966). Similarly, although he was sometimes nostalgic for Ford (DC 25
January 1967), he gave Cheyenne Autumn (1964) a negative review as a film
of loose tension that missed its targets (DC 16 February 1965). He was dis-
dainful of Spaghetti Westerns as imitative (DC 18 January 1966), although
he thought that the ‘competent craftsman’ Sergio Leone had achieved
something new: ‘transposing James Bond to a Western’ (DC 4 February
1967). In his view, ‘tired elitists’ were attracted by the new genre but ‘the
cinema-opium has closed its cycle’ and it is time, for regaining lost ground,
to get rid of hopeless experiments such as ‘Italian Westerns’ (DC 10 January
1967). What seemed to escape his contempt was The Appaloosa (1966) for
being influenced by modernist cinema and renewing some of the expressive
manners of the genre (DC 17 January 1967) or The Professionals (1966), for its
thematic potential and the nostalgic presence of the aged but still attractive
protagonists (DC 14 February 1967).
Angelopoulos also displayed considerable knowledge of cinematic and
theatrical comedy and was particularly fond of burlesque, visual gags, Jerry
Lewis (‘the spark of madness that permeates the best tradition of burlesque,
driven to the extremes by Lewis, produces euphoria’ (DC 23 March 1965),
and Frank Tashlin (one of the rare representatives of American comedy
‘deserving’ of “classical” burlesque’ [DC 11 October 1966]). Angelopoulos
considered The Nutty Professor (1963), directed by Lewis, a real success
and in his review of The Disorderly Orderly (1964), which he found weaker
than previous collaborations between Lewis and Tashlin, he questioned
the necessity of Tashlin’s presence (DC 23 March 1965). Later, however,
he emphasised his absence (DC 26 October 1965) and mourned the ‘fall’
28  m a r i a c halko u

of Lewis: ‘In  times when the tradition of burlesque vanishes from the
American cinema, the talent of Lewis is eulogy. Do we have to believe that
this last spring has run dry?’ (DC 25 October 1966) Yet Tashlin’s comedies
were noticed by  Angelopoulos irrespective of Lewis. He believed that The
Glass Bottom  Boat (1966) includes  some of the best moments of Tashlin’s
career, while the gags ‘amassed in a manner reminiscent of the golden era
of American comedy  result in unconstrained redemptive laughter’ (DC 11
October 1966). He also paid attention to Vincente Minnelli (who although
self-imitative ‘treats comedy as a ballet’ [DC 22 December 1964]), Billy
Wilder (who ‘is renewing our belief in his talent’ with Kiss Me, Stupid (DC
16 March 1965) and William Wyler (whose How to Steal a Million [1966]
was ‘transfixed by irony’ [DC 13 December 1966]). He also made interesting
remarks about European comedies: that Italian comedy was simultaneously
ethography (DC 7 March 1967) or that modern European comedy, which was
characterised by realism (DC 28 February 1967), had distanced itself from
burlesque with gags based on triviality and everydayness rather than exag-
geration (DC 26 April 1966).
Angelopoulos’ fascination with musicals, evident also in films such as
Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975) and Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977),
has been widely discussed (Horton 1997: 86). Yet as it becomes apparent
from his critical output (he actually reviewed very few musicals), his inter-
est was not merely in the genre but in the use of music in cinema in general.
He was mesmerised by Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) ‘the first attempt at
a cinema-opera’ and produced a poetically written piece about the film,
which managed not to estrange viewers with the use of singing actors (DC
16 February 1965). He exhibited a wide knowledge of classical and modern
music and occasionally used musical terms to describe films, for example
Cousteau’s Le Monde du silence (The Silent World, 1956) was a minuetto (DC
29 December 1964) or Campanile’s Una Vergine per il Principe (A Maiden
for a Prince, 1966) was a divertimento (DC 15 March 1966). He also praised
the use of Bach by Bergman in Såsom i en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly,
1961) for ‘making evident the cinematic properties of the emotionally uncon-
sumed pre-classical music’ (DC 11 January 1966). Furthermore, while he
was working for Democratic Change, Angelopoulos was preparing an eventu-
ally abandoned film about a contemporary Greek rock music band named
Forminx, with the intention of ‘do[ing] something in the spirit of Richard
Lester’s films with the Beatles’ (Fainaru [1999] 2001: 133). In his celebratory
account of The Knack . . . and How to Get It (1965) by Lester he referred to
the Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night (1964) to explain that spirit and perhaps
his own intentions: it ‘surprised one with the novel sense of gag, the audac-
ity of raccord, and the freedom in movement that flirted with improvisation’6
(DC 26 October 1965).
the o ange lo po ulos as film critic  29


Angelopoulos’ serious interest in American and genre films (especially film
noirs), his taste for ‘crazy comedy’ and Tashlin, as well as his disenchantment
with the Hollywood of the 1960s, clearly indicate the influence of current
French film criticism. More particularly they reflect the impact of Cahiers du
Cinéma and the cinéphile culture developed around the French Cinémathèque
(Hillier 1985: 3; 1986: 14–15) with whom he came in close contact during his
time in Paris (1960–4). This influence is further confirmed by Angelopoulos’
devotion to the concept of authorship and the auteur criticism he applied
throughout his critical texts, a practice he shared with his fellow critics in the
He introduced auteur theory in his very first review, on A Distant Trumpet
(1964) by Raoul Walsh (DC 8 December 1964), and he constantly signposted
signs of authorship, ‘obsessive concerns’, in his own words, both in theme
and style, identifying several thematic and stylistic motifs as defining features
of prominent auteurs. Thus Kurosawa was inclined towards ‘great themes,
unusual dramatic situations and psychological paroxysm’ (DC 10 December
1964); Antonioni’s core themes were ‘the crisis in a couple’s relationship,
alienation and failure’ (DC 17 May 1966), while his style was defined by ‘long
shots without action, melancholic wanderings, slightly stylized décor and
evocative jazz music’ (DC 16 March 1965); Walsh’s work dealt with human
dignity and was marked by an ‘almost animalistic joy of movement’ (DC 8
December 1964), and so on. Although he highly valorised the subject matter
of a film, he also believed that authorship went beyond thematics. Thus the
distinguishing contribution of Melville in Second Breath, for example, ‘was
not the theme but basically and essentially the ability of the film director to
mark the most trivial events with a unique quality and authenticity’ (DC 24
January 1967), while Mario Bava could present the most worn conventions
‘with ­disarming elegance and knowledge of movement’ (DC 17 May 1966).
Angelopoulos cited a wide range of great masters including Hawks, Lang,
Welles, Bergman, and Kurosawa. However, the director he admired most was
Godard, whom he regarded as one of the most important filmmakers in the
history of cinema (DC 18 April 1967). On 31 August 1964 Democratic Change
published an anonymous article – probably expressing the Party line – in
which Godard appeared as a pretentious intellectual, his films as ‘miracles of
stupidity and banality’, and was even accused of being a fascist (DC 31 August
1964). Along with his fellow critics Angelopoulos rejected this fanatical view.
He wrote all the reviews of Godard’s films for the newspaper (except Pierrot
le Fou [1965] by Rafaelidis), namely Le Mépris (Contempt, 1963), Alphaville
(1965), Une femme mariée (A Married Woman, 1964), and Masculin Féminin
(1966) (‘one of the most positive, most radical films ever made’ [DC 18 April
30  m a r i a c halko u

1967]), all of them celebrations of his work, and returned to Godard often as
a point of reference to illustrate the parochialism or inferiority of other films.
What intrigued Angelopoulos in the work of Godard was the way he ‘writes
and rewrites, with equal anguished despair, the same story. Variations on the
same theme, every time [. . .] sharpening, however, his quest’ (DC 18 April
1967). Remarkable consistency in his understanding of film authorship is
revealed by the near reiteration of this comment, in a much later interview:
‘We are condemned to function with our obsessions. We make only one
film  [. . .] It’s all variations and fugues on the same theme’ (Fainaru 2001:
xiv). Moreover, Angelopoulos was amazed by Godard’s reflections upon the
very nature of cinema-life relationship: ‘the spectacle of life was often blended
into the spectacle of cinema [. . .] for there were moments when the myth
stopped and a direct dialogue of the characters and Godard himself with life
begun’ (DC 1 March 1966). The relationship between cinema and life, in
Angelopoulos’ view, was linked to the quest for authenticity and the ‘purity of
consciousness’ that led Godard to free narrative from explanations and shift
from the ‘supposed’ to the ‘lived’, with new forms of narration (DC 1 March
1966). The cinema–life relationship, ‘the game of reality and fiction’ (cited in
Grodent [1985] 2001: 51), as he said in an interview, and the importance of the
concept of the ‘lived’ – the ‘experienced’ – often resurfaced in Angelopoulos’
criticism. For example, it was one of the qualities he saw and appreciated in
American film noir (DC 4 January 1966) and in Second Breath (DC 24 January
1967) and it seems that he later embodied these perspectives in his own work
which so often includes real, ‘lived’, experiences from his life, such as the
biscuit scene in Το Bλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995) (Horton 1997:
98) or the opening scene of Reconstruction (Fainaru [1999] 2001: 125).
Angelopoulos also admired Godard’s use of ellipsis (DC 8 February 1966),
a concept of great significance for him that showed up often in his writing. He
connects Godard’s ellipsis with the sparse narrative and the suggestive cine-
matic language that demand that the viewer actively reconstructs the narrative
flow and deciphers the narrative procedure (DC 18 April 1967). Ellipsis and
suggestion, however, are basic ingredients of Angelopoulos’ own modernist
work, as he acknowledges: ‘The ellipse is a tremendous option for the specta-
tor to become the filmmaker’s partner in the creative process’ (cited in Gregor
[1973] 2001: 12). Likewise ‘the power of suggestion is exercised dynamically
in order to free the imagination of the audience [. . .] [that] exists dynamically
and not passively, when they add their imagination to that of the director’
(cited in O’Grady [1990] 2001: 74). Part of Godard’s suggestive language, as
Angelopoulos explains with reference to Masculin Féminin, is his use of quota-
tion, namely the frequent borrowings of ‘given elements’ such as posters and
extracts from well-known writers or from magazines, a technique that recalls,
in his view, Paul Klee, Rauschenberg and pop art (DC 18 April 1967). This
the o ange lo po ulos as film critic  31

conceptualisation, however, is strikingly similar to Angelopoulos’ practice of

quoting in his films from poems and writers’ words and including fragments
of ‘given’ cultural material, as for example in The Travelling Players which
includes diverse borrowings, such as Golfo’s verses, excerpts from pamphlets,
newspapers and books, songs, demonstration slogans and so on.
Another important element that attracted Angelopoulos’ attention in
Godard’s films was ‘dedramatisation’, ‘the constant draining of all senti-
ment’ in the quest perhaps for ‘another kind of sentiment’ (DC 19 April
1966). According to Angelopoulos ‘Godard plays down the dramatic texture
of events in order to give them an ordinariness, which sidesteps conflict and
drama – although they are still its raw material – [. . .] in order to stress the
universality of the human adventure’ (DC 5 January 1965). The plethora of
expressive novelties in Godard’s films, Angelopoulos concluded, ‘is not the
game of an insolent stylist but the result of an approach towards life and art,
which Godard himself thought moral. It is the extension of an aphorism that
once seemed paradoxical: every tracking shot is a moral act’ (DC 19 April
1966). It is not surprising that later as an established auteur Angelopoulos
openly acknowledged Godard’s influence on his work: ‘If you are looking for
an affinity, it is more in the direction of Godard you should look. He had a
certain influence on me [. . .] and on the other filmmakers of my generation’
(cited in Gregor [1973] 2001: 13).


As his film criticism reveals, Angelopoulos was deeply interested in issues
of narrative, style and technique (including cinematography, acting, sound,
colour, camera movement, editing and so on) and discussed them with the
confidence of an accomplished filmmaker, who identified positive aspects or
defects and suggested alternatives and solutions. He used the words ‘architec-
ture’ and ‘vertebration’ to stress the importance of a film’s structure and he
celebrated originality, as well as the ‘art of the minimal’ (DC 3 January 1965)
and the ‘expressive economy that refers back to silent cinema’ (DC 18 January
1966). His ideal was ‘absolute harmony between content and style’ (DC 3
January 1965), a coherent, homogeneous and united whole (DC 4 October
1966), conceptions that owed much to the Cahiers critical discourse (Hillier
1985: 78). While praising World Without Sun (1964), he observed: ‘Shooting
involves such knowledge of the subject [. . .] that there is no question of form.
There is no question of editing or angles of view. The content merges with the
form, suggesting and almost imposing the way of shooting’ (DC 29 December
1964). Moreover, the concept of ‘poetry’ was fundamental to his critical per-
ception of film and was employed as an act of transformation, of turning the
32  m a r i a c halko u

trivial, ‘the everyday into the unique’ (DC 29 December 1964). When he later
stated that ‘[t]here is no such thing as a dichotomy between content and form’
(cited in Alifragkis 2006: 14) and that ‘a film must be [. . .] a poetic event,
otherwise it does not exist’ (cited in O’Grady [1990] 2001: 70) he exhibited
considerable consistency and continuity in his perspectives on cinema.
Angelopoulos the critic placed particular emphasis on the visual and the
pictorial, which would later be central to his film work. Terms such as ‘visual
evocation’ (DC 24 May 1966), ‘visual euphoria’ (DC 15 March 1966), ‘a cel-
ebration of the gaze’ (DC 29 December 1964) and especially ‘visual stimula-
tion’ appeared repeatedly in his criticism to stress his belief in the ‘reigning of
the image’ that has its origins in silent film7 and ‘to which the entire cinema
of the new generation is devoted with religious care’ (DC 18 January 1966).
In his critical writing we can already find well-formed ideas about cinema-
tography. Angelopoulos often expressed his disapproval of beautiful images
(DC 4 May 1965) and expressionistic photography (DC 11 May 1965) as easy
practices, and made interesting points that were consistent later with his own
work. For example, while discussing Zorba the Greek (1964) he praised Walter
Lassaly’s image for softening the interplay between black and white for a more
refined and ‘gray’ photography which captures grades (DC 15 March 1965).
In his review of the Greek musical Οι Θαλασσιές oι Χάντρες (The Blue Beads,
1967) he was impressed by the ‘balanced’ and ‘homogeneous’ photography of
Arvanitis, who worked in the mainstream industry: ‘For the first time, from a
Greek cinematographer, we saw such a quality of colour, like the pastel grades
of the location image, shot under cloudy sky’ (DC 21 February 1967), stylistic
choices which as we retrospectively know dominate his film aesthetics.
The concepts of time and temporality, as well as the acts of recalling and
representing the past, became core issues in his later work from as early as
Reconstruction, although his views on them seemed to shift. In his review of
Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (Cléo from 5 to 7, 1962), Angelopoulos argued that
the important element in the film was the treatment of the subject through
‘the problem of temporality’: ‘Two hours of narrative time are identified
with two hours of real time’, but in this ‘objective time intervene moments of
subjectivity’ that help Varda – who was influenced by Faulkner and interwar
­literature  – to avoid temps mort (DC 8 March 1966). Commenting also on
Darling (1965), which particularly impressed him, he noticed that the film
uses ‘punctuation that dispenses with descriptive temporality for the sake of a
visual one, and also editing that refutes Eisenstein to rework the lessons of the
interwar novels of Joyce and Dos Passos’8 (DC 18 December 1966). When it
comes to the recollection of the past, he generally criticised the conventional
use of flashbacks and when he discussed Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries,
1957) he prefigured his own idiosyncratic mixing of different temporalities in
a single shot, widely used in films such as Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players,
the o ange lo po ulos as film critic  33

1975) and Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977): ‘In one of the masterpieces of
Swedish cinema, Miss Julie, Alf Sjöberg makes an interesting invasion of the
past in the present. The heroine narrates the years of her youth [. . .] and
without cut, in the same setting, the past comes alive’9 (DC 16 November
1965). Bergman in Wild Strawberries ‘reworked this idea in order to analyse a
character’ and by projecting in the same space two temporalities without the
usual clear demarcation the film emanates bitterness and pessimism (DC 16
November 1965). However in his scathing piece on the Greek film Εκείνος και
Eκείνη (Him and Her, 1967), a commercially produced film with artistic aspi-
rations, Angelopoulos asserted that such a film ‘in which time has no continu-
ity in classical terms of narrative but the fragmentation of memory’ was neither
innovative in Greek cinema nor a positive development, and he deemed the
‘mixture of the past with the present [to be] no longer a topic of interest for
novels or European cinema’ (DC 31 January 1967).
Moreover Angelopoulos made interesting comments relevant to his future
films on the representation and interpretation of history. Political correct-
ness, the condemnation, for example, of the massacre in Zulu (1964), is not
­sufficient without historical explanation of the motivation behind the events
(DC 8 December 1964). When the story is seen through ‘the social and eco-
nomic contradictions of the era, it takes on unexpected facets’ and uncov-
ers ‘underground streams’ (DC 5 January 1965). ‘Respect for the external
elements of the historical frame’ (4 May 1965) and lack of sentimentality
in representing history are positive qualities of a film (DC 2 June 1965).
René Clément’s Paris brûle-t-il (Is Paris Burning?, 1966) does not succeed in
­becoming a chronicle of the Liberation except when it achieves an abstract
and epic character (DC 10 January 1967). In Contempt also he was especially
interested in the use of the myth of odyssey, a core preoccupation of his
future work: ‘The affinity with the story of Ulysses’ – the film inside the
film – ‘that has a parallel dialectical development brings to the subject an
additional dimension: it becomes a dialogue between life and History’ (DC 5
January 1965).


Although in his films the actors are mostly figures and part of a wider com-
position, in the 1960s Angelopoulos was profoundly interested in actors’
performances. He always discussed casting and acting-related issues, with
particular focus on the male stars. Among his favourite actors were Brigitte
Bardot, Jeanne Moreau (who played a part in Το Μετέωρο Βήμα του
Πελαργού [The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991]), Jean-Paul Belmondo, and
Marcello Mastroianni (the protagonist of Beekeeper and The Suspended Step of
34  m a r i a c halko u

the Stork). His comments on Belmondo’s ‘astonishing’ performance in Tendre

voyou (Tender Scoundrel, 1966) are illustrative of his tastes: ‘It could be said
that the camera exists only to capture this rare phenomenon of an actor, whose
equivalent can be found only in the dynamic cinema of Bogart and Mitchum’
(DC 8 February 1966). Similarly, discussing Casanova 70 (1965), he asserts:
‘But, of course, there is Mastroianni, who is delightful, and for whom only the
film deserves to be seen’ (DC 30 November 1965). Angelopoulos often dis-
missed the ‘tics’ and ‘negative aspects’ of the Actors Studio tradition of acting
(DC 5 April 1966) and when, in Ulysses’ Gaze, he collaborated with Harvey
Keitel, who was ‘the Method personified’ (cited in Fainaru [1996] 2001: 99),
he found the actor unable to adapt to alternative techniques of preparing his
role (cited in Fainaru 1996: 98–9). Moreover he championed dedramatised
(DC 3 January 1965) and reserved acting (‘Mifune is extravagant [. . .] but
Isuzu Yamada [. . .] acts the entire spectrum of drama with her eyes’ [DC 10
December 1964]) as well as mimic performances, which refer to silent cinema
(DC 21 February 1967). Finally, he celebrated the externalised and natural
acting in Contempt, where Bardot and Fritz Lang ‘do not play, but repeat [. . .]
themselves: the way they exist in their everyday life, their ideas, their ges-
tures, their minor routines that make up externally their personality’ (DC 5
January 1965).
Angelopoulos’ criticism exhibits an acute interest in sound and especially
aural background, the use of which he particularly admired in American
film noir (DC 4 January 1966). Fundamental to his understanding of sound
was the concept of ‘counterpoint’, which betrays the influence of Eisenstein,
believing that narrative density (DC 10 December 1964) and dramatic inten-
sity (DC 29 December 1964) can be produced by ‘contrapuntal’ use of music,
voices, and aural background10 (DC 16 November 1965). His attention to
sound is well illustrated in his analysis of Tokyo Olympiad (1965): ‘Often the
acoustic background is excluded, and the athlete, isolated by the camera, is
enclosed in the centre of a strange silence to further emphasise his deepest
loneliness’ (DC 13 April 1965). Yet the film that had had a profound impact
on him was Sidney Lumet’s The Hill (1965): ‘a great theme, an astonishing
mise en scène, a great movie!’ He praised the significance placed on the aural
background, pointing out that the role of music accompaniment in the film
was performed by ‘an endless sequence of military orders that sharpens the
harshness of the image’ (DC 9 November 1965). The importance of sound in
Angelopoulos’ work has largely escaped scholarly attention. Angelopoulos,
however, made films not simply to be seen, but equally to be heard. Days
of ’36, for example, a film with sparse dialogue – a feature widely admired
in Angelopoulos’ criticism11 – maximises the role of the aural background,
revealing lessons learned from The Hill. The clarity, volume and repetitive-
ness of the background sounds, as well as the way the long and empty shots
the o ange lo po ulos as film critic  35

are filled with steps, galloping hooves, car engines or abstract human voices,
and even the noisy protest of prisoners hitting tin dishes against the prison
bars, refer to Lumet’s narrative and elaboration on soundtrack. One could
even dare to say that the construction of the long shots and the choreography
of the long takes, and particularly the scenes of the prison yard in Days of ’36,
were notably influenced by The Hill.


Angelopoulos’ writing in Democratic Change reveals his leaning towards con-
temporary French and British films and the Czech New Wave. He had a par-
ticular dislike of German cinema, regarding it as parochial, and was unafraid to
give Soviet films scathing reviews (DC 13 December 1966), despite their pro-
motion by the official Left. Moreover he rarely wrote on Greek cinema. Only
nineteen of his pieces were about Greek films, mostly short and disdainful
notes. Yet some of the Greek films he reviewed are of great significance either
because they were the subject of debate at the time, such as Zorba the Greek
(1964) and Ελευθέριος Βενιζέλος (Eleftherios Venizelos, 1965), or because they
were later acknowledged as exceptional works such as Ο Φόβος (The Fear,
1966) and Η Έβδομη Ημέρα της Δημιουργίας (The Seventh Day of Creation,
1966). It is important to keep in mind that as cinema became increasingly influ-
ential through the 1960s, a widespread public debate developed around the
need for a ‘quality’ Greek national cinema and the paths it ought to follow. It
was partly out of this debate that New Greek Cinema emerged (Chalkou 2008:
34–63) and it is precisely in this context – as part of a wider and formative dis-
course – that Angelopoulos’ views on domestic film are of particular interest.
Angelopoulos articulated a discourse on Greek film that was prominent
among intellectuals of the time. He spoke of ‘horrific stupidity’, ‘bad taste’
and films ‘made by the mentally retarded for the mentally retarded’ (DC 20
January 1965). Greek cinema was at ‘the zero year’ (DC 31 January 1967)
and suffered from a ‘permanent illness’ (DC 23 February 1966) arising from
two different sources: bad scripts (DC 19 October 1965), plagued by trivial
subjects, melodramatic plots and crude farce, and film directors who ignored
cinematic language (DC 29 July 1965) and – echoing Cahiers’ criticism of the
cinéma de papa – reduced themselves to craftsmanship and the role of an illus-
trator (DC 21 March 1967). He also believed that ‘although among the one
hundred or so worthless projects produced annually there were occasionally a
few distinctive films’ – Ο Δράκος (Ogre of Athens, 1956) by Nikos Koundouros
being the most important Greek film ever (DC 1 March 1966) – they were
isolated cases and did not open a path. Angelopoulos argued that Koundouros
and Cacoyannis had failed to create a national school. There was a wide gap
36  m a r i a c halko u

between their exceptional work and the vast majority of domestic films, which
left Greek cinema highly polarised (DC 1 March 1966).
In his review of Zorba the Greek, a film that provoked much domestic con-
troversy (Agathos 2007: 105–40), Angelopoulos distanced himself from accu-
sations of misrepresenting the Greeks, focusing instead on the film’s strategies
of literary adaptation and the inconsistency of the narrative in dramatic terms.
The widow’s murder and the death of Madame Hortense were ‘astonishing
scenes where the indisputable talent of Cacoyannis [. . .] enlarged triviality
to pathos’ through the atmosphere of ancient tragedy. The film was a failure,
‘but a fall from the heights’ (DC 15 March 1965). Moreover Angelopoulos
revealed his interest in Greek history by reviewing Eleftherios Venizelos (1965),
one of the first Greek historical feature-length documentaries and a portrait
of Greece’s foremost liberal politician. The prohibition of the film by the new
government of Αποστασία (Defection), which condemned it as an artless work
that insulted the audience, was motivated by the film’s antimonarchy content.
Angelopoulos wrote on Venizelos when it was screened privately for journal-
ists and vehemently rejected the official line by making a political statement
against censorship in the arts (DC 29 July 1965).
Angelopoulos also reviewed two Greek musicals, Διπλοπενιές (Dancing the
Sirtaki, 1966) and Οι Θαλασσιές οι Χάντρες (The Blue Beads, 1967), confirm-
ing his interest in the genre and questioning Greek cultural authenticity in
relation to foreign cinematic traditions and European receptivity. In his view,
thanks to its director, Dancing the Sirtaki was the first authentic attempt at
a Greek musical which departed from domestic cultural specificities to suc-
cessfully join the American and European tradition. Skalenakis displayed ‘an
undeniable visual sensibility, an enviable sense of rhythm, imagination, ele-
gance (DC 15 March 1966).12 Dalianidis’s film, by contrast, was neither true
to the genre nor authentically Greek and could not be considered musical. The
film failed to adapt the elegant conventions of the genre and invested heavily
in national stereotypes – from a western European viewpoint – to increase
exportability (DC 21 February 1967).
The Fear by Manousakis is one of the most artful, dark, critically sharp and
powerful films made by the commercial industry in an attempt to bridge the
gap between popular and art film (Chalkou 2008: 100–65) and restore what
Angelopoulos had identified as the polarisation of Greek cinema. Angelopoulos
acknowledged positive features in the film: the accomplished cinematic lan-
guage, modernist idiom, dedramatised acting and dialogue which does not ‘par-
aphrase’ the image but suggests. However, surprisingly perhaps, he accused the
film of formalism, of being aesthetically overloaded while neglecting its subject
matter (DC 1 March 1966). The Seventh Day of Creation was another attempt
by the mainstream industry at artistic and socially-engaged films,  which
was a major demand of the era in relation to domestic cinema (Chalkou
the o ange lo po ulos as film critic  37

2008: 34–63). Nevertheless Angelopoulos was particularly severe:  although

Georgiades moved the camera skilfully and the setting was authentic, the script,
written by the acclaimed playwright Kambanellis, was nonsensical, featuring
fake and almost psychopathological characters, who did not represent the Greek
youth. And although the ‘generation gap’ was a core topic of ‘New Cinema’ in
general, its treatment by the film was frivolous and entirely fictitious (DC 13
December 1966). By rejecting the industry’s attempts to follow the European film
canon and be progressive, Angelopoulos made clear that the rejuvenation of Greek
cinema – the ‘New’ – would come from creative forces beyond the ­establishment.

Angelopoulos’ critical writing in Democratic Change has escaped public and
scholarly attention for decades. This chapter has attempted a close reading
of Angelopoulos’ unexplored critical work to reveal his remarkably rich cul-
tural and cinéphile background. It focuses on genre and auteur criticism, his
relationship with Godard, important issues in relation to form, content and
narrative, his ideas on Greek cinema, as well as how his writing is reflected in
his filmmaking practices. It also traces interesting critical attitudes (such as his
independence from the Party line), unexpected tastes (such as his love of James
Bond films), and possible unnoticed influences (such as Lumet’s The Hill).
As his critical writing suggests, Angelopoulos possessed the charisma of a
free-spirited, well-informed, cultivated and imaginative mind with exceptional
critical and analytical skills. It is not accidental that discussing his ‘keen grasp of
the director’s role in shaping critical appropriation of his films’, David Bordwell
points out that when assisting the interpretation of his work, ‘[h]e can come up
with a lapidary formula that many critics would envy’ (1997: 11). As Bordwell
suggests, Angelopoulos, a self-conscious auteur, spoke as a critic. And he was a
critic who spoke as a filmmaker: he considered and discussed the questions that
most interested him, expressing the concerns and evolving, or already well-
formed, ideas of a future film director. We cannot deny the possibility that criti-
cal activity might have helped him to sharpen his gaze and systematise his ideas
and vision of cinema. In light of his eventual films and the rhetoric he developed
on cinema, we can identify a self-reflective auteur and a self-reflective critic
whose opinions on cinema indicate remarkable consistency and continuity.

  1. United Democratic Left, the political and parliamentary front of the banned Communist
Party in the 1950s and 1960s.
38  m a r i a c halko u

  2. There were also a few appearances by Ninos Fenek Mikelides and Dimitris Stavrakas,
while Dimitris Gionis and Fontas Ladis occasionally contributed film reportages and
  3. There was a blurring of the lines between film writing and filmmaking. All the critics of
Democratic Change, including Rafailidis, made attempts at short films in the 1960s
(Chalkou 2008: 98 and 233–306).
  4. For example Democratic Change organised and published over six issues (24 March–1
April 1967) an open discussion about Greek cinema under the title ‘Young filmmakers
and their problems: Greek cinema has reached a stalemate’.
  5. DC is an abbreviation for Democratic Change.
  6. His review of Lester’s second film with Beatles Help! (1965), however, was dismissive.
(DC 7 December 1965).
  7. Silent cinema was a recurrent point of reference in Angelopoulos’ criticism. David
Bordwell made a connection between Angelopoulos’ aesthetics and early cinema when
stating that his ‘more distant framings [are] reminiscent of the cinema prior to 1915’.
(1997: 20)
  8. It is noteworthy that Angelopoulos was enthusiastic about Darling and a connection
between his short H Eκπομπή (The Broadcast, 1968) – the shooting of which started in
1966 (Themelis 1998: 28) – and Schlesinger’s film can be clearly traced. The opening
long-lasting scene of Darling shows a huge poster of the ‘ideal woman’ being put up,
while Angelopoulos’ short is structured around the quest by the media for the ‘ideal
man’. Both films deal with alienation and illusionism in media and advertising scenes,
while street interviews, studio work and cityscapes play a key role in the narrative.
 9. Miss Julie (1951) has often been mentioned by Angelopoulos in his interviews on the
same topic. (O’Grady 1990: 71)
10. It is important to note that the notion of ‘counterpoint’ was central in Angelopoulos’
rhetoric on film irrespective of sound.
11. For example: ‘In the advantages of the film we should add the sparse dialogue. The
camera holds the narrative and the few spoken words are sounds among other sounds’
(DC 26 April 1966).
12. This, however, was forgotten one year later when Angelopoulos, reviewing The Blue
Beads, argued that in the Greek context – as with Westerns and crime films – musicals
were ‘unthinkable’ and that the only noteworthy attempt at adapting the genre was
Καλημέρα Αθήνα (Good Morning Athens, 1960) by Gregoriou (DC 21 February 1967).

Two Short Essays on

Angelopoulos’ Early Films
Nagisa Oshima
Translated by Julian Ross


P eople come up with all sorts of ideas. Some even think it might be interest-
ing to make a film director meet another film director. How nice would it
be for two people to meet who have such a thing in common! In fact, it would
be quite burdensome for a filmmaker. This is because we have nothing to talk
about. All filmmakers have their minds filled with their own thoughts. We are
left with nothing else to talk about. Although we would speak to critics and
newspaper journalists whose job it is to lend us an ear, talking to other film
directors would be something else. For us, talking about another director’s
film also poses a difficulty. This is because we all know how it is going to go.
We will either be thinking ‘hmm, you are pretty impressive’ while underneath
an expression of interest our hearts are filled with scorn, or, we’re completely
In other words, it is impossible for us to speak about films. Even so, it is
not like we can start talking about the restaurant we discovered yesterday that
serves quite delicious food. If we are both Japanese, we could kill time by dis-
cussing cinemas that only attract small audiences or complain about film sets
where it is a difficult task even to gather crew members with little experience.
With film directors from abroad, however, reporting on our individual situa-
tions would be a futile process, a bit like the world socialist movement.1
Although I cannot guarantee whether this is true or not as it is only some-
thing I was told, apparently there was once someone who came up with the
tremendous idea of arranging a meeting between Ingmar Bergman and Alain
Resnais. Arrangements were made for a dinner that, of course, not only
involved the two of them but also some others who joined them. As the dinner
proceeded, however, no word was exchanged between the two of them. The
guests were kept in suspense. When they had become convinced the dinner
40  na g i s a os hi m a

would end without a conversation between the directors, one of the two looked
over to the other when the coffee was served and asked, ‘What lens did you
use in that shot in the film, xxx’? The other responded, ‘It was a xxx-mm
lens’. Although everybody’s hearts leapt with excitement about the ensuing
­conversation, apparently it ended there.
To that degree, it is very difficult for film directors to converse, chat or even
exchange words with one another. In that way, I suppose I am somewhat of an
exception. I think I am able to call Wim Wenders and Bertolucci my friends and
I find it easy to talk to the Germans, such as Volker Schlöndorff and Reinhard
Hauff. I also got along with the South Americans Nelson Pereira dos Santos,
Victor Faccinto and Glauber Rocha, who is no longer with us. Although I do
not get many opportunities to meet American directors, Coppola once invited
me to his winery. Bob Rafelson was a nice guy and Stanley Donen, whom I
met at the Munich Film Festival earlier this year where we both had a retro-
spective, was a graceful person. As for Lee Jang-ho, Hou Hsiao-Hsien or Jim
Jarmusch, we talk when we bump into each other but I feel a bit of reservation
on their part probably due to our age difference.
Theo Angelopoulos, on the other hand, knows of no reservation. The
number of times we’ve conversed exceeds by far the time that I have spent
with others. This could be due to the similarity in approach we feel our films
take, but it is also thanks to Theo’s love for talking. Or, we could even say love
for giving speeches. Back in 1976 at Cannes, we had just started drinking at
the café Le Petit Carlton or some other place in the evening. Or was it that we
had just sat down at a restaurant and ordered an aperitif? In any case, we had
not yet started eating.
‘Mr Angelopoulos, what sort of films do you make?’
My wife Akiko Koyama, who had unusually joined me on this occasion,
asked him. Perhaps the question was, ‘what was the reason you started film-
making?’ In any case, it was just one of those hospitable questions an actress
asks a director. However, Theo, who took it dead seriously, started to talk about
everything, from his student life studying law, his short films, the meaning of
Greek contemporary history in Μέρες του ’36 (Days of ’36, 1972) and all the way
up to Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975), endlessly, all in sequential order.
Even after we finished dinner he still had not finished. Even after we went
back to Le Petit Carlton, or somewhere else, and the day had moved into
the next, he kept on going. In his book Eiga e no tabi (Journey to Cinema),
Yasushi Kawarabata of the newspaper, Yomiuri referred to this incident and
mentioned that it lasted an hour. Anyway, it was much more than that. At any
rate, Theo is left feeling unsatisfied unless he talks about things in the right
order. Although all my wife had to do after igniting this fire was nod, it was
quite something else for Hayao Shibata of France Film Company to translate.
But then, Mr Shibata himself likes to put things into order. In that sense, I
ange lo po ulos’ early films  41

think it is appropriate for Mr Shibata to be the one to be distributing Theo’s

films in Japan.
The following year was the year of The Hunters. My presence at Cannes
was ostensibly for meetings about The Empire of Passion (1978) but, in fact,
I did not have much to do. As I was walking aimlessly down the Croisette,
Mr Shibata came up close to me from behind and said, ‘Mr Oshima, last year
you heated the place up with In the Realm of the Senses (1976) but this year,
without a film, you are just another person’. After offering such painful words
he rushed off, as he was himself, of course, extremely busy.
Thinking back to it now, I basically went to Cannes that year just to see
Theo’s The Hunters (1977). On the day of its official screening, I saw the film
at the press screening in the morning and was impressed. When I shared my
thoughts with Theo, he invited me to attend the screening in the evening when
his cast and crew were to be present. And in addition to that, he asked me to
sit with them as if I was part of the crew. Considering the film is around three
hours long, it was typical of Theo to ask me to watch the film twice in a day,
but I guessed it could not be helped, and I put on my tuxedo and joined them.
When I got up with Theo at the end of the film amid the applause, however, I
was as pleased as if I had made it myself. Fifteen years later, I have been forced
into watching the three-hour film, once again. Although I had felt it was a bit
late for Mr Shibata to release this film in Japan now, I was nonetheless deeply
moved for the third time.
I recently met up with Theo in Tokyo, which he was visiting to coincide
with the release of The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991). But our meeting last
autumn during an evening in Toronto, where I had gone for the preparation of
Hollywood Zen2 has left a stronger impression. Together with Mr Kawabata,
we went down Lake Ontario on board a boat owned by a Greek friend of
Theo’s. The fleet of boats carrying red flags did not appear from beneath the
dark surface of the lake. Eventually, it started raining. Theo muttered, ‘the
times are bad for us all’, a number of times.


How on earth would you give a name to the camerawork in the following
scene? On the eve of 1944 during the Second World War, a chorus of cheers
can be heard celebrating the liberation from the German army that has begun
retreating from their occupation of Greece. The camera shoots from behind
the people that have gathered to sing at a plaza in Athens. As a symbol of lib-
eration, the people are raising the flags of the United Kingdom, the United
States and the Soviet Union. Suddenly, gunshots interrupt the singing and
42  na g i s a os hi m a

Figure 2.1 The Travelling Players

the people run about in total confusion. The camera pans to the left following
the people as they run round every street corner. Even after everybody has
disappeared, the camera continues to pan and, after turning 360°, returns to
the plaza. There are three or four dead bodies.
Even in masterfully made films, things would normally end here. However,
Theo Angelopoulos does not. The camera’s gaze onto the plaza, where dead
bodies lie, continues for so long, almost too long. Eventually, a boy playing a
bagpipe makes an appearance and passes by the dead bodies. And suddenly,
one of the bodies gets up and runs. He is an elderly man who plays an accor-
dion, one of the travelling players. Following the elderly man, the camera once
again begins its pan to the left. After the elderly man disappears, demonstra-
tors come marching down the main street facing the plaza. This time, all flags
are red. It is a Communist Party demonstration voicing their opposition to the
British liberation army that has taken control of Greece. The camera follows
them and continues to pan, filming the demonstrators who have taken over
the plaza from behind. And we are back to where we began.
How long did it take for the demonstrators to mobilise against the occupa-
tion army after the people, who had gathered in celebration mistaking the
occupation army for the liberation army, were gunned down with bullets of
disillusionment? Of course, the physical time would have far exceeded the
time a camera takes to pan 360°. Despite this, Theo Angelopoulos brought
together the two events as he saw them to have happened in one inextricably
connected time. What we are dealing with here is Theo’s powerful belief in the
camera’s ability to capture history.
ange lo po ulos’ early films  43

The secret behind the conviction lies in the time the camera takes, after
rotating once and returning to its place, to stare at the plaza where three or
four bodies lie on the ground. Theo’s filmmaking and camerawork is not only
a characteristic of The Travelling Players but can also be seen in The Hunters.
A scene in a certain space finishes, and the people disperse, but the camera
maintains its stare on the uninhabited space.
As a method of filmmaking, this is a break in convention. Most film direc-
tors strongly believe their audiences come to see their films for their charac-
ters and are in fear of using a scene with nobody in it. The uninhabited space
shown before the arrival or after the departure of a person is referred to as an
empty stage and, although some may insert their favourite landscape shot into
a scene, such shots are usually reserved for only when it is necessary. This is
because a scene is designed with the presence of a person as a given, and it feels
disorganised when you take the person out.
Theo ignores this convention and gives meaningful importance to the
empty stage. Moreover, Theo’s empty stage draws us into it. Perhaps even
more than when a person inhabits it. I wonder why that is. Of course, its
strengths are partly due to the sounds and voices that can be heard off-screen,
but that is surely not the only reason.
The strengths of Theo’s empty stage derive from Theo’s all-too powerful
concentration on the people who have just left it. This is why I would like to
call it the camerawork of lingering affection. At the same time, the camerawork
also shows Theo’s belief that the empty stage will one day be inhabited and,
once again, turn back into a stage. In that way, perhaps it would be better to
call it the camerawork of hope. But then, lingering affection and hope are
synonymous to me. For Theo Angelopoulos, the entire nation of Greece is his
stage. Therefore, in a film that attempts to portray the contemporary history
of Greece with a camera, it is inevitable that the main characters are the actors
themselves. With the entire nation of Greece as their stage, the actors synthe-
sise their stage roles with their own lives, and live, or die, as Greeks.
The father, who symbolises the pride and weakness of Greece, is betrayed
by his adulterous wife and is shot dead. The mother, representing the land
of Greece, liaises with a man whom is an informer, traitor and usurper, and
is shot dead by her son on the stage. The younger brother Orestes, who has
thrown himself into the resistance movement, succeeds in enacting revenge on
his mother and her lover but, refusing to give in until the very end, is executed
during the Civil War. Facing his dead body, his elder sister Electra screams,
‘Good morning, Tasos!’ That is the name of her beloved in the play. Electra is
a person who experienced as well as witnessed the tragedy that had descended
onto her family and her people; Electra must continue to live shouldering the
tragedy of Greece. She mobilises a new group and opens the curtains of the
stage once again, with her elder sister’s son as the new Tasos. Finishing her
44  na g i s a os hi m a

make-up, Electra whispers into his ear, ‘Orestes!’ Her call speaks to us. No,
it has to speak to us. It is the heartbeat of the soul of the people of Greece. It
is the heartbeat of the soul of the people all over the world who know not to
lose hope despite being struck by tyranny, occupation, defeat and humiliation.
Can you hear it? What are you saying? You cannot hear it? Since when have
Japanese people lost sight of the taste of defeat and disgrace that is part of their
own history? Even the Americans have given birth to excellent works out of
their defeat in Vietnam. What has happened to the Japanese? August 15th is
not yet a distant past.3

1. The wording used here by Oshima is most likely a reference to the Japanese title for
William Z. Foster’s book, History of the three Internationals; the World Socialist and
Communist Movements from 1848 to the Present, translated into Japanese by Kazuji Nagasu
and Masao Tajima and published by Otsuki Shoten in 1957.
2. Oshima’s plan to make a biopic about the Japanese American movie star Sessue Hayakawa
3. August 1945: the longest day in the history of Japan. Hirohito announced defeat and the
end of the war. The people of Japan suffered a terrible shock, not only at the news (war had
been declared in the name of the emperor and Japan had never been defeated until then),
but also because it was the first time that the emperor, considered a God and symbol until
then, had to address his people. The army wanted to continue the war and tried to seize
the recording of the emperor’s announcement before it was played ‘on air’.


Generative Apogee and Elegiac

Expansion: European Film
Modernism from Antonioni to
Hamish Ford

M ichelangelo Antonioni’s early 1960s cinema has long been recognised

as one of the key influences on Theo Angelopoulos’ filmmaking. The
director himself has often been quoted as describing Antonioni’s epochal
L’avventura (1960) as a seminal moment in his development, reportedly watch-
ing it thirteen times while a student in Paris during the early 1960s (cited in
Archimandritis 2013: 26). What exactly is it about Antonioni’s work that was so
formative for Angelopoulos, and how can we see its effects play out in his own
subsequent films? More than simply illustrating authorial influence, by exam-
ining the connections between these two filmmakers as well as some important
differences, this chapter seeks to explore the ways in which, through their work,
we can chart the complex development of European feature film modernism


Scholars such as John Orr (1993: 1), András Bálint Kovács (2007: 2, 156),
David Bordwell (2005: 144), Fredric Jameson (1997: 80), and Andrew Horton
(1997a: 1–10) have often painted post-war modernist cinema’s development,
and frequently Angelopoulos’ role within it, as largely comprised of post-war
innovation and apogee followed by ‘late’ extension, closure and death.1 I will
explore ahead how, where the films seek to retain some fidelity to contempo-
rary history, post-war European – not to mention global – modernism remains
intimately bound up with such a dialectical narrative of generativity and loss.
Yet in the process, this cinema (itself building on earlier innovations by film-
makers such as Carl Theodor Dryer and F. W. Murnau in Europe, not to
mention Kenji Mizoguchi in Japan) also emerges as ultimately telling a less
linear, more complicated story than such accounts can sometimes suggest.
46  h a m i s h fo rd

Figure 3.1 The Broadcast

This is due to the paradoxical but fully explainable and historically embedded
fusion in both Antonioni’s and Angelopoulos’ work between modernism and a
realist commitment to engaging with the contemporary world in all its multi-
layered challenge, its horror and lingering sense of possibility. In this chapter,
I present the development from one filmmaker to the other as both logical but
also requiring sustained interrogation for what it reveals: both about European
film modernism’s complex trajectory but also the particular regional, national
and global realities such films seek to essay and interrogate.
Angelopoulos’ very first credited film, the short Η Εκπομπή (Broadcast,
1968), features overt references to Antonioni’s work, most notably in its treat-
ment of the urban environment.2 More broadly, however, while there remain
important and revealing differences, Angelopoulos’ mature cinema takes up
and expands particular tenets of Antonioni’s influential style, even further
enlarging the role of both time and space at the expense of narrative and char-
acter development, while leaving others aside. My focus is the extension yet
at the same time paradoxically also reduction of Antonioni’s modernism in
Angelopoulos’ work, at the heart of which lies the effects of a particular, and
subsequently very familiar, foregrounded temporality. The resulting aesthetic
and formal ‘language’ is a pan-European and increasingly global modernism
defined increasingly by the long take, which seems to have mounted a creeping
takeover of the more varied formalism exemplified by Antonioni’s peak early
1960s work.
In his important 2007 book, Screening Modernism: European Art Cinema,
1950–1980, Kovács defines this type of cinema as loosely narrative and char-
acter-based – as opposed to the avant-garde itself – but which nonetheless
g ene rative apo ge e and elegiac expan sion   47

substantially overturns the would-be ‘transparent’ and movement-defined

regime of classical Hollywood narrative cinema.3 It is perhaps not coincidental
that the date range proposed by Kovács is precisely bookended by Antonioni’s
first feature film, Cronaca di un amore (Chronicle of a Love Story, 1950),
and the ultimate work of what is often seen as Angelopoulos’ ‘political’  –
and, I suggest, modernist – period, Μεγαλέξανδρος (Megalexandros, 1980).
Alongside crucial communist bloc developments in the 1960s and 1970s
exemplified in the work of such pivotal figures as Miklós Jancsó in Hungary
and Andrei Tarkovsky in the USSR, as well as in a very different sense with
Chantal Akerman’s transnational cinema from the same decade, through his
1970s work Angelopoulos contributes a distinct chapter to the story of film
modernism in many respects centrally laid out by Antonioni. In fact, this story
continues to be taken up around the world, notably via the long-take aesthetic
in Asian cinema (concurrently invoking an older, regional time-based formal-
ism exemplified by Mizoguchi) in the films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Tsai Ming-
liang, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, in addition to Abbas Kiarostami and
much other Iranian cinema since the late 1980s, and continued within Europe
by filmmakers such as Béla Tarr, Michael Haneke, Roy Andersson, and
Ulrich Seidl.
Antonioni and Angelopoulos give us instructively different accounts of
then-recent modern history as played out in often contrasting national con-
texts marked by fascism, war, genocidal violence, and capitalism’s victory in
defining the West’s post-war political contract. The latter director – crucially
beginning his feature film career two decades later – comes across as far more
openly pessimistic and elegiac in his portrayal of both Greek and European
modernity. His very ‘personal’ cinema is on the one hand radical and ideal-
ist when it comes both to form and aesthetics but also shows vestiges of real
political investment, although increasingly pessimistic and mournful, less
ambiguous and generative than the Italian filmmaker’s peak work. In a general
sense, Angelopoulos’ 1970s cinema maintains a loose Marxist commitment,
analytical approach, and formal application. More specifically still, the first
five films offer a ghosted yet somehow still tangible ‘alternative’ vision of
post-war Greek and European modernity offered by unachieved communism.
Such clear political investment is never strongly felt in Antonioni’s cinema.
By the time of Megalexandros, however, neither dominant (conservative-
capitalist) nor alternative (radical-communist) modernity appear quite real.
Leftist Greek identity and its unfulfilled dream, emboldened by the end of
World War Two then subsequently battered and banished by the late 1940s
Civil War, here remains as a mythic ideal but alongside its potential outcome
in the distinctly pre-modern village form of a dictatorial, cult-like commune.
Present-day Athens, glimpsed just once (after nearly four hours of film time)
in Megalexandros’ concluding panoramic night-time shot, looks imposing and
48  h a m i s h fo rd

implacable. It remains for the viewer to determine whether the dreams of the
modern nation’s winners are haunted by its post-war others as represented by
the vanquished leftists.


Both Antonioni and Angelopoulos started their feature film careers with
projects more connected to familiar genre elements than would later be the
case. Antonioni’s Chronicle of a Love Story and Angelopoulos’ Αναπαράσταση
(Reconstruction, 1970) actually use the same overall atmosphere and basic
narrative tradition of the film noir murder-mystery to explore broader
socio-historical themes, rendered via very distinctive formalism, in both
cases using relatively extreme (for the period) long takes. From such begin-
nings, each director’s work has long been read as offering chronicles of
modern Italy and modern Greece, even as the films’ concerns and produc-
tion contexts were frequently also transnational.4 While, unlike Antonioni,
Angelopoulos never made a fully English-language Hollywood-funded film,
starting with  Ο Μελισσοκόμος (The Beekeeper, 1984) he began using big
European stars  (here  Marcello Mastroianni), then in the 1990s and 2000s
Hollywood figures (Harvey Keitel and Willem Dafoe). In the 1970s, the
director was already procuring European funding from diverse sources (as
did Antonioni from 1953).
For the viewer of Antonioni’s work, contextual knowledge and back-
ground is certainly helpful, adding historical and cultural detail to the films’
subtle presentations of life in the different cities and regions of Italy during its
remarkable post-war boom. But lack of such background is not a significant
barrier to appreciating the films, thanks to extreme narrative simplicity or
even minimalism and heavily foregrounded formal and aesthetic develop-
ment, such that every image (and cut) can be admired and investigated as
its own ‘micro-work’. Angelopoulos’ idiosyncratic visual style also results in
images that can be appreciated in and of themselves. However, particularly
in the 1970s films, some basic knowledge of European and Greek history
and politics helps immeasurably if the viewer is to maintain patience with
a cinema that can otherwise come across as either wilfully obscure or rather
turgid. In Antonioni and Angelopoulos, these differences taken on board, we
have two charters of nation and associated culture as buffeted and fundamen-
tally redefined by post-war history in all its radically transformational and
violent aspects, set against both genuinely ancient and mythic Mediterranean
histories – twin ‘origins’ of the West – and more modern ones, in both cases
fundamentally marked by fascism, war, occupation, resistance and thwarted
revolutionary possibility.
g ene rative apo ge e and elegiac expan sion   49

‘Antonioni introduced his radical alienated minimalism within the form

of the modern melodrama,’ Kovács writes, ‘which was further developed by
Jancsó, Angelopoulos, and Wenders’. (2007: 292) Seeking to summarise its
myriad effects, he writes earlier that the ‘Antonioni style’ was built upon ‘and
radicalized in two ways. One is what I will call ornamental continuity, initiated
by Jancsó and followed by Theo Angelopoulos’. The other, Kovács suggests, is
the quieter but no less radical minimalism exemplified by the work of Akerman
(2007: 156). Kovács treats Angelopoulos – with much acknowledged thanks to
David Bordwell’s 1985 book Narration in the Fiction Film – as expanding the
slowness and the dedramatisation of Antonioni, and the radically enlarged
importance of landscape. These connections and select extensions taken on
board, new compositional aspects also enter the frame.
In Bordwell’s chapter devoted to Angelopoulos (one of only four filmmak-
ers treated in detail) in his 2005 book Figures Trace in Light, he suggests the
director’s trademark technique is a ‘planimetric’ style of framing (Bordwell
2005: 172-6). Typically concluding sequences or sometimes comprising entire
scenes, Bordwell describes these as ‘clothes-line’ front-on compositions fea-
turing multiple objects or bodies often turned away from the camera, strung
across the frame, de-emphasising depth and stressing horizonality, despite
the use of a 1.37:1 frame (2005: 172-6). This style of staging and composition
is almost never seen in Antonioni’s work. The frame itself for Angelopoulos
is concurrently less foregrounded and cluttered, the image emphasising the
precise arrangements of bodies, human or otherwise, in the form of often
‘painterly’ tableaux. For Antonioni, the frame remains an absolutely key
means of compositional effect in itself, played off against often complex
graphic and textural details of the mise en scène, comprising a wide range of
angles and material layers. This results in a reflexively foregrounded frame,
again especially in the films from the early 1960s, defining an image marked
by concurrent undermining and opportunity – one heavily characterised by
epistemological disempowerment when it comes to the gaze and perspective,
be it of the camera, filmmaker, on-screen subject or viewer.
Sam Rohdie exhaustively argues throughout his book on the director that
the result of Antonioni’s distinct aesthetic formulation is that ‘figure-ground’
relations in the films thereby become frequently clouded and sometimes
entirely subverted to the point of abstraction (1990). Such effects fully come
into their own with the shift to widescreen starting with L’avventura, fol-
lowing which the filmmaker uses the image’s increased lateral dimension
to further undermine anthropocentric and dramatic principles in favour
of more purely compositional ones enabled by the substantial opening up
of space. In stark contrast, right up until his belated initial use of wides-
creen in Το Μετέωρο Βήμα του Πελαργού (The Suspended Step of the Stork,
1991), Angelopoulos retained the long ‘old-fashioned’, nearly square 1.37:1
50  h a m i s h fo rd

‘Academy’ frame. This enabled him to perfect what Bordwell calls a trade-
mark ‘aperture’ framing (2005: 160–2, 170–4), whereby the viewer’s attention
is focused on the image’s central components and choreography much more
than its frame, a far simpler, less cluttered and perceptually confusing mise en
scène than we see in Antonioni’s work.
To what end, then, are these select extensions and reductions of Antonioni’s
innovations put? Unlike the Italian director’s work, in which politics remains
mainly implicit, Angelopoulos’ first five features show a distinctly, if cer-
tainly highly personal, ‘political modernism’ playing out. Here is a politi-
cally invested analysis of history rendered through demanding and reflexive
cinematic form that insists on the very active, intellectually and critically
alert viewer. Following the influential historical argument provided by David
Rodowick (1988) and subsequent scholarship on the topic, Angelo Restivo
suggests that ‘the project of political modernism is fundamentally linguistic
to discursive in relation to the image’ (2010: 171). Yet Angelopoulos’ films,
even at their most radical, do not share in much political modernism’s dis-
trust of the image and concurrent emphasis on language. The image here
is, if anything, even more central and affective than ever, continuing to do
its work by increasingly undermining the word.5 In addition to a privileging
of language, cinema characterised as political modernism is often presented
as seeking to subvert or reconfigure the corrupted image through extreme
reflexivity – in some respects thereby redeeming or appropriating it – through
intense fragmentation, treating film itself as an inherited language needing to
be deconstructed. Angelopoulos’ 1970s films seek to extol the image’s poten-
tial, as largely preserved from the intervention of rapid montage, for thematic
suggestiveness and trenchant mystery, ultimately prevailing above everything
else while always nonetheless retaining its link to a political rendering of recent
Angelopoulos is not alone in pursuing a political modernism in which the
image prevails over language. Kovács argues that while Godard and Straub/
Huillet represent an anti-symbolic, ‘antinarrative, reductionist’ trajectory
marked by strong emphasis on the analytical and critical potential of the
written and spoken word, an important ‘second’ category of political mod-
ernists comprises Angelopoulos, Jancsó, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Dušan
Makavejev. This latter group, he suggests, are

representatives of a symbolic or parabolic political modernism. Neither

of these two trends built their films in realistic time-space relationships.
While the reductionist version suppressed virtually all kinds of coherent
universes behind the ideological discourse (which is why they had to rely
on written or verbal texts), the symbolist version created a parabolic or
mythical universe to convey the ideological message (which is why so
g ene rative apo ge e and elegiac expan sion   51

many of them could eliminate verbal manifestations to a considerable

degree). (Kovács 2007: 376)

The risks of this second, and perhaps less commonly recognised brand of
political modernism are, arguably, far greater. The threat of symbolism,
parable and myth entirely eclipsing the political analysis they are supposed
to serve in such films is forever at hand, especially as delivered via frequently
trance-inducing, oneiric images.
The central formal-aesthetic component of Angelopoulos’ idiosyncratic,
even risky, but ultimately very influential brand of image-invested political
modernism is his use of the long take, commonly (as opposed to montage)
associated with realism. Yet asked about his attitude towards realism, the
director has proclaimed in interview: ‘Realism? Me? I’ve not a damn thing to
do with it. The religious attitude to reality has never concerned me’ (cited in
Durgnat 1990: 44). This apparent atheistic, materialist dismissal of realism as
requiring unacceptable ‘faith’ – in the world, or in cinema – may seem at first
surprising for a director whose films can at times comes across as both heavily
invested in Greece’s physical (particularly regional, semi-rural) environment
but also as emanating a ‘mystical’ intonation. Yet, again especially in the 1970s
work, and in light of ‘excessive’ compositional principles at the heart of which
lies a rather theatrical and painterly approach to the placement of bodies in
landscapes as rendered via long, carefully staged shots, this becomes more
Perhaps surprisingly for a director who has shown a preference for the
long take throughout his entire career, in a 1984 interview Angelopoulos
downplayed his affection for the form and its importance, suggesting that
such a filmmaking style existed for many decades prior to his career, sug-
gesting it doesn’t guarantee anything. ‘Plan sequence (sequence shot),’ he
stresses, ‘has existed throughout the history of cinema – in Murnau’s films, for
example’ (Bachmann 2001: 31). The long take isn’t necessarily an automatic
means of mounting a modernist cinema with significant political dimensions.
Stating with remarkable insistence that, despite appearances, he has not been
influenced by Jancsó (whose long takes certainly feel much less lengthy and
‘slow’ due to almost constant rhythmic tracking movement and spectacular,
if also often highly abstract, large-scale choreography rendered via different
widescreen frames), the director insists that rather than other recent or earlier
masters of the long take – notably Dreyer – it is Godard to whom he has most
frequently looked for inspiration (Bachmann 2001: 31). It appears, then,
that Angelopoulos’ attraction for the long take is less connected to the form
itself and the rich recent back-history of its execution, but instead what he
can achieve through such an image. The long take, he argues, needs to retain
‘inherent dialectical counterpoints’ so as properly to complete a ‘finished
52  h a m i s h fo rd

scene’ (Bachmann 2001: 31), helping generate for viewers the socio-political
history presented by a given film.
After having partially and influentially ushered its principles into narrative
cinema, fundamentally remaking our conception of the feature film, the initial
move away from modernist form enacted by Antonioni starting with Blow-Up
(1966) – at the very moment of its European peak – occurs at a comparable
moment in Angelopoulos’ work two decades later. This gradual ‘retreat’ –
which plays out quite differently to Antonioni’s – in the Greek director’s
case by the mid-1980s comes to invoke the past much more than the future
(becoming in many respects a disillusioned ‘old man cinema’ in which youth
culture, often represented by women, is effectively simplified to personify
regressive capitalism and thereby denounced) as part of a commensurable
de-emphasising of leftist historical analysis and investment. Megalexandros
represents the remarkable, in many respects apocalyptic conclusion to his
cinema as marked by a genuine, and highly individual, political modern-
ism. Investments in both political and formal-aesthetic radicalism remain
intermittently apparent in the subsequent films but in a rather washed-out,
even romantic-nostalgic way. Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage to Cythera, 1984)
represents a kind of Janus face moment, both a quiet epilogue or coda to
Angelopoulos’ political modernism and ushering in the filmmaker’s next

Describing the impact of regularly watching Antonioni’s cinema upon first
arriving in Paris, Angelopoulos notes ‘the considerable length of the shots,
which went on just a little bit longer than expected to allow for a deep
breath before going on’ (cited in Bordwell, 2005: 155). The Greek director
would turn this ‘breath’ into an overarching principle of his cinema, now
enormously distended at the risk of sucking recognisable life from the films.
In Antonioni time plays a varied role, always felt but not (in fact, decreas-
ingly) limited to long shots. His films feature a striking combination of care-
fully metered out stretching, combined with both disorienting and insidious
ellipses between shots and scenes but also within a single image, by way of
compositional and framing techniques that undermine perceptual and epis-
temological transparency despite, or in part due to, the emphasising of clear
lines and textures and the consistent use of deep focus. In Angelopoulos’
work, temporality makes itself felt at every turn, most obviously by way of
a massive extending of the long take as delivered by an often slowly moving
camera. Ellipses are frequently both foregrounded between shots and scenes
but also, most notably perhaps, within them. The latter phenomenon, a
g ene rative apo ge e and elegiac expan sion   53

distinction that seems ­absolutely crucial in understanding the Antonioni –

Angelopoulos development, occurs not through cluttered and perceptually
confusing mise en scène as in Antonioni, but rather the regular threat of large
temporal-historical shifts.
With Antonioni’s cinema we may be unsure as to whether a cut elides
seconds, minutes, hours or days (rarely more). His films remain reso-
lutely  contemporary, with no flashbacks or flashforwards, rendering the
mystery of the present as it passes while denying the satisfaction of linear
development and gasping time so as to bring about effective and meaning-
ful action. With Angelopoulos, the film can easily shunt forward or back in
history within, as well as between, single shots, sometimes by a matter of
decades. While not unprecedented elsewhere – most familiar perhaps in the
especially ‘artful’ Hollywood flashback, usually associated with a central pro-
tagonist’s memory, whereby shifts in image texture or mise en scène clearly
signify a specific passage of time – such lurches backwards or forwards in
history, here most powerfully carried out during an unbroken tracking shot,
are notable both for not being clearly signposted (at least not immediately)
or ‘representing’ a single character’s recollection. The filmmaker has sug-
gested this latter distinction is his contribution to such a filmic tradition (cited
in Bordwell 2005: 148). Of this trademark time-travelling divorced from
psychology (and sometimes clear historical markers), most elaborately cho-
reographed throughout Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975), Raymond
Durgnat suggests that Angelopoulos is reminding us of a fundamental truth
about cinema:

Such time-shifts, and other ‘impossible’ segues, aren’t new, unique, or

even difficult; for film has no tense; only context + scenic components
suggest period. But ‘impossible’ time-shifts, unexpected because rarely
required, here collide with the strong local space-time of long-take style.
(1990: 44)

Despite, yet ultimately in large part because of, his use of long takes,
Angelopoulos’ films problematise not only privileged individual subjectiv-
ity and transparent realism but also the very notion of a present, instead
presenting time and history in the form of a co-present or multi-layered
textuality. This formal-conceptual element of the films is given great politi-
cal content through the charting of Greece’s ‘lost’ communist history. In his
and Antonioni’s work, time is both immanent and imminent to the local and
national context and world charted on screen, while at the same time always
threatening to ‘intervene’ and scatter human sureties. In this sense, his and
Antonioni’s films’ different orchestration of time remain loosely ‘realistic’,
while also becoming decidedly ‘virtual’ in the extent to which it is allowed
54  h a m i s h fo rd

to dominate, flooding not only the image and the film’s formal construction
at large, but also in different ways the experience of subjects on both sides of
the screen.7
Through aesthetic forms often emphasising and making use of the non-­
linear impact of fragments combined, Antonioni enables a destruction-
enforcing openness through materially forged conceptual violence (both that
of film itself and what it presents, the myriad surfaces of the world), resulting
in cinematic experiences relatively subdued one moment and subtly lacerat-
ing the next – and in the final minutes of L’eclisse and Zabriskie Point (1969)
rather more violently so. While the Italian director’s treatment of both time
and space – inextricably linked in his work – remains uniquely extreme and
complex, enormously influential yet immediately recognisable and fresh, a
more direct line connects Angelopoulos’ work to the present-day global film
modernism so often defined as ‘slow cinema’. Kovács writes: ‘Jancsó and
Angelopoulos followed a symbolized and radicalized variant of the Antonioni
long-take style.’ (2007: 372) But what ‘radicalized’ means here remains some-
what ambiguous. Angelopoulos makes the long shot – in still and moving
incarnations – quite literally an article of faith. The jolting shifts between
time periods within and across single shots, usually accompanied by elaborate
tracking movement, remain the most notable ‘politicising’ device of this long-
take cinema. Such moments – not always immediately decipherable – are like
spectacular yet shrouded gateways opening onto history in all its multi-planed,
politically charged perspectival complexity.
Writing about Angelopoulos’ frequent combination of the long take with
incremental tracking shots, Durgnat suggests: ‘The camera movements
subserve the general scene, subordinating to it any calligraphic or camera-­
conscious side-effect; they pick out details less than they change or vary its
aspects and general configuration’ (1990: 43). Describing the long, moving
shots in which we see Spyros (Manos Katrakis), the old man and one-time
guerrilla in Voyage to Cythera, first introduced like a ghost returning from
the dead communist past as he disembarks from the Soviet ocean liner, then
his adult children later gazing off-screen at him and his wife later standing
on a barge slowly drifting out to sea, Durgnat concludes: ‘Alongside their
unity, long takes can fragment space as incisively as bold cuts’ (1990: 43).
This is the dialectical function played by the long take and slowness per se in
Angelopoulos’ work, while for Antonioni insidiously overwhelming ellipses
and fragmentation constantly work within and across a much more diverse
array of images.
Angelopoulos and Antonioni ultimately offer two very different heavily
elliptical styles, with the latter employing a much wider array of techniques
and entirely different mise en scène. Angelopoulos’ ellipses involve far less
cutting and shot type variation, overlaid with a much heavier sense of thematic
g ene rative apo ge e and elegiac expan sion   55

and historical significance. With Antonioni the viewer may be frequently

unsure as to ‘when’ and ‘where’ we are, due to the film’s quietly non-linear
narrative trajectory, editing style, and lack of establishing shots (or as replaced
by a new kind of establishing shot in the form of a decontextualised, abstract
surface denuded of perspective). But the ‘answer’ remains both uncertain
and ultimately not too important. With Angelopoulos, the above questions,
as asked by the film’s elliptical style (within or between shots and scenes), are
much more urgently felt, and ultimately important to resolve. In this sense he
is both a more demanding director when it comes to audience knowledge and
intellectual ‘work’, yet at the same time paradoxically also closer to the deduc-
tive demands made by classical Hollywood narrative cinema in requiring the
viewer to become something of a detective, pulling the film’s pieces together.
The ‘mystery’ to be solved is here a historical and political portrait of Greece
rather than the fleshing out of clearly fictional narratives and characters. The
Travelling Players in particular, thereby, feels, to some extent, ‘difficult’ in
a way that (while its particular demands are far less familiar) exercises the
viewer’s intellectual, cognitive processes arguably closer to Hollywood at its
most sophisticated than Antonioni’s cinema. With the latter, the audience is
left adrift, face to face with exponential ambiguity – both an ‘easier’ yet also
more vertiginous and troubling position.
For all these two filmmaker’s important differences, their impact on our
understanding of cinema characterised by temporal foregrounding cannot
be underestimated. If modernity in its dominant political and technological
iterations is built on speed, challenging ‘art cinema’ both within and beyond
Europe in recent decades seems to offer time rendered in the form of slow-
ness as a possible means of resisting the former’s more regressive elements,
prompting a more reflective and possibly critical mode of engagement. The
global significance and challenge of Zhangke Jia’s mainland China masterpiece
Shijie (The World, 2004), for example, is arguably enabled through its present-
ing a fast and inherently virtual modernity marked by endless simulation by
means of a stretched, meditative temporality, itself also very much connoting
virtuality. Angelopoulos and before him Antonioni are key originators of this
style, and the suggestion of slowness as offering possible resistance to moder-
nity’s regressive tenets and effects. ‘Add together all the shots in Angelopoulos’
thirteen features’, Bordwell writes in a blog entry reflecting on the dual 2012
deaths of the Greek director and antithetical Hollywood filmmaker Tony
Scott, ‘and you have less than a third of the shots in, say, Scott’s Enemy of the
State’ (Bordwell 2013). Here entirely contra the purportedly sacred principles
of classical cinema (still effectively enforced through the process of Hollywood
test screenings to make certain spectators don’t ‘notice’ time), Durgnat sug-
gests of Angelopoulos’ slowness: ‘The takes, visually varied, impregnated
with lingering meanings, seem longer than they are.  (. . .) Angelopoulos’
56  h a m i s h fo rd

f­ ull-sequence shots are rare, but even his shorter long takes generate a kindred
Gestalt’ (1990: 43). This now global slowness, and its effects, needs some scru-
tiny to see if such images are anything more than individual and accumulative
symptoms of an absolute resignation in the face of, and as inextricably scarred
by, history.
Is such an aesthetic of slowness radical, or is it simply oppositional – at least
equally reactive, or even reactionary? Durgnat concludes with a point resonat-
ing across the ‘failures’ of history in light of lingering and still compelling – if
also cautious and anachronistic – left-wing idealism:

Thus Angelopoulos’ Theatre-Reality dialectic, like those Time-changes,

expresses an inconsolable, real sadness. History never took the Marxist
way. . . . Brechtian irony assumed that History was Marxist; here
History’s ironies at Marxism’s expense include sadness, perplex-
ity, ‘dreaming awake.’ Or ‘theatrical’ degradation, like the [Voyage to
Cythera] Dockworkers’ Festival’. (1990: 45)

If the heavily time-based modernism exemplified by Angelopoulos’ cinema

becomes gradually threadbare as his career progresses, the only markers of
hope increasingly elderly, pathetic or even risible (and always male) figures,
or entirely spectral and mythic, if we take seriously the political ­analysis
and investments powering his 1970s work, the filmmaker’s development
(or ­devolution) of modernist cinema is indeed a textbook symptom of history.


One of the central ways in which Angelopoulos’ 1970s films partake of and
partially ‘update’ European modernist cinema’s story as adapted to his
committed charting of modern Greek history is a very particular reflexiv-
ity. Overall, Antonioni’s work remains in a closer dialogue with realism, no
matter how stylised the early-60s films become, peaking with the at times
near-abstract expressionism of Il deserto rosso (Red Desert, 1964). Modernism
becomes here the most appropriate way to render reality in its historically
appropriate form, effectively fusing or collapsing two traditions often, sim-
plistically or falsely, assumed to be oppositional.8 Angelopoulos’ reflexive
compositional style is much more overtly and consistently ‘presentationalist’,
undermining the representational appeal that the moving image can seem to
offer in its long-take form.
Angelopoulos’ presentationalist images are frequently accompanied by a
theatricality of both compositional-gestural style and trope most overt in The
Travelling Players and Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977), again utterly lacking
g ene rative apo ge e and elegiac expan sion   57

in Antonioni. The former film’s unifying motif is a theatrical troupe touring

northern Greece across periods of great political crisis and literally gazing at or
witnessing history. Its often very elaborate set piece-style scenes are frequently
rendered by extravagant long shots culminating in regular tableaux whereby
the camera/audience is directly invoked through the self-conscious position-
ing of the ‘players’ before us as carefully arranged groupings of bodies as they
look upon picturesque, frequently rural and village locales or decaying regional
town centres. The Hunters, by comparison, mainly plays out within the large
central room of a winter lodge. This interior space set against snowy wilder-
ness becomes a multi-directional stage upon which is performed the neurotic
fantasies of a victorious political and economic class seemingly haunted by the
‘other Greece’ personified by Civil War-era guerrillas long vanquished (killed,
imprisoned, or fleeing into internal and external exile in Greece’s mountain
villages or communist bloc countries) yet three decades later magically coming
back to life in ghostly form. An overtly theatrical reflexivity pervades both
films, in seeking to express – and educate viewers about – the history of a radi-
cally different national heritage and identity violently evicted from the post-
World War II political contract as enforced by Britain and the USA, despite
the communists having been the primary force responsible for effectively
fighting Hitler’s army.
If many present-day global ‘art cinema’ and festival circuit viewers are
familiar with the long-take aesthetic that Angelopoulos was so central in
enshrining, his highly self-conscious staging of bodies into gradually con-
structed ‘still life’ arrangements is likely more unfamiliar or even jarring.
This signature composition type is even further foregrounded to the point of
excessive self-consciousness by leaving clues as to the ultimate image’s precise
details – when the shot will end, or alternatively when the camera should
begin its slow track in the direction indicated by the characters’ communal
gaze. Angelopoulos often leaves gaps in the composition until its ultimate
culmination, such that when the final character or body at last moves, magnet-
like, to their rightful place left or prepared by the careful placement of others
and the camera’s exact placement, the resulting picture – and it is something
of a ‘painted’ or photographic portrait – becomes at last complete. This can
become quite humorous the more we become familiar with the pattern, a
level of dogged self-consciousness the intentional nature of which is perhaps
unclear, recurring throughout the director’s work with increasing frequency.
Both filmmakers provide often-unrivalled compositional effects when it comes
to the staging of still and slowly moving images that easily become exquisite.
But Antonioni’s trademark shots concluding a scene are entirely contingent.
There always remains a chance that something will change within an image or
across an indeterminate ellipsis into the next, which may herald a new scene or
a further elongation of the present one.
58  h a m i s h fo rd

In Antonioni’s work, the very materials comprising the image remain nec-
essarily tied to the modern world both in what it shows – the spaces, objects,
and people – and how such reality is visualised in and as the image itself. The
conclusion of a sequence or interlude, even if often via a supposed temps mort
moment, nonetheless remains unpredictable and inherently ambiguous. This
ambiguity, I argue elsewhere (2015), remains the overwhelming characteristic
of his work. With Angelopoulos, this is usually much less the case, especially
in light of the gap or ‘missing piece’ formula, such that we can often predict
a shot or sequence’s point of culmination, and realise when this has finally
occurred. With the Greek experience of post-war modernity frequently a
force of oppression, violence and corruption, the films often evoke a strong
sense of escape – only in part voluntary, and usually as historically embed-
ded – via some movement towards, or situating within, the country’s north-
ern mountains. Such non-urban spaces thereby develop a crucial second, or
in the first five or six films arguably primary, meaning as associated with the
mythically-intoned guerrillas-in-exile, or the country’s copious picturesque
‘ruins’ – both those of antiquity and a retarded, incomplete modernity –
within which a sense of genuine human possibility might just be gleaned
from the palimpsestic rubble of history. Hope and life itself seem increasingly
encased in the past, including within death and an overall sense of loss. The
most powerful articulation of this is found in The Hunters through the figure
of the frozen guerrilla, coming to life after being found in the snow with
fresh wounds three decades later by representatives of present-day Greece’s
­political masters.
Antonioni’s reflexivity is particularly evident in the detailed relationship
developed between his camera and the actors on screen, the various – and
usually trivial – human dramas which only seem to be of partial interest to
the camera and filmmaker, periodically drawing our attention to other details
in the shot, as well as the broader world on screen and beyond the frame.
Nonetheless, occasional medium shots and close-ups allow a certain, and
rather materially felt, proximity to a privileged subject, typically played by
Monica Vitti in the early-60s films – a sporadic closeness that only increases,
rather than resolves, the film’s overall attitude to the drama it elliptically
portrays. Angelopoulos’ treatment of actors is characterised by a more consist-
ently ‘flat’ performance style and the maintaining of a far more consistent and
substantial distance between characters and the camera, making them some-
times difficult to make out or differentiate. Horton compares the filmmaker’s
theoretically exciting political drama, Μέρες του ’36 (Days of ’36, 1972), to the
contemporary work of a much more commercially successful left-wing Greek
director (based in France), Costa-Gavras. Unlike the latter’s much more
Hollywood-informed style as seen in films like Z (1969), Horton suggests, the
potentially compelling story of Days of ’36 is denuded of any real drama when
g ene rative apo ge e and elegiac expan sion   59

it comes both to modes of acting and use of the camera. (Horton, 1997a: 65).
Certainly Angelopoulos does not have his actors ‘perform’ to build tension,
character, or suspense, and the difficult-to-identify officials in the film speak in
a deadpan manner, often muttering rather than delivering their lines clearly.
The effect, underlined by the long takes rendering these scenes, is to defuse
the plot in order to allow us to concentrate on the issue or situation being
developed an the frame, scene, sequence and film. Horton suggests this is an
entirely appropriate form for presenting such historical content:

Thus subject matter and camera technique are well matched, for the lack
of action in the film mirrors the lack of direction and action within the
Greek government. In one scene as officials argue back and forth that ‘we
must have a solution or the government will fall,’ Angelopoulos’s camera
circles them in a 360-degree motion, emphasizing the circularity of their
positions. (Horton, 1997a: 65)

No matter the loose generic expectations, drama and genre are resisted by
both Antonioni and Angelopoulos through very different, highly attenuated
time-based cinematic renderings of human presence and history.9 For the
former, this involves the frequent fragmenting of bodies, making them seem
like ­material things, while the latter renders them whole but distant, more like
figures than distinct people.
An absolutely crucial reflexive gesture for both filmmakers, then, remains
the diverse foregrounding of the gaze itself: the intertwined look/s of camera,
filmmaker and viewer, but also of various – and in Angelopoulos’ case often
multiple – on-screen subjects. One of the trademark shots in Antonioni’s early-
60s films is when our privileged human figure (typically Vitti) turns her head
90° or 180° away from camera, director and viewer, denying us her primary
affective vessel (the face) and leaving the only partially recognisable material
surface of clothing, hair and skin. (Alternatively, a shot, sequence or even
film will conclude with the complete takeover by entirely non-human matter,
objects, lines and textures, as most famously occurs in the final seven minutes
of L’eclisse.) Given neither a reverse shot showing us the face as it looks nor
the field upon which she now presumably gazes, the viewer is frequently left
at best with partial visual access to our protagonist at key moments of her
apparent drama, if we can still see her at all. The gesturing towards off-screen
space via a multiplicitous gaze is also very important in Angelopoulos’ cinema,
but again works very differently, via much more theatrical c­ omposition and
For Greek-Australian filmmaker and critic Bill Mousoulis, the foreground-
ing of the gaze in both its opacity and ongoing fascination lies at the heart of
this cinema. ‘What impresses me most about Angelopoulos is his camera, and,
60  h a m i s h fo rd

therefore, his gaze,’ Mousoulis writes. ‘Angelopoulos is fascinated by looking:

he looks with his camera, which almost always moves, and he loves looking at
looking’ (2000). In line with familiar principles of different Marxist cinemas,
coincidentally or not, in his 1970s films such a heavily foregrounded gaze
frequently at the same time both renders and is ‘led by’ the communal gaze
of a group of people who slowly emerge into pre-arranged formations only
to look past the camera, beyond it, or to the side, following which the camera
frequently follows suit in a glacial tracking shot whose direction is dictated or
marshalled by the cluster-gaze on screen. Bordwell writes that ‘front or profiled
positions’ held by human bodies ‘often seem as mere transitions to the three-
quarter resting point,’ forcing the viewer to infer characters’ facial reactions
(2005: 162). Again, such shots may often, especially in The Travelling Players,
also involve a shift in time irrespective of whether there is a cut, as if the people
on screen were affecting the historical shifts of the film through their gaze into
past or future. In Megalexandros even these complex distinctions are over-
come, with conventional time and past/present/future delineation seeming to
have disappeared altogether. Instead the viewer must engage with an almost
entirely mythic – and oneiric – dimension that nonetheless continues to play
out, now in rather dysfunctional fashion, the dream of radical politics.


How, then, does Angelopoulos’ cinema help us understand the complicated
development of post-war European film modernism, the earlier generative
apotheosis of which is represented by Antonioni’s work? What sort of image
do the Greek director’s 1970s films in particular leave us with, driven by
idiosyncratic formalism at the centre of which is a long-take aesthetic and
compositional style characterised by theatrical presentationalism, accumula-
tively performing or rendering the real unfolding tragedy of national, regional
and global history? With Angelopoulos, where lies a vision of modernity not
marked by either regression or spectrality? Is there any real ambiguity about
its ultimate horror and violence, historical and political evacuation of the only
hope represented by the once numerous but long vanquished, aged, or mythic
Angelopoulos constructs his mournful critique despite or even sometimes
outside of modernity, or paradoxically (considering the films’ overall theme),
history itself, operating instead within an increasingly mythic dimension.
This is, however, both lamentable yet itself a quite proper – even ‘realistic’ –
response to modern history, which in 1970s Greece remained inescapably
tainted by collaboration, resurgent (US-backed) dictatorship, crony capital-
ism, chronic underdevelopment and extreme inequality. In Angelopoulos’
g ene rative apo ge e and elegiac expan sion   61

work from this period, writes Jameson, ‘a remarkable living realism is attained
in which, at least for one more long moment, the traditional opposition
between the fictive and the real or documentary seems to have been sus-
pended or neutralized’ (1997: 82). As with Antonioni, modernism and realism
achieve historically driven fusion or synthesis. Despite the presence of much
equivalent historical baggage, however, in Antonioni’s films a forever ambig-
uous and generative, excessive yet also again multi-temporal and ‘incomplete’
modernity floods every frame, while at the same time given material form as
the image itself: the inherently ‘modern’ way the director frames this world
and gives it cinematic life. For Angelopoulos, a viable modernity’s only hope
already lies in tatters or in spectral form, like The Hunters’ guerrillas. The
built environment, meanwhile, remains dominated by decay and the vestiges
again of a palimpsestic, crumbling Greece. In this sense the closest Antonioni
film to Angelopoulos’ work indeed remains L’avventura, almost all of which
is set in ‘backward’ Sicily (although a sometime tourist destination for the
upper classes, as in this film, the island and Italy’s south in many ways were
largely left out of the nation’s significant post-war recovery). Its background
spaces are those that come to dominate Angelopoulos’ films: primordial
nature and a largely decaying or partial in-renovation pre-modern regional
architecture pock-marked by fascism and war, and an underdevelopment
born of a post-war political settlement retarded by extensive Western Cold
War interference.
For Antonioni’s early-60s films, Italian and European modernity remains
open, ambiguous, while his own gradual retreat from aesthetic modern-
ism starting with Blow-Up suggests – at least in hindsight – a muted sense
of formal, historical and (subtly) political loss, while effectively rendering
contemporary modernity’s early evacuation of often fragile alternatives to its
dominant incarnation. Angelopoulos’ much more overtly expressed mourn-
ing, his work’s overwhelming elegiac tonality – for Greece, for both local and
global communist history, and for cinema’s modernist vision – is overwhelm-
ing. This goes equally for his stylistic trademarks. History, form and politics
remain crucially connected. Increasingly, a sense of petrification pervades this
cinema, especially following the 1970s: a modernism once vibrant, radical and
generative now appears stuck in an ever repeating, ‘ontologised’ slow loop.
The fetishising of slowness remains these films’ powering, and troubling,
heart. That Angelopoulos’ long-take ‘slow’ films have proven so trenchant in
exemplifying subsequent challenging World Cinema’s petrified language, tells
us a lot both about the true price of history and the possibilities it might just
still offer.
62  h a m i s h fo rd

1. Bordwell argues that Angelopoulos’ ‘lateness’ necessitates a kind of hyper-reflexive
meta-modernism due to his coming ‘belatedly to the modernism tradition, one that had
already acquired a history, a pantheon of masters, a theoretical program, and rhetoric,
and a set of institutions. . . . [H]is historical situation obliged him to sustain the tradition
with a new degree of self-consciousness’ (2005: 144). Jameson suggests that the director’s
first five features effectively catch the final wave of 1960s European modernism (1997: 80).
The title of Horton’s edited volume on Angelopoulos, The Last Modernist (1997b),
has also frequently been used in scholarly accounts of Alexander Kluge and Michael
2. ‘The representation of the urban landscape (deserted streets, abandoned factory chimneys,
scenes in the stock market),’ writes Nikos Kolovos of Broadcast, ‘is evocative of Antonioni’s
cinema’. (Kolovos 1990: 32). Thanks to Angelos Koutsourakis for both the Kolovos and
preceding Archimandritis references.
3. See Ford (2012: 9–23) for my own brief discussion of the complications inherent in
defining modernist cinema and its associated historical periodisation.
4. This appears much more explicitly so in Angelopoulos’ case, however (in keeping
with a strong tendency within film studies for many years now) it has become
increasingly common to emphasise the cultural and socio-historical context of
Antonioni’s films within English-language scholarship. Peter Brunette’s book on
the filmmaker is important in this shift (1998) recently taken to something of
an extreme in the centenary Palgrave/BFI collection on his work (Rascaroli & Rhodes,
eds 2011).
5. While the image remains heavily foregrounded above all else through Angelopoulos’
cinema, in the first five or six features it remains in large part connected to – and grounded
by – these films’ political and historical project. In subsequent films such as Το Βλέμμα του
Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995), in which the previous specific leftist essaying of history has
receded in favour of a more general and regional presentation, there is even more emphasis
on the image per se. It becomes increasingly beautiful for its own sake, in the process either
distancing or indirectly aestheticising the violence and horror of history that was more
directly rendered in the earlier films. (Thanks to Angelos Koutsourakis for this latter
6. It is also uncannily connected to Antonioni’s nearly contemporaneous film, Identificazione
di una donna (Identification of a Woman, 1982). Both works feature ennui-ridden middle-
aged filmmakers ‘searching’ for particular women who might symbolise a hopeful
alternative – and erotically codified – means to engage with the future, historically
imbedded meaning, and cinematic purpose.
7. Elsewhere I explore Antonioni’s work in detail for its crucial role within the development
of what Gilles Deleuze (1989) famously calls modern cinema’s pre-eminent ‘time-image’
(Ford 2003; 2012: 1–9, 143–254), also suggesting that the early 60s films at least partially
escape Deleuze’s formulations in Cinema 2: The Time-Image (1989). See Chapter 15 of the
present volume for a discussion of Angelopoulos’ cinema in terms of Deleuze’s philosophy
by Richard Rushton.
8. As Kovács points out, in his important review of Chronicle of a Love Story André Bazin
presciently described the film’s ‘stylised realism’ as a possible indicator of European
cinema’s future (cited in Kovács 2007: 256). In a forthcoming article I address in detail
Antonioni’s four early-60s films for their historically appropriate conflation of modernism
and realism (Ford 2015).
g ene rative apo ge e and elegiac expan sion   63

9. Although this remains generally the case, both directors show an occasional increased
interest in genre, particularly the murder-mystery and melodrama. Kovács calls
Antonioni’s trademark cinema followed up by Angelopoulos ‘modernist melodrama’ (2007:
292). The latter’s post-’70s films come closest to recognisable melodrama in their treatment
of personal relationships.

The Gestus of Showing: Brecht,

Tableaux and Early Cinema in
Angelopoulos’ Political Period
Angelos Koutsourakis


T he question of the Brechtian quality of Angelopoulos’ political period

might initially appear outmoded and obsolete given that a number of
scholars have already acknowledged Brecht’s influence, predominantly in the
filmmaker’s historical tetralogy. None of the scholars in question, however,
have attempted to approach the Brechtian aspect of Angelopoulos with refer-
ence to the former’s writings on film, nor from the perspective of the Brechtian
concept of Gestus and its application within the film medium. This is the
task of the current chapter, which aims to clarify the often hinted at but not
­theoretically qualified Brechtian aspect of Angelopoulos’ cinema.
Before moving to the main corpus of the chapter, a series of comments
with respect to the Brechtian reception of Angelopoulos are in order. Andrew
Horton considers Angelopoulos’ valorisation of the reflective spectator as a
Brechtian gesture, yet he suggests that the combination of theatricality and
reality in Angelopoulos’ films often leads the audience ‘into a deeper fuller
emotional bond with the film’ (1997: 14–15). One can retort that Brecht did
not argue simply against the employment of emotions; he rather contested
the emotional manipulation of the audiences in ways that conceal the social
aspect of emotions (Brecht 1963: 30), while simultaneously favouring the
production of emotional responses that would politicise representation and
divide the audience as per their conflicting political interests. This process of
socialising emotional responses so as to create political divisions is a recurring
theme throughout Angelopoulos’ historical tetralogy and it is not accidental
that during the 1970s he experienced a great deal of animosity on the part
of the Greek right-wing political establishment. The tendency among other
commentators is either to draw attention to the dispassionate acting style
in Angelopoulos’ films, which they consider to be Brechtian (Pappas 1977:
the gestus of showin g  65

39; Stathi 1999: 42), or to focus on Angelopoulos’ employment of Brechtian

theatrical tropes in certain films (Tarr, Proppe 1976: 6; Kolovos 1990: 20;
Kosmidou 2013: 130–131; Rollet 2012: 56).
Contra these semantic discussions of Brecht’s position in Angelopoulos’
early work, David Bordwell has succinctly identified some key Brechtian ele-
ments in the Greek auteur’s films without necessarily using Brecht as a point
of reference. Bordwell’s discussion of Angelopoulos’ strategies of ‘dedramati-
sation’; his commitment to character typage, according to which individuals
stand for larger historical/social forces; his framing techniques, which force
the audience to read actions exclusively from corporeal postures; and his
manipulation of framing strategies, which date back to the early years of the
medium, are illuminating apropos the filmmaker’s Brechtianism (2005:143,
153, 162, 184).
One can take Bordwell’s findings a step further and point out that Brecht’s
own writings on the medium place emphasis on the autonomy of the shot/
tableau, the employment of early cinema tropes – including typage/lack of
psychological depth in character portrayal – and the emphasis on gestural
representational strategies that accentuate the process of ‘showing’ an action
rather than reproducing it. In 1927, Brecht wrote that film should be seen like
a ‘Folgen von Tafeln’ (a series of tableaux), which do not produce ‘wirkenden
Handlung’ (plot development), but have a sense of autonomy (1992: 211). The
succession of all the semi-autonomous fragments connects each fragment with
the whole and, in other words, dialectical unity is produced by means of the
very disjointedness of the narrative. Brecht’s aesthetic can be paralleled to a
family album, in the sense that within the pages of a photo-album there are
numerous pictures and even chronological leaps but the combination of these
photos produces a sense of maturation. This evokes Roland Barthes’ famous
analogy between the Brechtian and the Eisensteinian aesthetic, which I shall
return to later.
The stratagem of valorising the autonomy of the tableau and the static
quality of the composition is premised upon an aesthetic which privileges the
production of gestural relationships that accentuate the social significance of
the actions, without employing conventional dramatic flow. There is thus a
symbiosis between Brecht’s concept of the social Gestus and the act of showing
an action, as Brecht puts it, the ‘Gestus des Zeigens’ (the Gestus of showing)
(1963: 156). As Roswitha Mueller observes, this emphasis on Gestus within the
frame produces interruptive effects that have a similar function as montage
(1989: 88). This also occurs in the cinema of Angelopoulos, in which montage
takes place within the shot, despite the filmmaker’s insistence on the sequence
shot and the pseudo-sense of unification deriving from it.1
A notable matter is that Brecht’s reflections on the film medium are evoca-
tive of his appreciation of early cinema and its aesthetic of showing rather than
66  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis

telling. Early cinema narration relied on the autonomy of the tableau and on
a presentational model, in which the exposition of the actualities within the
frame overlapped with the showing of the medium itself (Gunning 1989: 7–8;
Doane 2002: 186). Brecht’s enthusiasm for early cinema derived precisely from
these characteristics and he argued for a presentational narrative style which
emphasised the exhibitionist aspect of the medium not for the sake of it, but
as a means of creating a relative abstraction. The enframed actualities, he sug-
gested, should somehow be overtly highlighted and not totally subordinated to
narrative continuity, so as to underline a series of contradictions which should
not be flattened in favour of dramatic action. ‘Das Wesen ist das Auflösen
des dramatischen Vorgangs in Einzelbilder, wie es sich aus dem Wegfall des
Wortes und dem Zusammendrängen auf kurze einzelne Bildszenen ergibt’
(The essence of film lies in the dissolution of the dramatic process in individual
images, as it results from the omission of the word and the compression into
single autonomous scenes) (1992: 230). Brecht’s diagnosis of film narrative
here is in line with Georges Méliès’ contention that the scenario is of second-
ary importance in film narration and it should only function as a pretext for the
production of ‘picturesque tableaux’ (cited in Gaudreault 1987: 114). Méliès’
intention was to produce feelings of astonishment and wonder for his audience
by means of the new medium’s ability to captivate the public.
Brecht also sought to capitalise on cinema’s ability to astonish. In Brecht’s
reckoning, however, the tableau narrative of early cinema offered the opportu-
nity to privilege the production of social Gestus within the frame which would
connect the portrayed actions with concrete social situations. His contention
that ‘die Gebärdensprache’ (gestural language) needs to be privileged at the
expense of words invokes the Soviet debates of the time and in particular
Aleksey Tolstoy’s position that cinema should not follow the tradition of
psychological prose or American editing; it should instead highlight the
‘primal gesture’ which could make people see ordinary situations from differ-
ent viewpoints (cited in Yuri 2010: 21). This connection between Gestus and
defamiliarisation is similarly implicit in Brecht’s formulation and hinges upon
the consideration that the denaturalisation of individual actions by means of
the social Gestus can make the audience reflect on everyday situations which
are taken for granted.
Barthes has made one of the strongest cases on this matter and he has
famously paralleled the Brechtian Gestus with Lessing’s model of ‘the preg-
nant moment’ (1977: 73). In Barthes’ estimation, the social Gestus interrupts
the ‘overall totality’ of dramatic actions and turns into a tangible idea which
connects the represented material with the extra-textual reality and the histor-
ical concerns of the present. Not surprisingly, Barthes finds common elements
between the Brechtian aesthetic and Eisenstein’s montage theory. Brecht was
a keen enthusiast of the Russian avant-gardism and this is also evidenced in his
the gestus of showin g  67

employment of montage in his theatre plays, as well as in Kuhle Wampe (1932),

the film he co-directed with Slatan Dudow and Ernst Ottwalt. Then again,
Brecht thought that there is also a potential to produce montage and gestic
effects within a static shot or even a picture. This is evidenced in his Kriegsfibel
(War Primer), a collection of photo-epigrams. In this collection, Brecht assem-
bled a number of pictures from the popular press and added a four-verse poem
at the bottom of each visual. Aiming to counteract the factuality of the pictures
and the ways they are used by the media, the poems produce gestic effects,
which create an antithesis between the pictures and the written verses. They
thus invite new ways of understanding the mediated reality beyond the realms
of tautology. There is, therefore, a dialectic between stasis and motion pro-
duced by the gestic quality of the verses. One also needs to emphasise the fact
that Brecht was an admirer of the Renaissance painter Pieter Bruegel because
his paintings yielded a number of ‘pregnant moments’, which allowed the
viewer to develop her or his analytical skills (Kuhn 2013: 101).2
From the above-mentioned observations, it can be deduced that Brecht’s
investment in montage, as well as in gestic effects within static images, when
applied to film art, can lead to two different types of cinema. The first one
relies on an Eisensteinian use of dialectical montage, while the second one is
emblematised in the films of Miklós Jancsó and Angelopoulos. These film-
makers make use of the sequence shot and the tableau, taking advantage of the
dialectic between the static frame and the movement within the frame, thus
challenging the unity of the film’s fabula and syuzhet by means of a pseudo
sense of organic realism. Although Angelopoulos has denied that Jancsó has
been a source of influence (cited in Mitchell [1980] 2001: 31), one cannot fail
to notice the major parallel in their use of the sequence shot which does not
produce narrative unity but fragmentation. Commenting on Jancsó’s modus
operandi András Bálint Kovács perceptively observes that the ‘radically con-
tinuous composition of Jancsó’s films covers a vision of a radically fragmented
reality’ (2007: 336) and this is exactly what is at the core of Angelopoulos’
employment of the sequence shot.
What is particularly important for us here is that Angelopoulos’ cinema
(at least his first period, from 1970 to 1980) is not necessarily antithetical to a
cinema of montage sequences as long as the latter is in service of the dialectic
and intends to fragment reality instead of serving narrative continuity. In an
emblematic scene in Το Bλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995) one of the
characters makes a toast to Eisenstein and says: ‘we loved him, we love him,
but he never loved us’. When Angelopoulos was asked the meaning of this,
he responded that Eisenstein’s cinema was very important for all cinéphiles
(cited in Rafailidis 2003: 170); he has also elsewhere declared that he decided to
become a filmmaker after seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (Breathless,
1960) a film which relies on discontinuity editing and is radically different from
68  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis

his own aesthetic.3 Yet what impressed him in Godard was his ability to ‘turn all
cinematic codes upside down’ (cited in Fainaru [1999] 2001: 127). Put simply,
along with other different political modernist filmmakers there is a symbiosis
between style and politics in the first period of Angelopoulos’ oeuvre, even
though he avoids montage, which was the prototypical representational device
not only of modern cinema, but of modern art as a whole.
Here it is worth clarifying that Angelopoulos’ cinema bridges the early and
the late period of cinematic modernism, as framed by Kovács (2007: 53–4),
in the sense that his films are equally influenced by the silent film movement
as well as by the cultural modernism in theatre (including Brechtian theatre)
and literature, which is characteristic of the late modernist cinematic period.4
On the one hand, his films, as Akira Kurosawa proposes, return to ‘the roots
of cinema’ (cited in Stathi 1999: 28), and, as Wolfram Schütte says, he is
‘ein Erneuerer des Stumm-Films – der Schönheit des Bildaufbaus, seiner
Tiefenschärfe, der Bewegung in und mit seinen Plansequenzen’ (an innova-
tor of the silent film, by the beauty of his composition, its depth of field and
the movement inside the frame and through his sequence shots) (Schütte
1992: 12–13). In this instance, the films from his political period can be seen
as objects in dialogue with the foundational period of Brecht’s writings on the
medium, given that they employ static tableaux and early cinema tropes. But
on the other hand, following the late period of cinematic modernism, they are
also in dialogue with other art forms including literature, painting and theatre,
since they bring in references to James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, William Faulkner,
the Greek painter Yannis Tsarouchis, and to Greek Varieté and shadow
puppet theatre. It is this particular blending of the two periods of cinematic
modernism that differentiates his Brechtianism from that of other filmmakers,
such as Godard, who can be firmly placed in the second period of cinematic
modernism. Yet despite these formal differences, the objectives are the same:
to challenge the unity of the diegetic cosmos so as to forge a dialectical method
of understanding the real social and historical conditions which are obfuscated
in the empirical reality.


Angelopoulos has frequently commented on the Brechtian aspect of his early
work. In 2010, while preparing his unfinished film Η Άλλη Θάλασσα (The
Other Sea), he explained that from the early years of his career he planned to
make a film based on The Threepenny Opera, but the producers preferred the
script of Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1971) (cited in Georgakopoulou
2010). He also concluded that the present political situation makes Brecht’s
play relevant and timely. In an earlier interview in 2009 broadcast by the radio
the gestus of showin g  69

station France Culture he reflected on his Brechtian approach to history as seen

in his historical tetralogy.

During those years everybody was influenced by Brecht. Take Godard’s

example. Godard had said that ‘we should not just make political films,
but we should make films politically’. Of course, Brecht employs the
Verfremdungseffekt which is expressed in the actors’ acting. But there
is pathos too. The difference is that the pathos does not emanate solely
from the characters. The carriers of the pathos are not simply the actors,
but the situations and the uncertainties too. The Verfremdungseffekt does
not intend to view history remotely. Not at all. History is the protago-
nist, but the dramatis personae play an important role too. They are not
shown as autonomous individuals, but as representatives of social, politi-
cal and human strata. There is, therefore, a dialectical process. (cited in
Archimandritis 2013: 42)

The dialectical process described by Angelopoulos is grounded in the Marxist

idea that individuals are products and agents at the same time of history. Such
a dialectical view of the world is made manifestly clear from Angelopoulos’
very first feature film, Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970), which draws
on the failure of representation. Unfortunately, the English translation of
its title muddies its reference to the art of cinema, since the Greek word
Αναπαράσταση literally translates in English to representation. Not unlike
filmmakers from the Nouvelle Vague and other new cinemas of the 1960s,
Angelopoulos’ first feature film draws on the crime genre. The film is also akin
to Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950) and Bertolucci’s La Commare Secca (1962),
because it destabilises the crime-film genre and, rather than being preoccupied
with the whodunit question, it uses the genre’s formula to point to a series of
social and political questions. Reconstruction focuses on the murder of a Greek
immigrant (Mihalis Fotopoulos) by his wife (Toula Stathopoulou) and her
lover (Yiannis Totsikas), upon their return home from Germany. The film’s
first visual draws attention to the deserted village of Temfaia. But the shot
is not an establishing shot for the drama, but for the broader social context,
something that is emphasised by the voice-over, which communicates a
number of facts regarding the reduction of the village’s population from 1,250
inhabitants in 1939 to eighty-six in 1965. Significant screen time is devoted to
the landscape and eventually the figure of Costas, the Greek immigrant from
Germany, emerges. We see him returning to his house and while the camera
captures him dining in the presence of his family, the frame freezes and the
credits roll.
In the next visual after the credits, we see a man entering Heleni’s house
and we assume that he is Costas. Suddenly, a rope is placed around his neck
70  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis

and we realise that this is nothing but an attempt to restage Costas’ murder,
which has not been shown on screen. This disruption of the film’s sequential
ordering emphasises the desire to understand the meaning of the act by rep-
resenting it rather than to focus on the individual event itself. The formula
of attempting to comprehend something by representing it brings us back to
Brecht’s idea of the quotable Gestus. In Brecht’s formulation, when the actor
shows an event she/he should simultaneously show her/himself so as to inter-
rupt the representational context; in doing so she/he produces a number of
Gestus which point to the social significance of the represented event. Walter
Benjamin compares this process with the Hegelian dialectic and explains that
as in Hegel the core of the dialectic is not the ‘sequence of time’, but solely
the vehicle, in Brecht’s aesthetic the dialectic is brought ‘at a standstill’ not
by the succession of actions but by the quotability of Gestus (Benjamin [1966]
1998: 12).
In Reconstruction, the whole film is premised on the quotability of a murder
that has taken place off-screen, but it is precisely through this quotability that
a number of social Gestus are produced which comment on the reality of the
time in Greece. For instance, after another representation of the murder, the
prosecutor (Yiannis Mpalaskas) concludes that ‘the immoral character of the
accused woman’ is to be blamed for the crime. Later on, when the police try to
remove the culprits a chorus of women attack, exclusively, Heleni; one infers
that the last is not simply assaulted for being a ­murderer, but for having desta-
bilised the social order.
There are three perspectives from which the puzzle of the murder is shown:
the first one is from the perspective of the police who try to understand how
the murder took place by asking Heleni and her lover to represent it; the
second one is from the perspective of the filmmaker who tries to put all the
missing links together. He depicts Costas’ arrival, the crisis experienced by
Heleni and her lover after the murder, and he concludes the film with an
anachronism showing Costas entering the house, in which we know that he is
about to be murdered. The third one is from the perspective of the journalists
(one of them played by Angelopoulos) whose research brings to the surface
more details regarding the withering of the Greek countryside and the poverty
which forces its inhabitants to emigrate abroad. Commenting on this formal
complication, Angelopoulos stated that he wanted to create a dialectic between
the three different levels and that each representational level has a Brechtian
autonomy (cited in Nagel 1992: 86–7). The aesthetic consequence of this
method is a dedramatisation, which is not political in itself simply because
of the emotional distance produced, but because of the collision between the
three representational layers. None of these three different perspectives clarify
why the murder took place, while the produced dialectical conflict does not
prioritise the isolated dramatic incident of the murder; it rather shifts our
the gestus of showin g  71

Figure 4.1 Reconstruction

attention from the diegetic cosmos to the meta-level, that is, the registered
social reality in which the incident took place.
There is thus a negation of representation and this is very forcefully exem-
plified in a scene towards the end when Heleni is repeatedly asked by the pros-
ecutor and the policemen to reproduce the minute details of the murder and
show how she used the rope to kill her husband. Within a prolonged medium
shot, we get to see Heleni slowly tightening a rope and then throwing it to
the policemen in defiance. This is an emblematic Gestus which encapsulates
the film’s thematic interests and its refusal to dissociate the particular event
from the social environment. Subsequently, in this particular passage there is
a representational negation on the part of the filmmaker and on the part of the
main character too.
In a way, the negation of representation operates as a denial of melodrama,
that is, a refusal to valorise the private sphere at the expense of the social one.
The anachronism of the film’s ending is also telling in this respect. Within a
four-minute fixed shot reminiscent of early cinema’s theatrical quality, the
camera registers the landscape and Heleni’s courtyard. For a while all we see
is the emptiness of the setting and eventually Heleni and her lover are shown
moving towards the house. Costas later appears on frame and also enters the
house. The static quality of the shot makes the character’s entry in the frame
look like a theatrical entrance. For a few minutes the space remains empty and
this choice intensifies the impact of the murder which, as we can infer, takes
place off-screen. Ultimately, the two culprits exit the house and appear on
frame. But the bareness of the landscape in combination with the theatrical
entrances and exits of the characters make the dramatis personae appear like
72  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis

figures in space, a stylistic choice that strengthens the dialectic between the
individual and the environment.


Exemplary in the finale of Reconstruction is the employment of what Kovács
identifies as a recurring theme in modernist cinema: the ‘circular trajectory’.
Kovács maintains that, as opposed to the linear trajectory, this formal element
is characteristic because ‘the ending situation is not significantly different from
that of the beginning’ (2007: 79). This is a recurrent motif in Angelopoulos’
historical tetralogy which consists of Μέρες του ’36 (Days of ’36, 1973), The
Travelling Players, Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977) and Ο Μεγαλέξανδρος
(Megalexandros, 1980). In the first film, Sofianos (Costas Pavlou), a lumpen
thug of the Metaxas regime in Greece is betrayed by the state apparatus, which
blames him for the murder of a union leader taking place at the beginning of
the narrative. When the former takes a politician hostage in his prison cell, he
creates a political turmoil which will eventually be terminated with Sofianos’
murder by the state. The film ends with an execution of a group of political
dissidents. A group of soldiers are shown placing Sofianos’ body amongst the
bodies of the executed civilians. There is no significant change in the film’s
finale. It starts with a murder and it ends with several political executions. In
The Travelling Players, the action starts in the autumn of 1952 with a fixed shot
which captures a group of actors. The voice-over reads: ‘in the fall of 1952
we returned to Aigion. A few veterans, but mainly younger actors. We were
tired. We had not slept for days’. In the shots that follow, the diegetic time
has shifted back into the past focusing on the turmoil in Greek history during
the years from 1939 to 1952, which we get to witness through the travelling
players’ ventures. But the film finishes with another fixed shot of the group,
again in Aigion but now in 1939. The voice-over repeats the same lines as
earlier and the only significant change is the year: ‘In the autumn of 1939 we
returned to Aigion. We were tired. We had not slept for days’.
Likewise, in The Hunters, the discovery of the frozen body of a communist
rebel by a bourgeois group brings back traumatic memories from the past and
feelings of collective guilt. In the end, the hunters return to the same place
only to rebury the body. Finally, in Megalexandros the film offers an account of
an early twentieth-century collective experiment, which subsequently trans-
mutes into an account of one man’s rule. The charismatic leader Alexandros
(Omero Antonutti) is eventually killed by the dissatisfied collective, but his
young son, also named Alexandros, escapes on a horse. In the last shot, we get
to see the young Alexander but in a different temporality: the late twentieth
the gestus of showin g  73

century. The voice-over reads: ‘so Alexandros made his way to the city’. The
circular narrative is evident here too but this is the only film in the tetralogy
which leaves a vague sign of hope that the historical circularity might not
reproduce the recurrent cycles of oppression. Nonetheless, this is simply a
suggestion and along the lines of the previous objects, the narrative does not
reach a coherent close.
It is wholly reasonable to assert that this circular trajectory follows the
Benjaminian critique of the historicist assumption of historical progress. In line
with Benjamin, Angelopoulos’ historical tetralogy (as stated Megalexandros’
finale can be interpreted differently) centres on images ‘of enslaved ancestors
rather than liberated grandchildren’ (Osborne 1995: 141). All of which leaves
us with a crucial question: does this mean that Angelopoulos adopts what
Kosmidou calls ‘a non-Marxist view of the past’ (2013: 134)? We must answer
in the categorical negative, because this presumption unequivocally connects
Marxism with historical determinism. Secondly, because in Angelopoulos’
historical tetralogy it is, as he says, ‘ “History” with a capital “H” ’ (cited in
Horton 1997b: 109) that is at the core of the narrative. There is thus an impor-
tant connection with the Brechtian Fabel and Brecht’s standpoint that the
dialectical view of history provides a history lesson.5
A clarification of the term Fabel can elucidate Angelopoulos’ Brechtian
view of history. In Theaterarbeit, Brecht defines the Fabel as the narrative
content of the drama (Berlau et al. [1952] 1990: 431), while in 1948 he states
that ‘die Fabel ist nach Aristoteles – und wir denken da gleich – die Seele
des Dramas’ (the Fabel is according to Aristotle – and we agree here – the
soul of the drama) (1964: 15). Here, Brecht quotes Aristotle’s Poetics and
what merits attention is that he translates μῦθος as Fabel, whose English
equivalent is ‘myth’. Given that the Brechtian aesthetic is in opposition with
the heroic mythic narrative it is imperative to clarify this point. The Fabel in
Brechtian terms implies the collective narrative (and something similar applies
to the Greek tragedies which are variations of collective narratives, that is,
pre-­existing myths). The collective narrative is at the heart of the Brechtian
drama, but unlike the Aristotelian tragedy, it manifests itself in separate parts
which showcase the connection between the specific events and the whole,
namely the dialectical view of history. Carl Weber brilliantly explains that
though Brecht advocated modernist fragmentation he was steadfast in his
conviction that the autonomous sequences should interact dialectically with
the Fabel (2006: 189).
In Angelopoulos’ historical tetralogy, the Fabel – the collective narrative –
is as per Brecht history. History is segmented in autonomous sequences, which
also employ mythic references not to universalise human misfortunes, but to
act as a commentary on the historical present. This is given full sway in The
Travelling Players, in which the myth of Oresteia and the idyllic popular drama
74  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis

of Golfo are used as leitmotifs within the story. Similarly, in Megalexandros

the nineteenth-century mythical figure of the Greek bandit and the Byzantine
myth of the legend of Megalexandros, who saves the Greeks from Turkish
domination, delineate the drama of the failed early twentieth-century socialist
experiment taking place in the film’s fabula; still these mythical references are
formulas used to comment on the present, and in particular, on the political
impasse of the Greek Left and the Eastern Bloc of the period.
We can now see how history for Angelopoulos had a ‘scientific’ dimension
during his political period, which is precisely communicated by the dialecti-
cal connection between the autonomous parts and the collective narrative.
In 1977, after the completion of The Hunters, he endorsed this position and
suggested that ‘I practice a Marxist approach to cinema. One cannot separate
form from content’ (cited in Nagel 1992: 132). In the historical tetralogy, the
dialectic between form and content is visualised by structuring the découpage
in a way that abolishes the sentence-length shots privileging the production
of Gestus. At times these Gestus might communicate a sense of abstraction,
but they are always in dialogue with the Fabel. A preliminary example can
be taken from Days of ’36, a film which manipulates the detective genre, but
its formal texture privileges fragmentation rather than linearity. The film’s
central narrative schema is the seizure of a politician from the imprisoned
Sofianos. Yet, the shot that comes immediately after this core dramatic
incident palpably disregards plot development and does not communicate
storytelling information. In a typical static tableau we see the representatives
of the state apparatus celebrating the inauguration of the construction of the
Olympic stadium, while in another prolonged tableau a young man dressed
in a kitsch ancient Greek robe reads a Pindar text. These tableaux serve the
role of cinematic attractions and resist diegetic flow, since they provide no
storytelling information and have little connection with the preceding scenes
and the ones that follow. Obviously, this presentational style acts as an extra-
diegetic commentary. The kitschiness of the past – that is, the fascist dictator-
ship of Metaxas – becomes an indictment of the present, namely of the Greek
military junta of 1967–74.
The Gestus within the tableaux becomes rhetorical and while dramatic
development is downplayed, the autonomous parts are in dialogue with the
Fabel, the historical past and present. Angelopoulos described this ellipti-
cal style as a Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt which aims at creating an ‘anti-
suspense’ atmosphere analogous to Nagisa Oshima’s Death by Hanging (cited
in Gregor [1973] 2001: 12-13). This ‘anti-suspense’ effect is also reinforced
by a very important stylistic element in Angelopoulos’ early films, which is
the lack of extra-diegetic music and the preference for a Brechtian Trennung
der Elemente (separation of elements). Showing contempt for the conventional
use of music in narrative cinema, Brecht stated that, ‘man sie im Grund nicht
the gestus of showin g  75

mehr hört’ (ultimately nobody hears it anymore) (1963: 289), implying that
music is lost in the emotional clichés it reinforces. He counterproposed that
the epic theatre principle of separating the elements of music and action could
be politically efficient in film narrative. Music instead of emanating from the
atmosphere should openly interrupt the diegetic flow and produce a particular
Haltung (attitude). This formula allows music to generalise and to present
actions in their social and historical significance.
A scene from Days of ’36 is a case in point. At one point in the film Sofianos,
while negotiating with the wardens, requests to hear a song. A guard is shown
carrying a record player and placing it in the prison’s courtyard. In a fixed
shot, we get to hear a typical Athenian bourgeois melody about a woman tired
of her former lover, but it is precisely the treatment of diegetic music as an
independent element which infuses it with a political significance. The camera
starts a travelling arrière which is intercut by a series of panning shots that
reveal the prisoners climbing the railings in a ritualistic way. Towards the end
of the musical sequence, the prisoners revolt by rattling the prison railings.
Again, this segmented scene promotes little dramatic development, but com-
municates gestic material which is in service of the Fabel, the historical past
and the present of the time.
Commenting on this use of music in his early films, Angelopoulos stated
that a love song placed within a particular context can turn into a political
commentary (cited in Nagel 1992: 121). A similar effect is produced in one
of the first sequences of The Travelling Players. Within a static frame the
camera shows the group of actors while dining and leisurely arranging their
tour schedule. Suddenly, the accordionist (Yiannis Furios) starts playing
the tune of a bourgeois love song entitled Θα ξανάρθεις (You will come
back), which is then hummed by the eldest member of the troupe (Alekos
Mpoumpis). An off-screen sound diverts the actors’ attention and the camera
slowly pans to the left; using an aperture framing it captures through the
restaurant’s window a group of militia members parading and singing a
fascist song, popular during the Metaxas’ dictatorship. For a significant
amount of time the camera disregards the travelling players, who are the
main dramatic characters, and places them off-screen persistently highlight-
ing the military parade. Eventually, it pans to the right only to discover that
Aegisthus (Vangelis Kazan) has left his seat, is gazing out of the window and
humming the fascist song. The camera pans to the left following him back to
the table. When he resumes his seat, Pylades (Kuriakos Katrivanos) despises
him by knocking his chair to the floor and moving out of frame. Aegisthus
follows him and the camera pans to the left again to register the confrontation
between the two men. Pylades starts singing the aforementioned love song
whose lyrics acquire a new significance:
76  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis

You will come back

No matter how many years go by
You will come back
Full of remorse
To ask of forgiveness
Broken hearted you will come back.

The song here comes in contradistinction to the previous fascist tune and
serves a revolutionary role. In rebuttal, Aegisthus steps on the table and
repeats the right-wing chant, saluting in a fascist manner. This lengthy shot
ends and the following one does not linger on the formulated dramatic con-
flict. It can thus be understood that the musical sequences play a dual role:
on the one hand, they introduce us to the political sympathies of some key
characters, and on the other hand, they echo the broader collective narrative.
Dramatic dialogue is almost absent and the unfolding of the narrative draws on
a ­presentational mode of narration, which shows rather than tells.
Undoubtedly, the impact of the previous scene is heightened by the semi-
ritualistic manner in which the actors move in space, exiting and re-entering
the frame. At times, the camera keeps the dramatis personae off-screen and
when it comes back to recapture them, the characters are not in their original
positions in the space. All these gestural relationships generated by means
of music and performances draw our attention to the characters’ Haltungen
(stances/postures) which present them as representatives of historical forces.
Their interactions are thus defined by the historical contradictions and con-
flicts. Commenting on Angelopoulos’ modus operandi, Bordwell maintains
that ‘we are obliged to study the body, or more accurately, study the body’s
relation to the larger field into which it’s inserted’ (2005: 164). What Bordwell
summarises here is the quintessence of the Brechtian aesthetic and its empha-
sis on segmenting the narrative into Gestus and Haltungen that allow the audi-
ence to draw conclusions for the social and historical circumstances. These
postural stances do not reduce the characters to static figures à la socialist
realism, but emphasise their attitudes towards historical events. Angelopoulos
accomplishes this by adopting a quasi-scientific examination of the characters’
movements within the frame and by highlighting patiently all the aspects of
performance, instead of subordinating them to action sequences.
Again, the parallel with early cinema is remarkable given that the former
used, in Noël Burch’s words, a ‘primitive externality’ which downplayed narra-
tivity in favour of highlighting the actualities in the frame (1990: 188). While
Angelopoulos does not minimise narrativity tout court, he makes use  of the
autonomy of the tableau and underscores the Gestus in frame so as to infuse all
the material with the Fabel. Another example from a scene in The Hunters
shows this eloquently. After discovering the frozen body of a dead partisan
the gestus of showin g  77

from the years of the Greek Civil War, a group of the ruling elite start a his-
torical recollection which forces them to face their collective guilt regarding
collaboration with the Nazis during the war, their violent seizure of power in
post-war Greece, and their establishment of a US-client state, which was even-
tually replaced by a military junta. Within one static tableau, which lasts five
and a half minutes and is evocative of Buñuel, Angelopoulos frames the hotel’s
corridor and registers the group’s anxiety and collective guilt generated from
the partisan’s body, which turns into a spectre of history. Gradually, an indus-
trialist Yiannis Diamantis (Yiorgos Danis), comes out of his room and appears
on frame. He opens the door of another room and starts blaming an off-frame
military general (Nikos Kouros) for the transition from junta to parliamentary
democracy. After delivering his lines, he departs and from then on a series of
exits and entrances occur. The military general enters the frame to retort to
Diamantis’ comments; he then returns to his room. The austerity of the compo-
sition is strengthened by the fact that the camera continues framing the empty
space focusing on its materiality. This emptiness is ultimately interrupted by
the figure of a politician (Christoforos Nezer) who appears in the corridor ready
to run away. An off-screen sound informs us of the advent of another charac-
ter, a hotel entrepreneur (Vangelis Kazan), whose hostile posture frightens the
politician and forces him to return to his room. This is followed by a few more
agitated entrances and exits by other members of the group. The sequence fin-
ishes with the reappearance of the politician who re-enters the frame tearfully.
Within this long tableau, Angelopoulos manages to crystallise the film’s
central narrative motor: the partisan’s body produces a Benjaminian violent
experience (Erfahrung) and acts as a historical ghost that interrupts the secu-
rity enjoyed by the victors of history. Yet this destabilisation of historical
experience takes place within a static frame that uses silent cinema’s ‘sheer
celebration of movement’ (Doane 2002: 177). Benjaminian constellations are
not produced by means of montage but by an excessive theatricality which
aims to reveal the haunted unconscious of the Greek bourgeoisie. Not unlike
Resnais, Fassbinder and Straub/Huillet, Angelopoulos employs theatricality
so as to confront the real, and the real here stands for the historical cycles and
their effect on the present.6
This does not simply involve dramatising historical incidents; as Robert
A.  Rosenstone suggests in his discussion of films by Angelopoulos, the
Taviani brothers, and Ousmane Soumbene, placing history into the present
implicates a desire to ‘contest and revision history’ (Rosenstone 2006: 118).
This process entails offering interpretations which run against the grain of
the established historical narrative, but also refusing to represent the past in
a closed form hinting at the emergence of alternative historical possibilities.
Exemplary in this regard is one of the final tableaux in Megalexandros, the last
part of Angelopoulos’ historical tetralogy. The film is imbued with historical
78  a ng e l o s ko uts o urakis

pessimism regarding the subversion of the socialist vision by the personality
cult; nonetheless there is a powerful moment (described by Dan Georgakas
and Julian Murphet in their contributions to this book) in which a group of
villagers gather around the wounded leader, encircle him and suffocate him to
death. It is visualised through a high-angle static shot which frames the villag-
ers as they collectively ‘devour’ the former liberator and current tyrant. The
collective’s Gestus within the frame is no longer concerned with the historical
past or even the present, but with the future as a historical possibility. This
passage epitomises the filmmaker’s desire to visualise and contest the political
impasse of the time and, not unlike Brecht, to imply that a solid understanding
of the movement of history on the part of the mass is a precondition for the
construction of any sustainable political alternative.
The common thread throughout Angelopoulos’ career is an interrogative
approach to representation, its limits, and its vigorous potential to capture
historical contradictions and political conflicts in unexpected ways. This is
the reason why he once stated that Reconstruction is his most important film,
while his subsequent ones are nothing but variations on themes developed in
this object (cited in Fainaru 2001: 124). Importantly, this sustained engage-
ment with the representational capacities of the medium derives its force
from the filmmaker’s embracement of a visual language developed in the
early days of cinema. Following the completion of his historical tetralogy,
Angelopoulos abandoned the Brechtian tropes he developed during the years
from 1970 to 1980. The Greek economic crisis and the ensuing reanimation
of  historical conflicts, which seemed to have been terminated, led him to
revisit Brecht in his unfinished film The Other Sea. Retrospectively, we can
see how the Brechtian language and the political questions of his early films
can be read anew in light of the current political reality, which also proves
that the passage of time can revive theories and debates that were considered

1. Similarly, Béla Tarr, a filmmaker also committed to the manipulation of the long
take, suggests the same about his own films, arguing that montage is to be located ‘in the
heart of the sequence’ which produces its own variations within the frame. See Rancière
(2013: 67).
2. Eisenstein argued something similar about El Greco’s paintings. He considered El Greco
as ‘one of the forefathers of montage’ precisely because of his ability to create montage
effects or antitheses within the static painting. See Sergei Eisenstein [1942] (1975: 105).
3. In another interview with Andrew Horton, Angelopoulos commented that: ‘perhaps we are
not as far apart as it may seem, but also note that it is possible to speak of my shots as
having montage inside the frame, rather than between frames’. See Andrew Horton
(1997b: 98).
the gestus of showin g  79

4. Though I accept Kovács’s periodisation, one needs to note that he firmly locates
Angelopoulos within the late modernist period.
5. My engagement with Angelopoulos’ early work in this chapter has made me revise my
previous reading of his work. See Koutsourakis (2012: 177).
6. Pasolini’s famous statement that the ‘long-take, the schematic and primordial element of
cinema, is thus in the present tense’ is pertinent in relationship to Angelopoulos’
employment of long sequences as a means of showing the co-existence between past and
present. See Pasolini (1980).

Angelopoulos’ Gaze: Modernism,

History, Cinematic Ethics
Robert Sinnerbrink

The world needs cinema now, more than ever. It may be the last impor-
tant form of resistance to the deteriorating world in which we live.
Theo Angelopoulos

T he films of the late Theo Angelopoulos have been praised for their his-
torical ambition, political themes and explorations of memory, but also
for their commitment to cinematic modernism. For some critics, like David
Bordwell, Angelopoulos is a late modernist auteur whose ‘anachronistic’ cin-
ematic style bears the hallmarks of 1960s and ’70s ‘political modernism’ (1997:
106; see also Rodowick 1988). For others, like Fredric Jameson, Angelopoulos’
work is best understood as hybrid or transitional: grounded in an aesthetic
and historical sensibility that combines progressive elements, which render
collective memory through a materialist aesthetic, and regressive elements,
which revert to an individualistic, humanistic framing of the post-historical
condition of ‘left-wing melancholy’ (Jameson 1997; see also Benjamin [1931]
1974). How do these overlapping readings of Angelopoulos – as late modern-
ist, as historical mythmaker and as ambiguous innovator – hang together? How
does Angelopoulos’ aesthetic style express historical experience and cultural
memory? How might this project work in an age that remains sceptical about
cinema’s cultural-historical powers of aesthetic resistance?
Angelopoulos’ ‘trilogy of borders’ – in particular, his best-known film Το
Bλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995) – offers a way into addressing these
questions, though the memorialisation of collective experience through cinema
marks all of his work. In what follows, I shall explore how his films combine
history, myth and politics in ways that constitute a cinema of historical experi-
ence, collective memory and ethical responsiveness. His films offer striking
examples of how cinema can be regarded as philosophical, indeed as cases of a
‘cinematic thinking’: films that explore history, European identity and the crit-
ang elopoulos’ gaze  81

ical potential of cinema after the demise of political modernism; films which
not only capture historical experience, involuntary memory and duration, but
which also articulate thought through images. Angelopoulos’ films reflect upon
how this cinematic and historical legacy might be renewed, posing questions
concerning the historical and political prospects of the ‘new Europe’. Through
the close analysis of selected sequences from Ulysses’ Gaze and Ο Θίασος (The
Travelling Players, 1976), films from his ‘late’ and ‘early’ periods respectively,
I explore how Angelopoulos’ use of what I call ‘­memorial-images’ expresses a
cinematic ethic of memorialising historical experience.


Although most critics agree that Angelopoulos is a modernist filmmaker,
opinions vary over what kind of modernist he might be. David Bordwell,
for example, describes him as a ‘synthesising’ modernist (1997: 13), Fredric
Jameson calls him a ‘late modernist’ (1997: 78), while Andrew Horton suggests
he is the ‘last modernist’ (1997b: 1–10). Angelopoulos certainly belonged to that
dwindling band of auteurs grappling with the legacy of ‘political modernism’
in European cinema. As Bordwell notes (1997: 11), Angelopoulos’ historical
themes and signature visual style ‘encapsulates the trajectory we might expect
from a second-generation post-war Euromodernist’. His films express an
auteurist’s concern with temporally extended, highly choreographed sequence
shots geared towards the goals of ‘Euromodernism’: ‘dedramatisation; a
muted emotional expressivity; a subtle direction of the audience’s attention; a
concomitant awareness of the process of film viewing’ (1997: 11). Influenced
by Welles and Mizoguchi, as well as Hollywood crime film and the musical,
Angelopoulos inherits and extends the style of 1960s Euromodernism
exemplified by the later films of Antonioni. At the same time, Angelopoulos
adds a rustic Greek/Balkan focus – at once historical, mythical and political –
to the existential pathos and social anomie of Antonioni’s urbane world of
sophisticates and socialites, intellectuals and drifters. According to Bordwell,
Angelopoulos is not an originary ‘modernist’, but rather a gifted ‘synthesiser’
of the various aesthetic possibilities available within European cinema: the
long take, the sequence shot, the collective protagonist, the inclusion of temp
morts, minimising of drama, blocking of emotional engagement, disruption
of linear chronology and eschewal of conventional narrative structure (1997:
12–13).1 Bordwell thus recasts him as an inheritor and extender of that
tradition whose ‘systematic expansion of certain stylistic premises’ – notably
the ‘recessional’ image combining recessive, perspectival planes of depth,
and the ‘planimetric image’ that removes perspective, and avoids full-frontal
presentation of characters – has ‘kept post-war modernism alive in the largely
82  r o b e r t sinne rbrink

hostile climate of the 1980s and 1990s’ (1997: 13). As Bordwell quips, the later
films of Angelopoulos offer an updated version of ‘Antoniennui’ (1997: 24) –
that distinctive combination of ‘dedramatised’ formalism and existentialist
anomie familiar from Antonioni’s 1960s works – albeit one reprised with a
distinctively historical, mythopoetic twist.
Fredric Jameson takes this ‘modernist’ approach a step further, characterising
Angelopoulos as a ‘late modernist’ – an artist capable of inventing a new
style under conditions of stylistic exhaustion – who is also emblematic of an
‘end of modernism’: expressing an aesthetic sense of disillusionment that
accompanies the ‘end of styles’ and corresponding ‘end of ideologies’ (1997:
78–95). Angelopoulos’ shift from his earlier Greek ‘political’ phase [films of
the 1970s such as Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970), Μέρες του ’36 (Days
of ’36, 1972), and The Travelling Players] to his later, more personal, moral-
humanistic ‘trilogy of silence’ [Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage to Cythera, 1984),
Ο Μελισσοκόμος (The Beekeeper, 1986), Τοπίο στην Ομίχλη (Landscape in the
Mist, 1988)] and the ‘trilogy of borders’ [Το Μετέωρο Βήμα του Πελαργού
(The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991), Ulysses’ Gaze, and Μια Αιωνιότητα
και μια Μέρα (Eternity and a Day, 1998)], shows his recasting of modernist
style towards an as yet undefined condition ‘after modernism’. In both earlier
and later phases, Angelopoulos combines stylistic innovation and historical
self-consciousness with an evocative treatment of place and (political) history:
twentieth-century Greece in his political phase, and the emerging ‘transnational’
spaces of post-communist Europe in his moral-humanist phase. According to
Jameson, this transfiguration of content through cinematic form – reflecting
the historical, cultural and political transformations in Eastern Europe during
the 1980s and 1990s – points to an emerging ‘geopolitical aesthetic’ in cinema,
of which Angelopoulos can be regarded as a cartographer (see Jameson 1992).
From this point of view, Angelopoulos is at once the elegiac poet of an
exhausted cinematic modernism and the experimental harbinger of a new
cultural sensibility concerning time, place and history. Jameson thus focuses
on both ‘regressive’ and ‘progressive’ dimensions of his later films, such
as The Suspended Step of the Stork and Ulysses’ Gaze, arguing that some of
the ‘contradictions’ of the post-communist geopolitical constellation can
be read cinematically by tracing the dialectical tensions within them.2 On
the one hand, there is the ‘regressive’ retreat from collective to individual
narrative protagonists; from political engagement and historical recollection
to ‘bourgeois’ narrative ‘themes’ such as ‘betrayal, suffering, violence,
homelessness and the like’ (1997: 90). On the other, there is Angelopoulos’
‘progressive’ reinvention of cinematic form oriented towards the future; a
‘spatial’, materialist aesthetic attuned to the exploration of subjectivity within
the Balkan ‘border’ cities emblematic of the trans-European dispersion
of identities. This forward-looking reinvention of materialist aesthetics is
ang elopoulos’ gaze  83

coupled, however, with a nostalgic ‘left-wing melancholy’: an Antonioni-

style ‘existential’ lament regarding the stalled historical dialectics of present
and  past following the collapse of socialism and the spreading wasteland
of Western consumerism (Jameson 1997: 91–2; see also Benjamin 1974).
Angelopoulos’ late films express this dialectic of regressive and progressive
elements, manifest in their anachronistic but sincere attempts to ‘say
something new’ after the demise of political modernism and of the ideologies
that sustained it.
The question of the ‘new’ in cinematic modernism, however, is a vexing
one. The dialectic between the ‘new’ and the ‘familiar’, for example, resists
simple reduction to an opposition between tradition and ‘the modern’ or
between conventional codes of representation and their subversion. As John
Orr remarks, ‘the paradox of modern cinema is recurrence as the completion of
form’ (1993: 3): a dialectic between inheritance and innovation, repetition and
difference, that puts the old and the new into novel configurations of form and
content. Drawing on Giddens’ remark that the reflexive culture of modernity
is defined by the acceleration of ‘searches for self-discovery’ and the decline
of ‘the certainties of absolute knowledge’, Orr observes that the cinema of the
‘neo-moderns’ – filmmakers who have inherited and adapted the traditions and
techniques of modernism – testifies ‘to the paradox of that double acceleration,
the increasing pace at which the search for self-discovery desperately tries to
overcome our increasing sense of its impossibility’ (1993: 11). Angelopoulos
is an intriguing auteur to consider in this light. His work came to prominence
at the tail end of what Orr identified as the (belated) period of high ‘neo-
modernism’ in World Cinema (1958 to 1978). It thus required a complex
negotiation with the preceding generation of influential neo-modern directors
(such as Antonioni) as well as Angelopoulos’ own cultural-historical situation,
as a filmmaker from a marginalised tradition within European cinema. Despite
these challenges, Angelopoulos can be viewed not only as a ‘gifted synthesiser’
(in Bordwell’s words), but as an artistic innovator who remains faithful to
the modernist commitment to ‘the new’, even at the risk of anachronism in
deploying an ‘outmoded’ cinematic style.3 Sometimes the way to the ‘new’ can
be by reanimating the ‘old’.
To elaborate, we could describe Angelopoulos’ films as operating through
the dialectic between inheritance and innovation, synthesising elements of
inherited traditions adapted to changing cultural-historical and cinematic
contexts. His films faithfully reflect these changes, from the Marxist-
Brechtian milieu of 1970s ‘political modernism’ to the post-socialist milieu
of a ‘transnational’ Europe increasingly defined by the policing of borders.
Within this changed cultural-historical milieu, we also observe changes in
Angelopoulos’ use of modernist themes and techniques: ‘group’ protagonists
have given way to individual protagonists; characters displaced from ‘home’
84  r o b e r t sinne rbrink

attempt to journey towards unknown destinations; the theme of ‘crossing

borders’, rather than recovering historical origins, becomes more prominent;
the tragic dramas of post-war political history give way to the localised
recrudescence of ethnic conflicts and social exploitation that raise moral-ethical
questions and political challenges within an economically harsh environment.
This is one way of approaching what it means for Angelopoulos to be a
‘late neo-modernist’ filmmaker, which means thinking through how his work
combines formal and aesthetic strategies with the exploration of historically
specific cultural and political meaning. Both of these aspects are acknowledged
and emphasised, in different ways, by Bordwell and Jameson (Bordwell
emphasises the formalist-aesthetic aspect and Jameson the cultural-historical
aspect, although both aspects are inextricably intertwined). To these aspects,
however, we can add the question of cinema itself, central to any conception
of cinematic modernism: its history and possibilities as a medium of cultural
memory and historical experience.
This dialectic between inheritance and innovation, between modernist
style and cultural-historical conditions, can be observed across Angelopoulos’
oeuvre. As remarked, his earlier films focus on the ‘political modernist’
treatment of the history and politics of twentieth-century Greece, whereas his
later ‘moral-humanist’ phase engages with traditions of cinematic modernism
in responding to the ethical-political challenges of a transnational Europe.
In both phases of his work, moreover, the question of cinema – its role
in responding to, and transfiguring our historical experience – remains
paramount, though it is in his later phase that this question of cinema and
modernity becomes most explicit or acute.
Consider, for example, the idea that is central to Ulysses’ Gaze: that cinema
documented the birth of the twentieth century – hence the filmmaker A.’s
(Harvey Keitel) passion to recover the ‘first gaze’ captured by the Manakis
brothers’ 1905 silent film, The Weavers – but that cinema was also witness to
its revolutions and repressions, its discoveries and disenchantments. Cinema
was both an observer and a medium of collective historical experience, of
convulsive transformation and violent dissolution. It represents an archive
of historical experience that left contemporary Europe suffering from what
the emigrant politician in The Suspended Step of the Stork calls a ‘fin-de-siècle
melancholy’ (Bordwell 2005: 184).
This close linking of historical memory, political history and cinematic
presentation is readily apparent in Ulysses’ Gaze. The foregrounding of
the cinematic image as a shared source of cultural memory and archive of
historical experience is at the centre of the film’s portrayal of the (European-
American) filmmaker’s quest at the end of the twentieth century. What is the
task of the filmmaker committed to the modernist project in the aftermath
of the ‘end of history’? Such is the question posed by, and explored within,
ang elopoulos’ gaze  85

UIysses Gaze, which addresses, through its reanimation of modernist form,

the congruent ‘crises’ afflicting political modernism in cinema and the socio-
political transformations in contemporary Europe.
These are questions that Bordwell’s formalist approach tends to overlook.
Angelopoulos is concerned not only with the legacy of modernism but with
cinema’s role in regard to historical memory and contemporary politics.
Here we can list a number of relevant themes: the idea of historical memory
as collective experience; the problem of mythic history as a response to
the trauma of political repression; the task of reclaiming myth in cinema
by aesthetic means; the examination of the idea of borders, the trauma of
separation, and the transformations of identity in post-communist Europe;
the ‘modernist’ question of cinema’s prospects as a world-creating medium
within a post-historical world, and so on. These historical, political and
philosophical concerns permeate Angelopoulos’ films; they are articulated
through his aesthetic appropriation of political modernism as well as his later
shift towards a moral-humanist perspective reflecting the ‘pan-European’
problems of cultural and historical displacement. The question of modernism
and its limits, understood in cinematic, political and cultural-historical terms,
defines the trajectory of Angelopoulos’ career.

ulysses’ gaze

Despite having made important Greek films during the 1970s, including the
historico-political epic The Travelling Players, Ulysses’ Gaze is the film that
brought Angelopoulos to the attention of an Anglophone ‘arthouse’ audience.
It screened in competition at Cannes in 1995, where it was awarded the Grand
Jury Prize (the Palme d’Or went to Emil Kusturica’s controversial surrealist
Yugoslavian history/Balkan war allegory, Underground [1995]).4 It is the
second film in what has been called his ‘trilogy of borders’, flanked by The
Suspended Step of the Stork and Eternity and a Day, which received the Palme
d’Or three years later. Of all three films in the trilogy, Ulysses’ Gaze shows
most explicitly Angelopoulos’ concern with a cluster of recurrent themes:
chronicling Greek history in mythopoetic form, exploring historical memory
through cinema, treating film as a medium of collective historical experience,
and thematising the history of cinema through cinematic practice. Following
his use of arthouse legends Marcello Mastrioanni and Jeanne Moreau (in
The Beekeeper and The Suspended Step of the Stork), it features Romanian-
American actor Harvey Keitel playing a melancholy filmmaker (named ‘A.’),
who has returned to Greece after a twenty-five year absence and embarked on
a quest – at once historical, personal, and mythic – to locate three lost reels of
film made by the Manakis brothers in the early years of the twentieth century.
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A.’s quest, recalling Homer’s Odyssey, involves a historical, existential and

cinematic journey – from Greece, through Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria,
Romania, Serbia and Bosnia to Sarajevo – crossing borders and historical
epochs in an attempt to reach home, to find Ithaca, symbolised by the Manakis
brothers’ ‘three lost reels’ of turn-of-the-century film. In doing so, he hopes to
rekindle his own cinematic vision, and find a symbol of historical possibility,
by recapturing the ‘lost gaze’ of a cultural memory prior to the tragedies of
twentieth-century European history.
His cinematic quest through historical memory, however, ends tragically,
with a brutal denouement in war-torn Sarajevo. Having located the lost films,
thanks to a Jewish film archivist, he confronts the brutal violence of ethnic
conflict: the sudden off-screen shooting of the film archivist Ivo Levy (Erland
Josephson), his daughter, Naomi (Maia Morgenstern), and their entire family
as they take a walk together during the unofficial ‘truce’ periods that occur
during early morning winter fogs. Shattered by the killings, A. breaks down,
wailing over the dead daughter, as fog smothers the tragic scene. This violent
destruction of the redemptive hopes that A. had invested in cinema, of restor-
ing a vision of hope to the war-torn Balkans, leaves the viewer drained and
disoriented. The film ends on a mythopoetic note, with A. weeping in an aban-
doned cinema, reciting a parting from Homer’s Odyssey. Here one observes one
of the challenges facing a mythopoetic cinema, which attempts to marry his-
torical contingency and political events to a ‘mythic’ presentation of time and
place, but thereby presents such events as though they were fated necessities
and historical-political forces as though they were interventions by the gods.

The Prologue to the film, a four-minute sequence immediately after the
credits, is a powerful example of how cinema can serve as a medium of histori-
cal memory. The film begins with a personal dedication and a philosophical
quotation from Plato’s Alcibiades: ‘And, if the soul is to know itself, it must
gaze into the soul’. The opening images are from the Manakis brothers’ two-
minute silent film, The Weavers (1905), which features the brothers’ 114-year-
old grandmother weaving at her loom while glancing furtively towards the
camera. As we watch this historical time capsule reveal itself, the sound of
a film projector can be heard in the background. Philosophical contempla-
tion and historical recollection frame this cinematic odyssey. A voice-over
by the filmmaker A. comments on the footage, in quasi-documentary mode:
‘Weavers, in Avdella, a Greek village, 1905. The first film made by the broth-
ers Miltos and Yannakis Manakis. The first film ever made in Greece and the
Balkans. But is that a fact? Is it the first film? The first gaze?’
ang elopoulos’ gaze  87

Figure 5.1 Ulysses’ Gaze

The silent footage dissolves to a greyish black-and-white image of the

sea and horizon, merging in the distance. The camera pulls back to reveal
an old man operating a photographic camera, as a man’s voice narrates, in
Greek, how back in 1954, when he was Manakis’s camera assistant (Thanos
Grammenos), Manakis wanted to photograph a beautiful blue ship, here in the
port of Thessaloniki. The image slowly turns to colour and we see the narrator,
Manakis’s assistant, in modern dress, and the old man, in older costume,
manipulating the camera as the ship sails by in the distance. Suddenly, the
old man reels backwards, struck by a heart attack, and slumps back onto his
chair. The Assistant tends to the dead man, settles him in his chair, then walks
slowly back towards the right of screen, the camera following him in long shot.
The Assistant, an old man himself, narrates how he had written to A. about
Manakis and the blue ship, but also that Manakis had kept ‘rambling on about
three undeveloped reels’, a film from the turn of the century. The filmmaker
A. now comes into view, also in contemporary dress, and it becomes clear that
the Assistant has been telling A. the anecdote about Manakis as they both
stand together by the port of Thessaloniki. Forty years ago, on this very spot,
he was with Manakis before his death; and now, forty years later, he is with the
filmmaker A. explaining how Manakis died after attempting to photograph the
mysterious blue ship sailing out of port.
The camera then slowly pans back to the left, following A. as he walks back
to the spot where we saw the old man die moments before. These camera
movements, from left to right and back again, are also temporal movements,
88  r o b e r t sinne rbrink

from the present to the past, and from the past to the present, which coexist
within the one extended sequence shot. As A. walks, moving across time and
entering an inner world of cultural memory, we hear his thoughts, in voice-
over, confirming his commitment to a cinematic quest: ‘the three reels; the
three reels; the journey . . .’ As A. approaches the same spot where we saw
the old Manakis collapse, where there is nothing now to be seen, a musical
theme begins to play, a leitmotif that will recur throughout the film. A. pauses
and gazes off into the distance, the camera perched behind his shoulder, from
which point the ship can be seen sailing serenely from right to left, continuing
its mythic journey though time and memory. As the camera zooms slowly
towards the ship, its soft blue sails and hull gradually filling the frame, the
music swells, expressing a contemplative mood and anticipating the journey
to come. The simultaneously ‘Odyssean’5 and romantic image of the blue ship
sailing slowly out of frame, accompanied by Eleni Karaindrou’s melancholy
score, holds long enough for the vessel to disappear from view. A.’s quest has
been defined and his historico-cinematic journey has begun.
One of the remarkable features of this sequence is Angelopoulos’ treatment
of multiple temporal frames within the same image. A.’s cinematic journey
is one through time and memory, an odyssey exploring duration itself. As
Vassilis Rafailidis remarks, recalling Deleuze’s reflections on duration in the

In Angelopoulos’ films there is no such a thing as time, there is only

duration, which is different from time. We do not know what is time, but
we know what duration is; it is a segment of time and within this segment
one or one-thousand actions can take place simultaneously. (2003: 113)

This paradoxical coexistence of past and present, the capacity of the cinematic
image to memorialise temporally distant but intimately related historical
events, is masterfully enacted in this opening sequence. The sequence is
framed by the Manakis brothers’ silent film, the first film made in the Balkans,
and thus the ‘first gaze’ capturing an idyllic everydayness seemingly vanished
from contemporary Europe. This gives way to a shot set in the present (in
1994), narrated by the Manakis brothers’ Assistant, recollecting an anecdote
from 1954, set in the same place, but where this past experience coexists with
the present moment in which A. listens to the Assistant’s tale. The Assistant’s
narration condenses past and present, recollecting an event from the past that
is simultaneously depicted as happening in the present. As the camera pans
right to reveal A. standing by the harbour, listening to the Assistant’s tale,
we move back in time as the camera follows him, walking to the spot where
Manakis was shown dying. The blue ship continues to sail, from right to left,
inhabiting both temporal frames – A.’s present (standing by the harbour in
ang elopoulos’ gaze  89

1994) and the Assistant’s past (witnessing Manakis’s episode in 1954) – as A.’s
thoughts concerning the quest defining the film to come are also revealed.
A.’s thoughts and impressions, his memories and visions, are presented as
coexisting with the temporal and spatial horizons of other characters and places
within the diegetic world of the film. These are not conventional flashbacks or
narrative recollection-images but rather what we might call historical-memorial
images that condense different temporal planes and constitute a shared or
collective memory. Although sharing elements with Deleuze’s concept of
the time-image, with its coalescing of virtual and actual images, its liberation
from the sensory-motor constraints of the action-image, and non-localisable
condensation of different temporal planes, the emphasis in Angelopoulos’
historical-memorial images is on the recurring persistence of the past even
as it hollows out and haunts the present, presaging an uncertain future that
has not yet come to terms with the trauma of its own past. It is less an expres-
sion of the metaphysics of duration but a memorial ‘working through’ of past
trauma that has arrested the dynamic movement of historical time and ener-
vated its historical subjects. More Benjamin than Bergson, the exploration of
historical memory and collective experience demands attention to the histori-
cal plane of actions, agents and shared horizons of meaning (rather than their
breakdown as in Deleuze’s ‘pure optical and sound situations’). As Bordwell
remarks, European art cinema has long dealt with collective protagonists and
a disruption of chronology in the use of flashbacks and narrative sequencing.
Angelopoulos’ originality, however, ‘lay in freeing such flashbacks from the
recollections of a single character and expressing instead ‘collective historical

Figure 5.2 Ulysses’ Gaze

90  r o b e r t sinne rbrink

memory’ or even echoes of past events lingering in the shot’s locale’ (Bordwell
2005: 148). Psychological recollection is transformed into historical memori-
alisation; individual protagonists confronting the challenges of their milieu
become collective agents caught up in the vortices of history.
The simultaneous depiction and narration of Manakis’s death, and
Angelopoulos’ cinematic presentation of it as a collective memory, crystal-
lise the durational and memorial aspects of the cinematic image. The three
parallel time frames within this opening sequence – condensing a silent film
made in 1905, a filmmaker’s death in 1954 and a kindred filmmaker’s vision
in 1994 – coexist within the one sequence shot. It combines these temporal
perspectives to capture and communicate the mood of melancholic historical
nostalgia that defines A.’s cinematic-historical quest. This is an example of
what Angelopoulos describes as temporal montage within the image, or what
I am calling a historical memorial-image: an image that presents the coexist-
ence of the present, the recollected past, and present of the past, all of which
are framed, captured and communicated, by the apparatus of cinema itself.
This is the ‘first gaze’ that the filmmaker A. desires to recover, and in the
process to recover his own gaze as a filmmaker attempting to chronicle the
past in the present (the beginning of the century, the tragedy and brutality
of war, the violent aftermath of the ‘end of ideology’). It is why footage from
the Manakis brothers’ film, The Weavers, is woven throughout Ulysses Gaze,
taking on the symbolic role of Ithaca, of the possibility of returning home,
reappearing as a visual leitmotif punctuating the narrative development. As we
shall see, A.’s quest is tragic, for it will be impossible to return to Ithaca. The
promise of cinema as a medium with the power to redeem the world, to reani-
mate Ulysses’ gaze, ends in violence and death, leading to doubt and despair,
though cinema’s potential to serve as a medium of historical vision and memo-
rial acknowledgment still remains alive.
There are other examples of historical memorial-images scattered through-
out Ulysses’ Gaze. When the filmmaker A. is hauled off a train by officials at
the border crossing into Bulgaria, he is taken into a dark building where it
becomes apparent we are back in the 1940s. He is now being detained, as the
filmmaker Yannakis Manakis, on charges relating to resistance activity against
the German army and sentenced to death by the Bulgarian military court. In
a scene reminiscent of Kafka, he is taken blindfolded to the execution site,
crying out in the darkness, ‘I don’t understand,’ as he prepares to be shot. An
announcement is then read out from the King of Bulgaria, who has commuted
his sentence to a term of exile in the city of Plovdiv. He is escorted outside, now
reappearing as A. in the present, where his passport is stamped and he explains
that he is going to Phillipipousis (Plovdiv, the guard corrects). He rejoins the
young film archivist (Maia Morgenstern), who has been waiting patiently for
him so they can cross the border together. The present journey of A. in search
ang elopoulos’ gaze  91

of the ‘three reels’ coalesces with that of the condemned Manakis, both film-
makers now sharing an identity dispersed across time and place. A. becomes
Manakis, sharing his historical memory and cinematic quest. Angelopoulos’
long, slow sequence shots comprise historical memorial-images of a shared
cinematic and political history, images that synthesise temporal, historical,
and subjective planes of experience, unearthing suppressed traumas, occluded
memories and unexpected affinities between past and present.
In a scene that follows soon after, A. feels impelled to alight from the train
in Bucharest, where it is now 1945, and where he, a child though appearing
to us as an adult, encounters a younger version of his mother. They travel by
train to Constanza and then walk together through the city streets, filled with
horse-drawn carriages, protesters and political banners. Mother and child
enter the family home, where A. is amazed to meet and greet his relatives, who
seem delighted to see him. The whole extended family is gathered for New
Year’s Eve celebrations, but also to welcome A.’s father, who has been released
from a German prison camp. The father soon enters the room, embraces his
wife and child (the adult A.) as the couples begin to dance, celebrating his
homecoming, accompanied by the piano (‘Happy 1945!’). The camera frames
the couples in a static long shot as they dance, moving together to the music of
time, as the frame remains stationary, marking duration and the gathering of
historical momentum.
A sinister pair of government officials enters the room. They dance mock-
ingly with each other, and take one of the male relatives away (‘Happy 1948,’ he
tells them). The shocked family watch him depart and then slowly, defiantly,
return to their dancing and begin singing ‘Auld Lang Syne’. A short time later
another group of men appear, the People’s Property Acquisition Committee,
who have come to confiscate the family’s piano (‘Happy 1950!’). Finally, as an
act of resistance, preserving their memory and identity through an image, the
family regroups for a family portrait, with A. reappearing now in the frame,
this time as a young boy, as the camera frames them all for their family portrait
and zooms slowly in on his face (one of the few close-ups in the whole film).
Once again, a sequence shot taking over ten minutes condenses five years
of time and a series of traumatic familial and political events, which the young
A. experienced as a child and now re-experiences as an adult in the form of a
Proustian involuntary memory. His recollection is not simply personal, shared
among family members, but also political, chronicling the everydayness of the
political repression and social alienation experienced during and after the War.
This collective historical memory is actualised through memorial-images that
condense coexisting temporal frames within a carefully choreographed scene
of familial celebration and loss, personal recollection and political repression –
a melancholy rendering of Greek post-war history as a modernist ‘dance to the
music of time’.
92  r o b e r t sinne rbrink

The collective nature of historical memory, in contrast with the psychologi-

cal individualism of personal recollection, is a recurring theme in Angelopoulos’
oeuvre. As he remarks, referring to The Travelling Players (1975), ‘in this
film the past and present is not the individual memory of a person, but the
collective memory of a nation’ (cited in Archimandritis 2013: 32). Indeed,
memorial-images reflecting the historical experience of a nation can readily be
found in The Travelling Players, Angelopoulos’ tragic recounting of twentieth-
century Greek political history from 1939 to 1952. Allegorised through the
story of the eponymous acting troupe, who journey through the countryside
during and after the War, performing the traditional bucolic play Golfo, the
players themselves allegorise the myth of the family of Agamemnon, bearing
the same names as its famous mythic characters (Agamemnon, Clytemnestra,
Aegisthos, Orestes, Electra, Pylades and Chrysotheme). The coexistence of
past and present, of myth and history, is powerfully rendered in an extended
sequence that shifts, within the same shot, from 1952 to 1941. The sequence
starts with the players, in early 1950s dress, walking slowly by the sea. As
they turn to enter a village a pro-nationalist political rally is being announced
in support of former Greek general Marshall Papagos for the upcoming
November 1952 elections, ‘the man who led our army to victory against the
communist rebels in 1947–49’. As the motorbike carrying the promoters rides
off-screen, the shot holds calmly, for several seconds, on the empty village
street and railway tracks. The outdoor light, as in most Angelopoulos films, is
pale and grey, the atmosphere damp and gloomy. Eventually a car approaches,
and it becomes clear from its vintage that we are now back in 1941, with the
village under Nazi occupation.
The German car drives into the village and stops near an old building,
guarded by armed soldiers and ominous officials. A number of Nazi officers
emerge from the car and enter the dark theatre, where the travelling players
have been preparing for their next performance. The soldiers and officers are
in search of an ‘Englishman’ reportedly hiding in the theatre. Shot in a single
take, the camera panning slowly around the darkened space, we are shown the
armed soldiers and the sleeping players; we come back to the front of the stage,
where the curtains are opened and the players present themselves before us
and the Nazi authorities. There is a cut to the now fully lit stage, where each of
the players comes forward and flatly recites lines from their play, as though to
show their Nazi audience the true nature of their occupation, in both senses of
the term. The ‘Englishman’, one of the collaborators remarks, had been hiding
on stage, dressed as a woman, and has evidently made good his escape since
last night’s performance. ‘Traitor!’ yells Elektra (Eva Kotamanidou) on stage,
accusing one of her own troupe (Aegisthos, Clytemnestra’s lover) of betrayal –
of being a Nazi informer. The action now shifts directly onto the theatrical
space, with the collaborator (Vangelis Kazan) jumping on stage, wrestling with
ang elopoulos’ gaze  93

the struggling Electra, the players themselves now acting out the Agamemnon
familial tragedy – one that not only replays their own familial strife but alludes
to the political struggles between communist and fascist forces during the War
and its aftermath.
In the next scene, Electra’s father (Stratos Pahis), now captured by the
Nazis, is shown being lined up before a firing squad (‘I came across the sea,
from Ionia. Where did you come from?’). He is summarily shot, his body
slumping on the ground, as the camera approaches his lifeless corpse. The
stage is now set for Orestes (Petros Zarkadis), Elektra’s brother, to avenge his
father’s death, with the help of Elektra, and to kill the traitorous Clytemnestra
(Aliki Georgouli) and her lover Aegisthos. This condensation of tragic myth,
historical memory and political violence resonates across time and history,
linking individual and collective protagonists through memorial-images that
articulate the tragic history of Greek politics through the use of extended
sequence shots, self-reflexive cinematic presentation and choreographed
group tableaux. Cinema is the archive of such ‘collective historical memory’,
an apparatus capable of capturing the temporal and traumatic echoes of past
events that still inhabit places and spaces, a ‘memory machine’ reanimating
historical, social and personal events through moving images that reveal them-
selves in and as time.
It would be timely here to broach the question of anachronism in
Angelopoulos’ work: the deliberate ‘untimeliness’ of his films, their belated
modernist gestures, existential pathos and unfashionable seriousness. Despite
their apparently ‘anachronistic’ character, they attempt to question the
present, unearth its suppressed traumas and reveal its unacknowledged past.
His films do so by revealing the dialectical tension between historical past and
its coexistence with the present. As Angelopoulos remarks of The Travelling
Players, this dialectic between past and present is explicitly rendered by their
juxtaposition within one and the same shot:

In THIASSOS (sic) even though we refer to the past, we are talking

about the present. The approach is not mythical but dialectical. This
comes through in the structure of the film where often ‘two historical
times’ are dialectically juxtaposed in the same shot creating associations
leading directly to historical conclusions . . . Those links do not level
the events but bypass the notions of past/present and instead provide
a linear developmental interpretation which exists only in the present.
(cited in Tarr and Proppe: 1976)

Angelopoulos’ remarks recall Benjamin’s conception of the task of the his-

torical materialist, who seizes hold of the past, shows its coexistence with
the present, and charges the ‘now-time’ of the present with the historically
94  r o b e r t sinne rbrink

explosive power of transformative repetition that would redeem the suffering

of past generations:

To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize ‘the way it
really was’ (Ranke). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up
at a moment of danger . . . In every era the attempt must be made anew
to wrest tradition away from a conformism that is about to overpower it.
(1969 [1947]: 255)

Angelopoulos’ films likewise do not attempt to render history ‘the way it really
was’, but strive to wrest historical memory from the oblivion of forgetting,
the distortions of ideology, and the stultifying effects of aesthetic conformity.
From this point of view, Angelopoulos’ untimeliness is a matter of maintaining
fidelity to the idea of cinema’s transformative potential: its power to memorial-
ise cultural-historical experience, while acknowledging the difficulty of main-
taining this aesthetic faith after the tragedies of twentieth-century history.
The question of time is crucial to this neo-modernist sensibility. As Laura
Mulvey remarks, reflecting on time and technology in digital cinema, the
more cinema’s history bears on our shared historical experience, the more the
problem of time and its preservation and communication comes to the fore,
and the more cinema’s vocation as both preserving and transforming historical
experience comes into view:

to stop and to reflect on the cinema and its history also offers the oppor-
tunity to think about how time might be understood within wider, con-
tested, patterns of history and mythology. Out of this pause, a delayed
cinema gains a political dimension, potentially able to challenge patterns
of time that are neatly ordered around the end of an era, its ‘before’ and
its ‘after’. (2006: 22–3)

Angelopoulos’ anachronistic ‘slow cinema’ with its reflection on the conjoined

fates of cinema, history and politics, offers a fine example of Mulvey’s point.
In Angelopoulos’ often-maligned ‘moral-humanist’ films, we can see the
significance of this cultural politics of time and history articulated through
cinematic presentation of memory, myth and experience. This insight chimes
with Mulvey’s claim that cinema’s recent ‘reversion’ to history and its imbri-
cations with cinema – of which Angelopoulos’ work is an exemplary case –
offers the occasion for rethinking the ethical-political possibilities of cinematic

The cinema’s recent slide backward into history can, indeed, enable
this backward look at the twentieth century. In opposition to a simple
ang elopoulos’ gaze  95

determinism inherent in the image of a void between the ‘before’ and the
‘after’ of an era that had suddenly ended, the cinema provides material
for holding onto and reflecting on the last century’s achievements as well
as learning from its catastrophes. To turn to the past through the detour
of cinema has a political purpose. (Mulvey 2006: 24)

Moving away from the Marxist-Brechtian legacy of political modernism,

Angelopoulos’ later films open up another way of exploring historical memory
and cultural experience. As the new millennium approached, Angelopoulos
moved towards more personal, poetic, contemplative cinema: micronarratives
of historically situated experience expressing a mythopoetic cinema (Ravetto
1998: 43)6 that questioned the disappointed hopes of an emancipatory political
imagination gripped by historical melancholia. Indeed, they reflect the general
cultural disenchantment with Marxism that followed the collapse of the
socialist regimes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Like many European
philosophers who made the journey from 1970s political engagement to the
disenchantment of the 1980s, Angelopoulos’ cinematic works also reflect this
‘turning’ towards moral-ethical forms of resistance. At the same time, they
remain historico-political films framed within an ethico-aesthetic engagement
with the ‘post-historical’ sensibility of a Europe undergoing convulsive
transformation (the recrudescence of ethnic conflicts, the resurgence of
refugees, the uprooting effects of economic globalisation, and so on). Indeed,
Angelopoulos’ later films confront the end of modernism, the collapse of
socialism and the ambiguous theme of the ‘end of history’, while also exploring
the possibilities of communicating a ‘collective historical memory’ through
cinematic images.
In this regard, history comes to play a different role in his later films: they
no longer refer to ‘History, in the sense of a “grand narrative” of teleological
destiny’, but to ‘history’ in a pluralist sense: multiple histories having different
sites of cultural unfolding, occurring in non-synchronous, spatially dispersed,
ways. As Angelopoulos remarks:

In my epic films (listed above), it is ‘History’, with a capital ‘H’, that takes
‘centre-stage’. The opposite is true in the films since Voyage to Cythera,
in which history becomes something of a fresco in the background. Put
another way, what used to be History becomes an echo of history. (cited
in Horton 1997b: 109)

His films foreground the role of cultural and historical memory in the
formation of identity through historical-memorial images that evoke the
traumatic suffering of the past and render it intelligible through time, memory
and affect – but also evoke the situation of marginalised subjects (minorities,
96  r o b e r t sinne rbrink

wanderers, refugees, those ‘without a place’ in the new social orders) through a
cinema of temporal duration, cultural memory and ethical contemplation. One
could thus describe his cinema as a neo-modernist attempt at memorialising
the history of the present. We could also describe it as a mode of cinematic
ethics: creating works that depict historical memory as a collective experience,
and which thereby retrieve the fragile possibility of an ethical cinema capable
of transforming our horizons of meaning. Cinematic ethics, in this context,
means showing, rather than telling, what ethical experience means, exploring
what such experience reveals about the complexity of a character’s historical
world, where this historical world is disclosed through cinematic composition
and dramatic action. It examines how cinema can attune our aesthetic and
moral sensibilities to the experience of historical memory, and brings us to a
deeper understanding of the cultural and historical background that shapes
these characters’ worlds. From this perspective, Angelopoulos’ films, both
early and late, serve as ethically and politically significant memorials to the
(often tragic) intersection of cinema and history over the previous century.7

1. Bordwell (1997: 14 ff.) contrasts Angelopolous’s use of these elements with the films of
Hungarian director, Miklós Jancsó, who was also strongly influenced by Antonioni.
2. A position that Jameson has since reconsidered; see Chapter 6 in this volume.
3. Bordwell (2005: 140) puts the point bluntly, noting that Angelopoulos may be the ‘last
believer in a cinema of heroic statement’.
4. See Iordanova (2001) for an interesting discussion of the Balkans on film and of
Underground and Ulysses’ Gaze in particular.
5. If A. were Odysseus, however, he should have been on the ship rather than merely
observing it, as Telemachus did. My thanks to Mark Steven for this observation.
6. Ravetto takes the term ‘mythopoetic cinema’ from the writings of Pasolini, defining it as:
‘an attempt to use familiar myths as a means of revealing certain ambiguities in how myths
have been used by moral, ideological and historical discourse to support hegemonic
systems. Hence, mytho-poetic cinema is designed to disrupt conventional interpretations
of not only myths but, more importantly, the ideologies they support’ (1998: 43).
7. I am grateful to the editors Angelos Koutsourakis and Mark Steven for their insightful
comments and excellent suggestions for this chapter.
P ART ii


Angelopoulos and Collective

Fredric Jameson
For Stathis Kouvelakis

T he easier way to explain our failure to grant Theo Angelopoulos the

­position he deserves in modern cinema – that he is less theoretically
experimental than Godard or less politically ostentatious than Pasolini we can
grant, but why we fail to love seeing his films more than those of Antonioni
or Fellini remains something of a mystery – clearly lies in the character of
modern Greek history, which is far less familiar than that of the western
European countries. Greece has gone through a collective experience of
which most other modern nations have only known bits and pieces: revolu-
tion, fascism, occupation, civil war, foreign intervention, Western imperial-
ism, exile, parliamentary democracy, military dictatorship and, after the
sixties, a ringside seat at the horrendous violence of the new Balkan wars, with
their flood of refugees recalling Greece’s own refugee experience after being
driven out of Ionia at the end of World War I (I omit the current economic
disaster only because there was no time left for it to show up on Angelopoulos’
registering apparatus).1 The political passions generated by this unique expe-
rience of history were also, no doubt, foreign to a Western public perfectly
willing to accommodate the left-wing sympathies of all the other filmmakers
I have mentioned above, who worked in countries in which class struggle
did not reach a state of outright civil war, except during the various wartime
occupations in which local reactionary ideologies could be somehow masked
by the presence of Nazis and their armies.
There are, however, other reasons for Angelopoulos’ lack of standing in the
West and I will come to them shortly. First we need to sort out the periods
of his work, and the cycles into which they can be divided (he himself pre-
ferred to refer to them as trilogies, an inexact description which seemed useful
mainly for publicity). For the first works – I would count the first six in this
category – centre squarely on the internal Greek situation and in particular,
the dictatorship, the occupation and civil war, and the exile of the losers, the
100  fr e d r i c j am e s o n

communists and the partisans. This period or cycle runs from the Metaxas
dictatorship and the occupation to the end of the Civil War (in which we
can perhaps include the belated return of the exiles – in Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα
[Voyage to Cythera, 1984] – some twenty years later). In the time of their pro-
duction (rather than that of their content) it corresponds to the radical 1970s
(in many countries still part of the 1960s as such) and includes Angelopoulos’
most famous film, Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975), which became for
a time the most legendary cinematic icon of the Left (until it was replaced, for
a non-political age, by his other three and-a-half-hour work, Το Bλέμμα του
Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze), twenty years later in 1995.
After that, it is as though the phenomenon of exile were then by some
well-nigh Hegelian logic transformed into a mediation on everything dialecti-
cal about the border itself: does something end there? Does it merely divide
two distinct spatial and national entities, or does it not slowly under our own
obsessive gaze and that of the camera become a phenomenon in its own right,
distinct from what it bounds, and a space somehow beyond the world itself
even though subject to everything that happens on either side of it? This
middle period of the 1980s, oppressive in its melancholy, then culminates in
an extraordinary work whose title conveys the peculiarity of this space and
this time alike, Το Μετέωρο Βήμα του Πελαργού (The Suspended Step of the
Stork, 1991).
Yet this is also the year in which something happens that shifts the centre
of historical attention from Greece and even from its frontiers to what lies
beyond that border: the Balkan War, the break-up of the ‘former’ Yugoslavia,
an immense and bloody internecine conflict which seems virtually to rep-
licate Greece’s earlier history on a larger scale. At that point, we might say
that Angelopoulos’ cinema becomes Balkan, and that history narrows into
the question of whether Greece is to be counted as a Balkan country or not
(and in the process generates a whole new question and controversy as to
what being Balkan might mean in the first place).2 Ulysses’ Gaze is the result
of this seismic shift, more humanist than historical, I think, and employing
international stars to convey metaphysical messages about life and death, time
and the past. It is a kind of road movie, a genre which would seem to justify
its unabashedly episodic structure, but which will shortly have much to tell us
about Angelopoulos’ space and time, and also about his conception of narra-
tive and of filmmaking (even though we will deal no further with this film in
its own right).
Το Λιβάδι που Δακρύζει (The Weeping Meadow, 2004) then returns to
Greece in a rather retrospective fashion, reprising many of the earlier themes
and episodes as though in a kind of anthology of Angelopoulos’ greatest hits or
finest moments; while Η Σκόνη του Χρόνου (The Dust of Time, 2008) attempts
(unsuccessfully, in my opinion) to break new ground by transferring the
a nge lo po ulo s and co llective n arrative  101

­ aradigm of discontinuous collective temporalities to the drama of individu-

als, still punctuated by history but more after the fashion of news bulletins and
headlines than of qualitatively unique historical situations. It is then on the
earlier of these four periods that we will concentrate here.
After the unfamiliarity of modern Greek history, it has become customary
to speak of these films in two other ways: as somehow motivated by a nostal-
gia for the classicism endemic in this nation state – something probably more
affected by foreigners, from Winckelmann to Lord Byron, from admirers of
the polis to those, like Nietzsche, mesmerised by the cruelties of the tragedies;
and as an idiosyncratic practice of the long take or ‘sequence shot’, something
that immediately classifies him among adepts of a slow cinema from Ozu
to Béla Tarr, even though, as David Thomson perceptively remarks, this
is a filmmaking which is ‘not slow so much as preoccupied with duration’
(Thomson 2002: 22).
One can no doubt enumerate the classical motifs: the first feature film
Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970), retells the story of the Orestia, at the
same time that it has a family likeness with Visconti’s Ossessione (1942), the
ancestor of Italian neo-realism (and one of the many film versions of James
M. Cain’s Postman Always Rings Twice). The same classical matricidal drama
is enacted (as it were ‘in real life’, that is, on the stage) by the actors of The
Travelling Players, whose young hero is in fact named Orestes – ‘for me the
name Orestes is a concept more than a character’, says Angelopoulos, ‘the
concept of the revolution so many dream (sic) of’ – (Demopoulos, Liappas
2001: 18). As for Ο Μεγαλέξανδρος (Megalexandros, 1980), we are told that
the name corresponds not to the classical world-conqueror but to a historical
bandit ‘who exists in popular, anonymous legends and fables’, originating ‘in
1453 under Turkish domination’, and ‘has nothing to do with the classical
Alexander’ (Mitchell [1980] 2001: 28); yet in a sense the classical hero is also
inscribed in this film, in its extraordinary beginning, for its Western audiences
and for the unhappy philhellenes who are his victims, as we shall see later. Yet
if the classical means epic and the monumental, the cliché certainly has its rel-
evance here, and also affords a way of converting this cultural stereotype into
the technical characterisation which so often accompanies it in discussions of
these films.
What unites epic and the nostalgia of antiquity is in fact the very concept
of the episodic on which we have already touched: for the infamous sequence
shot (there are only eighty in the whole of The Travelling Players, the experts
tell us) is necessarily in and of itself episodic, and so is epic as such. Already,
in The Theory of the Novel, Lukács had made a place for the survival of what
he calls ‘minor epic forms’ on into a modernity which disables the epic as the
privileged genre for expressing life; even though he insists on the subjective
contingency of these ‘epic’ enclaves (lyric, the short story, humour), in much
102  fr e d r i c j am e s o n

the same way that we tend to attribute analogous possibilities to something

distinctive and contingent about Angelopoulos himself and his ‘style’:

In the minor epic forms, the subject confronts the object in a more domi-
nant and self-sufficient way. The narrator may (we cannot, nor do we
intend to establish even a tentative system of epic forms here) adopt the
cool and superior demeanour of the chronicler who observes the strange
workings of coincidence as it plays with the destinies of men, meaningless
and destructive to them, revealing and instructive to us; or he may see a
small corner of the world as an ordered flower-garden in the midst of the
boundless, chaotic wastelands of life and, moved by his vision, elevate it
to the status of the sole reality; or he may be moved and impressed by
the strange, profound experiences of an individual and pour them into
the mould of an objectivised destiny; but whatever he does, it is his own
subjectivity that singles out a fragment from the immeasurable infinity of
the events of life, endows it with independent life and allows the whole
from which this fragment has been taken to enter the work only as the
thoughts and feelings of his hero, only as an involuntary continuation of
a fragmentary causal series, only as the mirroring of a reality having its
own separate existence. (Lukács 1971: 50)

The notion of enclaves of modern existence which, unlike the surrounding

contingency of daily life, have their own immanent form and meaning is one
of the great themes of Georg Simmel, who was a fundamental influence on the
work of the young Lukács just as he was on Walter Benjamin. What charac-
terises such enclave forms is their contradictory combination of completeness
and fragmentariness, their only sporadic emergence as a unity of subject and
object, or as Lukács puts it, of essence and life. The fragment as a kind of
whole was, to be sure, one of the crucial discoveries of the Romantics them-
selves, who paired it with their signature notion of Irony; but it was their arch-
enemy, Hegel, who, leaving irony aside, detected this tendency to episodic
form within classical epic itself and as such:

The epic work has to proceed in a way quite different from lyric and
dramatic poetry. The first thing to notice here is the breadth of separated
incidents in which the epic is told. This breadth is grounded in both
the content and form of the epic. We have already seen what a variety
of topics there is in the completely developed epic world, whether these
are connected with the inner powers, impulses, and desires of the spirit
or with the external situation and environment. Since all these aspects
assume the form of objectivity and a real appearance each of them devel-
ops an independent shape, whether inner or outer, within which the poet
a nge lo po ulo s and co llective n arrative  103

may linger in description or portrayal, and the external development of

which he may allow; depths of feeling or assembled and evaporated in the
universals of reflection. Along with objectivity separation is immediately
given, as well as a varied wealth of diverse traits. Even in this respect
in no other kind of poetry but epic is an outside given so much right to
freedom almost up to the point of a seemingly unfettered independence.
(Hegel 1975: 1081)

We are, however, perhaps more familiar with Auerbach’s version of the idea
in the famous account of the Odyssey that opens Mimesis: ‘Homer . . . knows
no background. What he narrates is for the time being the only present and
fills the stage and the reader’s mind completely . . . Homer’s goal is “already
present in every point of his progress . . . the Homeric style knows only a
foreground, only a uniformly illuminated, uniformly objective present”’
(Auerbach 1953: 4–5). Auerbach here seeks to convey the fundamental syntac-
tic opposition – the paratactic versus the hypotactic, which informs the very
structure of Mimesis – in temporal terms; yet this is a time which has become
space as such, a present which has the fullness and completeness of the spatial.
It is not a bad way to pass from literature to film.
For it is precisely in these terms that we can describe what is episodic in
Angelopoulos: the temporal continuity of the long take (or the travelling shot
or the sequence shot, depending on your terminological preference)3 which
however envelops, includes and exhausts, a completed action or episode. Yet
this ‘technique’ does not standardise or render homogenous its variety of con-
tents (as Hegel had already suggested with his observation about ‘the variety
of topics . . . in the completely developed epic world’) (Hegel 1975: 1081).
And this is why we can also sort these out into a variety of, as it were, synoptic
categories, and think of them as themes or even obsessions: recurrent types of
events and forms which might even be catalogued as such.
Most obvious among these set pieces are the dancing and music-making
in cafés, almost always interrupted by armed and authoritarian figures; the
movement back and forth in the narrow streets leading to the central squares
or plazas; demonstrators, sometimes organised, sometimes simply massed,
at others in desperate flight from gunfire or police assault, and occasionally
intersecting in clash or confrontation (and stylised in one of the most famous
episodes of The Travelling Players, in which fascist and communist groups
exchange songs with each other in a kind of ‘signifying’ duet which is also a
duel). Innumerable variations on water – the beaches as some ultimate limit
which is not exactly a border (but becomes one when we have to do with a river
instead of the sea); flotillas, fishing boats and large ocean-faring vessels most
often redolent of the Black Sea, but also the raft on which the lonely couple of
exiles is expelled into the mist (as aged Eskimo parents are said to be retired
104  fr e d r i c j am e s o n

from life) – the maritime and the riverine here echo distant mountains and
rocky pastoral meadows with villages something like natural outgrowths of
both and the more urban streets and squares a wholly distinct kind of space;
these construct a materiality too close up for any names or geographical iden-
tifications except that of Greece itself and, to play on Auerbach’s language, are
far too intertwined with the very quality of the events to be called the mere
This is the moment, then, to open a parenthesis and to underscore the
materialism of Angelopoulos, the passion for the resistance of matter, for the
weight and solidity of the village houses and streets, and above all the texture
of the walls. Its very emblem might be that from the opening of Reconstruction,
in which a bus, whose lumbering movement over the unpatched roads already
serves to explore matter itself and to register its unevenness, is found during a
stop to have ground to a halt in mud; the efforts to release its tyres are them-
selves a kind of reverse allegory of the spectators’ longing, faced with these
mere filmic images, to experience matter more deeply, to be mired in it as in
a Bazinian or Kracauerian transcendental reality itself. The most significant
element in this materiality is the self, which, as an agent of absolute desubjec-
tification, is a passive recipient of the contradictions and the energies of subject
and object in turn; here its material autonomy becomes a positive rather than a
negative or privative feature, and what we are struck by is the intelligence and
the tact of the camera itself, as it tactfully pans around a scene, with decent
interest returning on its steps, looking again, searching, recording. Nor is this
some putative personality trait or subjectivity of Angelopoulos himself: rather,
the camera does this on its own, it wishes to delve, to know more; it can also
be patient and wait; it knows a temporality which is neither that of author
nor characters, a kind of third temporality of its own, capable of sitting out
the time of the world until at length events germinate, unexpectedly, slowly,
things begin to happen – the time of the ancient φύσις (physis), perhaps, so
centrally meditated by Heidegger, a time in which things come into being and
go out of being according to their own internal rhythms (‘according to the
ordinance of time’).
So now this camera patiently lies in wait for a group of people walking down
the narrow streets of a small stone town: it knows these streets, these buildings,
so tirelessly and well, but is somehow never bored by them. We are told that
Angelopoulos spent months travelling around Greece in order to collect the
walls and the buildings he would materially house within the images of The
Travelling Players. The travelling camera, to be sure, sets this materiality in
motion, but within this motion there moves that other fundamental movement
which is the frontal approach of the collective characters themselves: most
emblematically in The Travelling Players with their phalanx of the cast in its
perpetual motion towards us, a procession of traditional women’s black dresses
a nge lo po ulo s and co llective n arrative  105

and the men’s suits and hats, in various sizes but always with the suitcases in
hand and often umbrellas – this is already what I hesitate to call an archetype
owing to unwanted psycho-mythical or Jungian overtones – but it is not yet
even the event, which marks its absent presence by the sudden awakening
of these faces to something beyond the camera and the audience, something
unaccommodated by the shot itself. It is subjective and objective all at once:
we witness the slow transformation of the collective gaze into a stare as it
grows ever more fixed in rapt attention and horror: it is itself the symptom of
the approaching yet nameless object: an approaching police patrol, perhaps, or
the hanged bodies that greet them on the steep approach to a mountain village
in wartime. It is the adaption of reality and of the human gaze to this peculiar
ontological focus which is the contemplative dimension of epic (rather than
the static or scientific ‘objectivity’ of a later science and its measured mental
observations of staged experiments). Nor is this gaze in any way theatrical,
although we will have to come to terms with the theatrical and the dramatic in
Angelopoulos in a moment.
Here, however, it is rather desirable to show how variable these bravura seg-
ments can be, sublimated into allusion or drawn down in the crudest violence
of the shot that rings out and the body that sinks to the ground. This is the
gamut of latency or virtuality, rather than the effects of stylisation; and I take as
the very emblem of that variability the swift concentration of group or crowd
on some central object, multiplicity rapidly uniting into the one, as when, on
the comic level the famished players suddenly converge on a stray chick in the
midst of the snowy waste, or on the tragic one, when the disgruntled followers
of Megalexandros surround him and blot him out, as though tearing him to
pieces like the Bacchae and leaving behind, not bloody limbs, but rather the
marble fragments of a classic statue as they once again disperse, like something
out of Chirico.
So it is that the pure form runs its gamut of possibilities: the border with all
its philosophical paradoxicality suddenly swelling into the river across which
the archetypal Angelopoulos exilic wedding is staged in The Suspended Step of
the Stork (reprised later on in The Weeping Meadow as in a kind of florilegio of
the greatest moments). But what I want to stress here is not only the way in
which each of these episodes or moments, the old Hegelian/Lukácsian unity
of form and content, is achieved (or better still: rediscovered!), but also the
way in which, uniquely on the occasion of these films, a kind of unity of criti-
cal and theoretical discourses is also achieved. Indeed, film offers a privileged
space in which to observe this dilemma of the alternation of the discourse of
interpretation or meaning and that of technique or construction: the choice
between a reading of the content and an analysis of medium or method. The
first ultimately leads us back to history and its convulsions, individual and
collective; the second on towards the camera apparatus, to the equipment
106  fr e d r i c j am e s o n

and above all its mobility, and the distinctive nature of the sequence shots
that follow the action unfolding within them and include everything; in Οι
Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977) ‘we had some sequence shots of seven to eleven
minutes each; consequently there was no room for errors or improvisations.
The slightest mistake meant that we had to start the shot all over again’ (cited
in Casetti [1977] 2001: 23). Angelopoulos’ ‘method’ is thereby the polar oppo-
site of Eisensteinian montage and of Hollywood editing, cutting the images up
and recombining them into a specific narrative sequence. It is far closer to the
Bazinian deep shot (exemplified in Welles), save that it is a deep shot in motion
and results in a single narrative block to be aligned alongside the others; thus,
as has already been observed, there are only eighty such sequence shots which
make up the immense three-and-a-half hour film called The Travelling Players.
This technical approach to cinema – as paradigmatically described by David
Bordwell (Bordwell 1997: 22–4) – then has the added advantage of margin-
alising the interpretive one and expelling it from film studies into a kind of
humanistic and literary no-man’s land, in which endless discussion among
dilettantes about meanings are pursued which have no relevance either to
producers and their distribution (yet another technical but more sociological
‘objective’ area) or to the filmmakers themselves (just as critics are so often
irrelevant for writers).
But it is a rift that is not limited to film studies: it dramatises the subject/
object split which has obsessed philosophy at least since Descartes, and which
leaves its mark on the materialist/idealist debate in political ideology and is
indeed even more deeply inscribed in the daily life of modernity and postmo-
dernity in ‘the question of technology’ and the relationship of capitalism to the
individual subject, of determinism to freedom. The subject/object opposition
is thereby central to aesthetics and the debate over the autonomy of art and its
possible relationship (ideological, subversive, etc.) to the multiple externalities
in which it is embedded. What is important about Angelopoulos – and the
point of reviving an ancient Hegelian notion of epic through which to examine
him – is that here, for one long moment, this opposition is lifted, and to talk
about technique is also here to talk about meaning: the temporality of the
sequence shot is at one with the question of history, or better still, with the
uniqueness of Greek history, which is not modern in the Western sense and
which does not necessarily impose a subject/object alternative on us.
But we have not yet touched on the deeper source of this supersession, in
which form and content are once again, for one last moment, indistinguish-
able in Angelopoulos. This is, to be sure, the age of new waves; but it is not
with the French that the Greek filmmaker has his affinities, despite the film
theory he absorbed in Paris, but rather the Mediterranean and Italian auteurs
and above all with Antonioni and Fellini. To ask ourselves why he is not just
another grand filmmaker of their type is then to penetrate to the very heart of
a nge lo po ulo s and co llective n arrative  107

the matter and to understand why the frequent thefts and borrowings – such
as the great head of Lenin in Ulysses’ Gaze which so insistently recalls the
aerial Christ of La Dolce Vita (1960) – are not mere allusions, mere influence
or simple intertextuality.
Provincialising Europe, someone suggested (Chakrabarty 2007); but it
would have been better to talk about provincialising Western Europe, for it is
the latter that housed a cultural-imperialist centrality only later taken over by
the US. The presence of General Scobie’s occupying army in The Travelling
Players (not to mention the GIs who relay them), the unclassifiability of the
Balkans in our various Western capitalist-historical schemes, not to speak of
the ‘former’ Soviet bloc, ought to be enough to suggest some broader ‘oriental-
ist’ prejudices here, and to alert us to the possibility of some more fundamental
differences, which the much-abused word ‘cultural’ already trivialises.
For what we want to notice in Angelopoulos’ Antonioni side is the absence
of the neuroticism and narcissistic anguish of his heroes, the absence of the
obsession with male impotence which has become a figure for the nation itself.
None of that is to be found in Angelopoulos (at least in his first two periods),
despite the melancholy tone of so many of the images; indeed, it is often diffi-
cult in these works to find an individual protagonist to whom to attribute such
subjectivities in the first place, and this despite the commonality of political
defeat in both countries and the ultimate failure of politics itself and of revolu-
tion. The fact is that the Western political despair in these Italians and their
characters is not political and reflects the absence of politics rather than its
failure. In Angelopoulos even the latter remains political, because it remains
collective and only the collective is truly political. This is what distinguishes
Angelopoulos’ long takes and the envelopment of the characters and their acts
and experiences within them as somehow beyond any traditional subject/
object split: they are not the point-of-view shots of individual subjectivities
but rather a collective dimension in which the individuals exist despite their
individuality and their individual passions. This collective is the extraordinary
lesson that Angelopoulos has to teach us.
In this play of forms and categories, then, and despite the male protago-
nists of La Dolce Vita and 8 ½ as I have said, it would be Fellini to whom we
would normally turn for some exemplary instantiation of the object pole of the
fateful opposition: his great bravura set pieces, indeed, suggest a triumphant
mastery of the image as such which might well account for their euphoria
and their joy at enfranchisement from the subjective and its alienated mis-
eries. And it is certain that we rarely find such joyous formal production in
Angelopoulos: rather the latter’s monumentality, like much of Eisenstein,
lacks the extravagance of the master craftsman’s gestures. For in Angelopoulos
the images are icons rather than symptoms: they have not been formed in the
excess and exultation of the individual creator, but rather proposed in advance
108  fr e d r i c j am e s o n

by reality itself, whose internal forms and unities the camera discovers. So
it is that the yellow-clad electricians mounting their poles at the end of The
Suspended Step of the Stork like the crucified slaves arrayed along the Appian
Way in Spartacus – these extraordinary figures do not make up an image that
means something beyond themselves, whether that be hope, or community,
or simply communication across the borders. They are not symbols, they
do not stand for something else or for concepts, they speak an autonomous
and self-immanent, self-sufficient epic language. And this is why the epic is
episodic as well, an iconic series, a veritable iconostasis in time authenticating
that collective ontology with which Angelopoulos has been able to put us in
contact, however briefly and in whatever alien national history and experience
has opened it.
Still, a final uncertainty remains, and it is that of theatricality as such; for is
not the very possibility of self-exhibition in however neutral and collective a
form necessarily what we call theatrical? And does not the new medium of film
itself, despite the omnipresence of theatre in Angelopoulos’ films, necessarily
rebuke that other, older and very different medium?
Something like this, indeed, is played out in the opening scene of the Voyage
to Cythera, in which the son (Giulio Brogi) seems to be rehearsing a script of
some kind. Indeed, he seems to have before him the whole script, as in a film,
indeed the film we are watching, of his partisan father’s (Manos Katrakis)
return from exile and subsequent disgrace: here a seemingly endless line-up
of elderly male extras waits against the wall (as for an execution), in their dark
suits and hats, who are called to the podium one by one to try out for their
single line in the play: ‘It’s me’! When the director and son leave the building –
a wonderful touch and so characteristic of the way in which Angelopoulos
never gives up, always deploys all the multiple dimensions inherent in his raw
material – he comes out into a crowd of the same extras, each having made his
individual try out and now clustered in the back alleyway of the theatre and the
street in small groups or individually, smoking their cigarettes, as though in
rehearsal and in preparation for the great historical crowds and demonstrations
which will be Angelopoulos’ fundamental event, for which these hopeful non-
professionals are now expectantly waiting, without much hope at all.
An unusual, an unexpected episode: but now son and mother (Dora
Volanaki) set forth for the main event, the ocean liner arriving from Russia,
the lone figure advancing through the waiting room (in the distance), holding
the inevitable, the eternal suitcase, a tall gaunt bearded figure who when he
has drawn close enough to them, still recognisable, recognisable after thirty-
seven years in exile, pronounces the same words, this time definitively (he
gets the part!): Εγώ είμαι! (‘It’s me!’). Is this repetition or the fold? Is it reality
and illusion, or mimesis and the mimesis of mimesis? It is certainly a minor
bravura piece in this film, whose great scene is the aged exile’s dance in the
a nge lo po ulo s and co llective n arrative  109

empty village, in the graveyard of his dead comrades, the traditional Greek
dance, turning on himself with arms outstretched and hands marking these
rhythms: a vision of absolute grief and absolute joy, and of the non-place of
place, the non-time of time. The other is the image of the raft, on which the
expelled exile and his now reconciled and aged spouse are once again sent
out to sea, passing into the mist and into invisibility: death, failure, history,
all transcended and masked, veiled, blotted out by the eternity of mist they
have become.4 Here what is monumental in Angelopoulos – the eidos which
needs no commentary or interpretation, and yet which bears the entire nar-
rative situation within itself, motionless – is revealed to us in all its untimely
The Travelling Players stages theatre as a different kind of repetition, the
popular melodrama the same from village to village, its roles, over identical,
yet spoken by ever younger generations as history passes, taking the older ones
with it.5 The play, however, is ultimately concluded in the course of the film,
the repetition of its well-known opening lines joined by the assassination of the
‘Aegisthus’ figure and ultimately by the death of the protagonist, of the young
lover shot in the person of a British soldier who has by virtue of historical rep-
etition momentarily assumed his place. One would do wrong, I think, to insist
too strongly on the jig-saw-organisation of chronology in this film (whose
action runs from 1939 to 1952): this is not L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last
Year at Marienbad, 1961), the historical movement is palpable enough, despite
a few easily identifiable displacements of episodes out of order; and the famous
opening and concluding scenes and lines – in which the players repeat their
arrival in Aigion but in 1939 rather than 1952 – do not at all suggest some
eternal return, some Viconian or Joycean cycle of history, but rather simply
ask us to review the events, to gather them together in one unique memory,
beyond pathos or tragedy: they ask us, in other words, to think historically
about the nature of this collective destiny by pulling all the episodes together
in a continuity the film itself is unwilling to construct for us. In other words,
they construct a past.
Otherwise it must be said that The Travelling Players is closer to Eisenstein’s
montage of attractions than anything the latter himself ever produced (Strike
[1925] came closest, perhaps). It is a kind of musical, in which each segment
is introduced by the omnipresent accordion and in which there is finally fairly
little dialogue, as though dialogue belonged to some other form or medium,
namely the stage. The internal drama of the film is secured by the integration
of the villain into collectivity itself: ‘Aegisthus’ is necessary for the function
of the troupe, indeed later he holds it together, and this professional solidar-
ity stands in structural contrast with the absolute divisions and polarities of
the political wars themselves. Yet the περιπέτειες (péripéties) of the family
drama are as simple in their conflictual form as those of the external political
110  fr e d r i c j am e s o n

history; and the exchange of these simplicities and their play with each other
is ­obviously required for the reading and intelligibility of a work that covers so
long and complex a period.
But that whole period must be dealt with in a radically different way in
The Hunters, which takes place after the ‘normalisation’ of 1952, that is to
say after the effective victory of the Right and the end of the Civil War. The
events of The Travelling Players are now over and indeed long past (the troupe
itself being dissolved into the rather sentimental reprise of Τοπίο στην Ομίχλη
(Landscape in the Mist, 1988), which is not to say that there cannot be a return
of this repressed. Indeed, if there is anything ‘experimental’ in Angelopoulos
besides the occasionally confusing interpolation of different historical epochs
in The Travelling Players, it is his solution to this problem here, which it
would be truly meretricious to compare to ‘experiments’ like Lars von Trier’s
Dogville (2003). For here there are no genuine flashbacks, but rather moments
in which, as on stage, people and events from other moments in history sud-
denly intrude upon the set and take it over, re-enact their historical roles again
and just as inconspicuously withdraw from this present, in which a group of
profiteers and counterrevolutionaries celebrate New Year’s Eve 1977, thirty
years after the bloody defeat of the Greek left (assisted in that by British
and later on American anti-communist forces). These people – lumpen and
petty bourgeoisie, Zola’s La Fortune des Rougon (The Fortune of the Rougons,
1871), or the Russian oligarchs, or the racists of the Wilmington uprising, the
opportunistic scum who seize the spoils of a victory they have not themselves
The fly in this celebration’s ointment is discovered in the bravura opening
of the film, in which a group of hunters is glimpsed across an expanse of snow,
approaching slowly, and then beginning to run as a mysterious object – a black
speck in the white blankness – is sighted. I see a black which is not in nature!
cried Cézanne, as his party searched for a lady’s lost umbrella. This particular
spot is ‘not in nature’ in a far more decisive and prodigious way: we may not
call it embodied guilt, for these characters feel none, but rather the very past
itself, and lost opportunities, alternative possibilities, searing memories and
(for the others) the experience of defeat, all here rise inexplicably to the surface
and rematerialise.
Thus we observe a snowy waste, immense across the wide screen: dark
figures slowly appear on it, scattered out widely, slowly advancing from over
a great distance. They are hunters, and the camera bides its time, as though it
knows how laborious it is for boots to disengage themselves in snowfall; but
with the certainty that an event is worth waiting for. The viewer has more dif-
ficulty isolating the exact moment of transition between a leisurely approach
and the quickened pace whereby, unevenly, some sighting it before others, the
hunters begin to converge on a dark place on the snow hitherto unidentified.
a nge lo po ulo s and co llective n arrative  111

This also takes time, but it is now the temporality of excitement, of anticipa-
tion, of awakened curiosity: for these people too, an event, something unusual
is about to happen. The viewer of The Hunters already knows what it is: the
dead body of a partisan in the snow in this pacified Greece where even live
partisans have not been sighted for twenty years.
‘But they are extinct,’ cries one of the party-going hunters; and indeed this
corpse will lie in the midst of the festivities throughout, a living reproach, one
is tempted to say, for which the only feasible answer is to rebury it, to sink it
out of sight as deeply as possible, and out of mind. But this conclusion will
not pre-empt the inevitable imaginary ‘scène à faire’, in which the partisan
returns to life and with his equally long-dead (or exiled) comrades executes the
whole lot of these execrable victors. The technique is then a dramatic rather
than a filmic one, and perhaps more redolent of O’Neill than of Brecht: as the
memory scenes commence, the remembered actors, oppressors and victims
alike, slowly reinvade this festive space, whose ‘real’ and current, living inhab-
itants step quietly back out of the way in order to let the past for a moment
revive (in historic moments of revolt or repression whose dates are vividly
burned into the memories of the living, if not of the non-Greek audience).
The occasion is a police inquest on this peculiar corpus delicti, if it is one, before
the pleasure boat bearing the New Year’s Eve guests and notables arrives at the
dock below. Yet it is the locale itself which has ominously enough stirred this
political and historical visitation of ghosts, inasmuch as it used to be a partisan
headquarters, bought for a song after the defeat by one of the more ignomini-
ous and active conspirators.

Figure 6.1 Megalexandros

112  fr e d r i c j am e s o n

New Year’s Day arrives in another form in Megalexandros, at the very

beginning of the new century (this time the twentieth), in which a group of
supercilious British hellenophiles, disgusted to find that their Athenian hosts
do not even know Homeric Greek, set out to witness the new dawn from a
Byronic vantage point. Their toast to History is, alas, singularly mistimed: for
in one of the most remarkable emergences in all of cinema – and emergence,
apparition, surgissement, was for Adorno one of the crucial categories of art
itself – their view out over the bay is abruptly interrupted by an apparition,
as though ancient Greece itself rises up from out of the depths of a shallow
modernity: the crest and ‘waving feathers’ (Homer) of an antique helmet, then
the whole body of the warrior as it is lifted on its heroic steed: Megalexandros
himself as he mounts out of History into a present in which the philhellene
tourists are to be taken hostage and condemned to a miserable confinement
and then to death. This is the eponymous Alexander the Great, a rebel who has
collected an entire army of the dispossessed and the disenfranchised around
him to stage a powerful and alarming revolt against the legal regime, itself
in the meantime idly celebrating the New Year in its palaces in the capital.
Angelopoulos seems here to renounce his earlier radicalism, for this false
Alexander, this deranged imposter, who has an entire village in his thrall, is
by the end of the film denounced as such and in another memorable moment,
surrounded by the populace, and metamorphosed into a broken statue; but not
before he has resuscitated ancient Greece and modern revolution before our
very eyes.

I am greatly indebted to Andrew Horton’s collection, (ed), The Last Modernist: the Films
of Theo Angelopoulos (Trowbridge: Flicks, 1997), as to Horton’s work on the filmmaker in
general; and also to Dan Dainaru’s collection of Angelopoulos: Interviews (Jackson: University
Press of Mississippi, 2001). I should add that a first version of the present essay appeared in
Horton’s collection.
1. It would have been central to his unfinished film, H Άλλη Θάλασσα (The Other Sea).
2. See, for example, Todorova (1997) and Bjelic, Savic (2002).
3. For a thorough technical discussion of Angelopoulos’ work, see David Bordwell’s essay in
Horton’s collection. For a later version of this essay see Bordwell (2005).
4. I do not wish to estimate the role of a different kind of politics in this first of Angelopoulos’
allegedly post-revolutionary films. Despite powerful political moments, such as the refusal
of the returned exile of Voyage to surrender his part of the village common lands for a
shopping centre, this is now always a politics that confronts international consumerism, the
market, universal Americanisation, as its target, and not fascism or anti-communism. The
penetration of the market at home, then, its corrosive effect on the immemorial lifeways of
the village, make of everyone an exile; yet the category (seemingly archaic in the immense
population transfers and multinationality of the new world system) in fact awaits its
a nge lo po ulo s and co llective n arrative  113

genuine content for another ten years, until the upheaval of the Yugoslav civil wars allows
Angelopoulos to transfer his new forms onto a fundamentally modified and enlarged
dimension which it would be ironic indeed to call ‘post-national’ space, but which is
certainly already that of the world system.
5. Nor should we neglect to mention the implicit theatricality of his first film, significantly
entitled Reconstruction, a word which is also used for the re-enactment in situ of the crime
in many European juridical systems.

Theo Angelopoulos’ Early Films

and the Demystification of Power
Vrasidas Karalis


T heo Angelopoulos’ trilogy of History consists of Μέρες του ’36 (Days

of ’36, 1972), Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975) and Οι Κυνηγοί
(The Hunters, 1977). In Ο Μεγαλέξανδρος (Megalexandros, 1980), the last
film of this period, Angelopoulos adopts the idea of representation not as a
reconstruction of things past but as the visualisation of their ability to lose
their historicity and be transformed into legends and epic tales. Some scholars
(see Bordwell 2005: 143) and the editors of this book consider the film to be
the logical offspring of the aforementioned films and they see it as an addi-
tion to the trilogy of history, which they have renamed as historical tetralogy.
No matter which classification one uses, this trilogy of films is one of the
most radical ‘political’ interventions attempted within the established visual
poetics of World Cinema. Both historically and culturally, these films were
produced at the beginning and the end of a period of extreme experimentation
with visual representation, becoming in their own distinct ways meditations
on the limits of representability, on the function of cinematic images, and
on the visualisation of collective memory. Because of this visual testimony,
Angelopoulos’ work can be seen as the emblematic turning point from a his-
toric epoch of grand revolutionary projects, as culminating in the 1968 global
rebellions, to the new era of diminished expectations and frustrated projects,
with the gradual revival and domination of conservativism after 1979. ‘Tout
est politique’ was the slogan that inspired a whole generation of filmmakers in
France, the USA, the UK, Italy and Greece during that decade; the phrase
‘implied an analysis of the situation presented, while it also altered approaches
to the representation of history and even the relation established between
spectator and representation in the historical film’ (Smith 2005: 13). Indeed
in cinema it led to a series of historical films that re-envisioned the past and
ea r l y fi l ms and the de m ys tif ication of power  115

re-imagined its codes of representation, constructing an oppositional aesthetic

of contestation and negation. By contrast, official ‘history’ was seen as ‘a self-
justifying myth’ (Hobsbawm 1997: 36) after its ideological appropriation by
the dominant political order. ‘Il faut se penser historiquement’ (you have to
think historically) was another singular position of the period after May 1968,
‘originating in the theories of Brecht’ while at the same time searching ‘for a
suitable method for rendering a politically relevant account of everyday life’
(Smith 2005: 171). Angelopoulos’ revisionist approach against mythologised
history was also part of the general intellectual tendency of the period to use
structuralism as the conceptual framework for the reinterpretation of history,
historicity and historical agency. Through Althusserian structuralism, the
cinematic image itself was understood as encapsulating a ‘collective subject’
since the individual was not simply a person but also a bearer of structures, a
conduit of ideological apparatuses, without the legendary freedom attributed
to the individual by Jean Paul Sartre’s existential pronouncements. It was also
perceived as an ‘ideological apparatus’ that reproduced the existing political
order by mirroring the prevailing relations of power and by ‘the interpellating
of “individuals” as subjects’ while ‘subjecting them to the Subject’ (Althusser
[1995] 2014: 268).
For Angelopoulos, history was ‘conquered’ by the official ideology of
power, of the ‘fascist state,’ which used ‘old texts that no one understood to
justify their positions’ (cited in Gregor [1973] 2001: 14). History belonged to
the oppressor, to the dynastic oligarchies, and to the anti-political elites who
construct ‘national identity’ by articulating ‘national narratives that restruc-
ture the experience of time’ (Liakos 2002: 28). So his films, despite their his-
torical specificity in the context of their production, contested history as the
justifying discourse of power and authority, and critically recentred crucial
elements of historical knowledge in order to offer a new critical language of
how power functions in the public sphere and on the mental construction of
contemporary subjectivity.
Angelopoulos’ historical trilogy articulated an integrated vision of how
structures and institutions work together to deprive contemporary citizens
of their agency and self-determination. Released between 1972 and 1977, the
trilogy also coincided with a turbulent period in Greece, starting with the dic-
tatorship of 1967, the student uprising of November 1973, the counter-coup
of the same year, the Greek intervention in Cyprus which led to the Turkish
invasion of the island, the fall of the dictatorship and the restoration of the
Republic in 1974. It could be claimed that it encapsulates the profound fluid-
ity, instability and restlessness that dominated Greek politics between 1974
and 1977, the year after which the re-establishment and reconstruction of the
state apparatuses were completed as new power elites took over the politi-
cal institutions and constructed new epistemic discourses about identity and
116  v r a s i d as karalis

belonging that were to dominate the political discourse and the national cul-
tural imaginary until today. It also indicated the universal relocation of politi-
cal allegiances from the right to the left in the country, as the dictatorship ‘led
the young people to the left and shook the foundations of the pro-western ori-
entation of the country, marginalising the old ideologies of anti-communism
and nationalism’ (Baloukos 2011: 40).
The central unfolding theme of the trilogy is the nature of politi-
cal power  and how it exercises its control, not only on the creation of
history but also over the representation and remembrance of historical experi-
ence. Angelopoulos dealt with this issue in a deconstructive manner, refocus-
ing the camera to capture ‘history from below’ and depicting social reality as
an  episteme based on the mystifying authority of a privileged class, which
controls the production of knowledge, the rational definition of subjectivity,
the social and cultural imaginary and finally the parameters of meaningful
social action. In the films, micro-history is effectively superimposed upon
macro-history, foregrounding the narratives of the disenfranchised, the mar-
ginalised and the subaltern, the minority within the minority, the politically
homeless and the citizen without rights – a citizen who is always an actor on
a stage and not an agent of participation and action in the political sphere. ‘I
used an existing formula,’ Angelopoulos said talking about The Travelling
Players, ‘father, son, mother, lover, their children . . . power . . . murder’
(cited in Demopoulos, Liappas [1974] 2001: 17). The connection between
power and murder takes in the trilogy its most powerful and unambiguous
Stylistically, the central problematic in the films was focused on a revision-
ist approach to the dominant codes of representing time, class and power.
Angelopoulos articulated a radical interrogation of power, time and history
but in a political manner, not as melodrama, thriller, or period film, but as the
visual intervention into political awareness, class consciousness and discursive
subjectivity. And despite the fact that these films are about Greek history, it is
obvious that they are about history in general in its universal significance as the
symbolic code that gives identity, sense of belonging and political awareness to
spectators. Indeed, the viewer does not have to know much about the particu-
lars of Greek history in order to appreciate what Angelopoulos was doing with
these films. If the storyline is about Greek politics, the narrative structures
and the visual construction of the films belong to transcultural and trans-
national codes of representation which can trace their lineage in the French
New Wave, the Brazilian Cinema Novo, the Italian cinema of the 1960s, the
new American Cinema of the late 1960s and 1970s, even the older tradition of
Soviet cinema, especially of Alexander Dovhzenko and Mikhail Kalatozov. On
the other hand, in order to avoid the false perception of naturalism and veri-
similitude, the films interfuse narrative strategies and visual formations which
ea r l y fi l ms and the de m ys tif ication of power  117

are ­heterogeneous and somehow in conflict with each other: there is a strange
melange of symbolism and hyperrealism.
Furthermore, almost forty years later the films still frame a unique experi-
mental phase in World Cinema that followed the events of May 1968 together
with the disillusion that most left-wing intellectuals felt after the Soviet inva-
sion in Czechoslovakia. Angelopoulos tried to frame images and signs that
resist all forms of oedipal identifications and all patterns of hegemonic struc-
turation. The heterogeneity of their style is located in all levels of filmic articu-
lation: the mise en scène, the spatio-temporal continuum, the narrative plot,
the psychological investment, as well as the acting style. Consequently, every
film of the trilogy is about a different cinematic concept embodying a distinct
conceptualisation of the cinematic medium and its function.
The emblematic critical text of the period was John Berger’s Ways of Seeing
(1972), which indicated the constructed, almost fabricated, view of reality in
the era of technological modernity comprising the ‘mechanical reproduction’
of all works of art. Berger’s idea that what we see is conditioned by the way we
see it accounts for the central function of images in the modern world. ‘They
mystify rather than clarify’ as Berger points out since ‘a privileged minor-
ity is striving to invent a history which can retrospectively justify the role of
the ruling class, and such a justification can no longer make sense in modern
terms. And so, inevitably, it mystifies’ (1972: 11). Berger concludes that
‘Mystification has little to do with the vocabulary used. Mystification is the
process of explaining away what might otherwise be evident’ (1972: 15–16).
Such ideas were on the semantic horizon when Angelopoulos’ visual projects
started taking shape: the rejection of old commercial cinema happened because
it mystified the obvious event of a collective murder committed both in the
past and re-enacted in the present. Yet, in order to expose this mystification
Angelopoulos created new pictorial possibilities in the script, the spatial visu-
alisations, the chromatic scales and the mise en scène.
However, if on the one hand, representation itself was under question, the
temporality encoded within its narrative faced equal scrutiny. Angelopoulos
avoided both linear and non-linear configurations of temporality, the causal
narrative of the Hollywood tradition and the dislocated narrative of experi-
mental cinema, and even the plot-less amplitude of documentaries, which he
tried hard both to refute and to emulate in his later films. Indeed the central
focus of this trilogy was to de-contextualise symbols and signs in order to
make them regain their historical specificity and objectivity – to de-ideologise
history, memory and politics by re-imagining their potential for visual rep-
resentation. In his second period, starting with Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage
to Cythera, 1984), a new critical and rather antithetical style was gradually
formed, which replaced his previous experimentation with space and time to
foreground colour and mood.
118  v r a s i d as karalis

If with his first feature film Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970) Angelopoulos
revisited the possibilities of silent black and white movies, with his next films
he explored the pragmatics of pictorial space without the psychological strate-
gies of dramatic realism or the naturalistic excess of historical epics. Vassilis
Rafailidis aptly described Reconstruction as ‘an open hole in the walls of myth,
through which for the first time in the history of Greek cinema, we can see
a specific place, determined by the coordinates of a definite time’ (Rafailidis
2003: 8). Pictorial minimalism was his ultimate choice for this film in which
the director avoided any sentimental psychologisation or individualistic points
of view in order to foreground the specificity of space and time. The actors are
morphological markers, ‘mythemes’ in the unfolding of a narrative that encap-
sulated collective experiences and identities. Action is choreographed and
stylised: the viewer could empathise with the predicament of the murderer but
at the same time feel the gravity of the crime. The victim is present through its
photographic traces – its social traces left behind and re-enacted by the police,
the attorney, and the intrusive journalists.
The returning father is an illusion and a reality, an annoying presence
from the outer world and an active trace of a lost world that has no place
anymore within the ongoing drama of contemporary reality. His ‘story’ is
infused with invisible institutions and the flowing signifiers of power. The
viewer’s response to this day is ambivalent: instead of empathising, viewers
feel compelled to de-empathise and yet they can understand the actions of the
character. Angelopoulos does de-psychologise but does not de-dramatise his
plots: dramatic tension suffuses images as they depict non-empathic, almost
dissociative, states of being.
Such structural ambivalence becomes the hallmark of Angelopoulos’ early
films. Days of ’36 is probably the most antinomic film in the Angelopoulos
canon: it follows a linear pattern and unfolds a classical narrative, enveloped
by prologue and epilogue and punctuated by two interludes. Furthermore,
an important element observed by Stathis Baloukos is that Sofianos (Costas
Pavlou), the character who moves the story onwards, is never seen: he is heard
talking and giggling but he is never actually visible (2011: 77). This is a unique
feature of the film, as Angelopoulos wants to avoid all forms of character devel-
opment, psychological intensity and dramatic action. The drama is not in the
room: it is the room itself; it is therefore about space and the memories of the
past it entails. Space becomes a dramatic presence in the film, as ‘the closed
room’ becomes a metaphor for the unspoken secrets, the silent interactions
and the absent political freedom.
With The Travelling Players, however, the agenda was different again.
Drawing from his previous films, Angelopoulos proceeds with his most ambi-
ea r l y fi l ms and the de m ys tif ication of power  119

Figure 7.1 Days of ’36

tious Brechtian project: to represent a collective drama, as a communal crea-

tion, as an action beyond the will of the individuals that created it. Narrative
was the most important target of his visual strategies. Narrative cinema had
created, imposed and propagated illusory identities, which spectators had
internalised and accepted as parameters of their own consciousness and social
positioning. Jean-Luc Godard was one of the first cinematographers to expose
the director not being in control of the narrative of the established order, and
as the main contributor to the propagation of its latent ideology. If the director
wanted to present history from the point of the oppressed then he or she had to
extract him or herself from the storyline: the story had to be collective, written
by collective action and performed by collective activity. The constant attempt
to eliminate the plethoric sentimentalism of traditional Hollywood heroes but
also the nihilistic destructiveness of existentialist anti-heroes was the ultimate
postulate of Angelopoulos’ camera in his next films. The Travelling Players,
despite its anti-Eisensteinian style, is closer to Eisenstein’s cinema of the
masses, as in The Battleship Potemkin (1925) and his Mexican Fantasy, Que
Viva Mexico (1930), as well as to Mikhail Kalatozov’s Soy Cuba (I am Cuba,
1964). No individual heroes are found, actually no heroic or romantic deeds
are recorded. The whole film develops its plot by discarding all known con-
ventions that are found in historical epics or other genres involving historical
reconstruction, such as individualistic flashbacks or even naturalistic costumes
and settings that could give the illusion of authenticity.
In a way, although rejecting the plethoric rhetoric of the montage,
Angelopoulos still employs the rhythmic visual patterns as produced by the
120  v r a s i d as karalis

Kuleshov effect. He further adds the new dimension of the simultaneous

coexistence of divergent stimuli within the same frame as seen by incongruous
details – something is always ‘wrong’ in the setting or something always goes
‘wrong’ in the story. Angelopoulos is the master of detail, indeed of the asym-
metrical detail, which gives the impression of awkwardness, (the Nazi flags in
The Travelling Players, for example, are almost always upside down) but these
details intentionally stand as an indirect comment on the action; they are visual
markers of the defamiliarisation techniques employed to point out the irregu-
larities and the anomalies within the frame. Instead of faithfully reconstructing
an era, the spatial arrangement itself indicates that this is another stage, a play
within a play within a play, thus creating a multi-layered narrative based on
three different levels of existence: the myth of Oresteia which pervades the
narrative; the bucolic play Golfo, which is performed by the travelling players;
and the historical reality witnessed by the group of actors throughout the film;
and finally the contemporary viewer who watches the panorama of events as
palimpsestic experience.
In Days of ’36 the construction of the frame follows geometrical linear-
ity of uncurving spatial arrangements distinct for their strict symmetry and
stark specificity, reminiscent of Bernardo Bertolucci’s Il Conformista (The
Conformist, 1970) and indeed of futurist and cubist art which appeared also
in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975). In the film,
Angelopoulos depicts the authoritarian structures of an invisible yet omni-
present power through straight lines, rectangular shapes and depthless spaces.
The domination over the public sphere is visualised through the surveillance
of quantifiable spaces – everything is out to be seen, to be controlled, whereas
the crime takes place behind closed doors and nobody can see it. Angelopoulos

I inscribed censorship as an aesthetical element in the films, as indirect

speech. All important things are not expressed in this film; they are only
heard as whispers, low voices on the phone; as glances, conspiratorial
silences, this and that. The story of the film seems to be confined within
a cell; the whole film seems to be confined within a cell as the theme itself
of the film. (cited in Baloukos 2011:75)

The film is a complex parable on the permeability of the public sphere by the
absent masters – a theme that can be found in the most important films of
the period, including Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (1971) Francis
Ford Coppola’s Godfather (1972) and Bertolucci’s 1900 (1976). Movements of
actors take place as parallel lines to the movement of the camera. The camera
itself does not reveal the event: it moves away or around the core happening –
the abduction of the politician and its seclusion in the isolation of a central
ea r l y fi l ms and the de m ys tif ication of power  121

office and what happens inside that space. The collective silence is about the
invisibility of the actual drama, or indeed about the sinister events that take
place within the confined corridors of the state prison (recalling the ancient
Greek tragedy’s offstage plot device).
In a sense the first film of the trilogy paves the way for the second,
although with The Travelling Players, the confined room is transformed into
a polyphonic stage, out in the open, without confines or isolated locations:
horizon becomes one of the most active presences in the cinematic frame.
Even when scenes take place in closed private rooms, the camera looks from
the outside; what matters however is not the distinction between the inner
and outer, private and public space, but the intense energy within spatiality,
the open distance which links one form and another. The film is primarily
about space and its potentialities, as the locus of public activity and of human
encounters. The market place, the ancient agora, is the place of the political
and therefore the political is the absolute abode of the collective. This dialec-
tic of the open space dominates the mise en scène, the performable activities,
and the dialogue, as the network of communicative activities renders action
meaningful. The Travelling Players transforms history into a monumental
theatrical performance, in which the actors do not have any agency or self-
consciousness as they are carried away by the incomprehensible torrents of
history. In this respect, the film is the tale of the common men and women
who are taken adrift by forces beyond their control without perspective and
orientation. These common characters live in an eternal now, in the sim-
ultaneity of unconscious existence, unable to escape the circular universe
of their heteronomous lives. It is therefore about people without qualities,
lost amidst monumental events that they don’t understand and cannot make
sense of. This can be seen in the unpredictable way that Angelopoulos moves
the characters; despite the underlying ancient Greek myth, the film was to a
certain degree improvised in its execution (Soldatos 2004: 165), with all cast
members and technicians contributing to its creation. Despite the auteur
legend about him, this is a collective product about collective subjectivities
and unseen structural forces that make them look like puppets without indi-
vidual conscience.
Consequently, the film is about the one-dimensional space of the heter-
onomous subject. Even the mythic structure of Oresteia functions as another
layer of domination: history eternalises the inability of individuals to be active
agents. They are governed and over-determined not simply by class and poli-
tics but also by the historical discourses defining their position. On the other
hand, the family saga is also another tale about crime without retribution;
the Freudian background, through the recurring subtexts of incest, which
would have offered the cathartic resolution to the psychological entangle-
ments of repressed desires, is totally absent from the narrative. In this work,
122  v r a s i d as karalis

Angelopoulos consummated what had been delineated in his previous films: he

de-psychologised individual characters. The actors act out metonymies for col-
lective structures, the symbolic orders that have created them. Angelopoulos
does not address questions of internalisation or ‘false consciousness’ or indeed
of the processes that de-personalise the individual. He takes them for granted,
and this is the true tragedy of the individual. The film is the story of the
common people, the people without a voice, who struggle to articulate their
presence in opposition to the disempowering structures that subjugate them
by fighting against their own conditioning.
Both films were made during a turbulent period in European history and
in the history of the film industry. The collapse of the studio system together
with its artificial codes of representation liberated filmmaking from the insti-
tutional confines and the self-censorship of its production protocols. With
Reconstruction Angelopoulos seemed to have reinvented cinematic filming:
amateur (mainly) actors, minimal script, location shooting, lack of montage,
almost non-existent editing, minimalistic manipulation of the spectator’s eye;
all of these are stylistic elements that simply made the filmic text an open space
in which what could not be said or seen became very obvious in its absence.
This became possible also because of the gradual collapse of the studio system.
The new films of the period were in reality independent productions, funded
by friends and associates, without the involvement of the state and its bureau-
cratic mechanisms of control over the script, distribution or even the choice
of actors. In his case also, we must remember the emergence since the late
1960s of an active and robust critical community grouped together around
the journal Σύγχρονος Κινηματογράφος/Contemporary Cinema (1969–73 and
1974–80), which created an intense exchange of ideas and inaugurated mul-
tiple cultural conversations that reshaped the critical discourse about films.
The journal was probably the first ever truly modernist project in the cultural
history of Greece, by politicising the cultural discourse around films and
by de-aestheticising all forms of critical evaluation, following the line of the
French Cahier du Cinéma, especially during the militant Marxist period which
called for ‘cinemas of revolution’ (see Bickerton 2009: 54). Marxism became
the ultimate code of interpretation both in its theoretical presuppositions and
its political implications.
As pointed out by Maria Chalkou in the first chapter of this book, the films
produced by the New Greek Cinema of the early 1970s and especially The
Travelling Players culminated the intensity and the energy of these conversa-
tions (or indeed conflicts) and established the visual analogue of a critical re-
assessment of the cinematic languages and genres that had prevailed in Greek
cinema in this post-war period. The open visuality of this film transformed the
screen into a borderless space in which all demarcation lines between genres,
visual perceptions and narrative practices collapsed. If one of the central
ea r l y fi l ms and the de m ys tif ication of power  123

postulates of the journal was according to Takis Papagiannidis ‘to employ all
means as weapons for the elevation of the cinematic situation in our country,’
(cited in Soldatos 2004: 105) it seems that it found its most accurate ‘didactic
analogue’ in Angelopoulos’ ‘people’s epic’.
Angelopoulos depicted the stories of persecuted and dispossessed people by
turning inside out the techniques of established genres that have been infused
by the symbolic content of the dominant political order. As Peter Wollen
stated, in another emblematic text of the same period:

A text is a material object whose significance is determined not by a code

external to it, mechanically, not organically as a symbolic whole, but
through its own interrogation of its own code. It is only through such
an interrogation, through such an interior dialogue between signal and
code, that a text can produce spaces within meaning, within the oth-
erwise rigid straitjacket of the message, to produce a meaning of a new
kind, generated within the text itself. (1972: 162)

For Angelopoulos, the production of a self-reflexive object was contingent on

the avoidance of the generic conventions of the commercial cinema, and on
reconfiguring the continuum between space and time. He thus articulated a
new cinematic representation of human subjectivity and historical agency in
its historical unfolding, which became one of his emblematic contributions
to transnational cinema, as it can be seen in films as diverse as Sergio Leone’s
Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Terence Davies’ Distant Voices, Still
Lives (1988) and even Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002).
The thrust of historical narrative in the film moves in simultaneous cir-
cularity, or as if action takes place in circular patterns superimposed on each
other. The camera sees through these circular patterns, finding structural
homologies between them that ultimately form collective memory. Time in
these films has a tendency to spiral: it moves backwards and forwards simulta-
neously in a rhythmic pattern of regular alternations. The depiction of a direc-
tionless historical movement frames a perception of time almost of Proustian
simultaneity and confluence. The temporal perception on the screen is focused
on the ‘interminable present’, which cinematically works with ‘open frames’
and ‘complementary layers’ of visual discourses. Ultimately, The Travelling
Players is not simply about history or historical narratives; it is a film about
filming, whose subject matter is reconfigured in order to bring out the silences
of history, the absences in the real and the missing link of historicity, but all of
them as cinematic testimonies to the absences, the silences and the omissions
of the screen itself.
Angelopoulos insisted that it was a film predominately about the ‘common
people’ whose collective identity makes the film ‘more than anything else
124  v r a s i d as karalis

epic and not a film of critical historical analysis’ (cited in Soldatos 2004: 165).
Angelopoulos also insisted that the style was as important as the historical
realities referred to, as he stated:

Basically the film is constructed around the concept of long take

[sequence shot] on interrupted shot with multiple actions inserted
between static frames, which are the narratives takes. I was interested in
creating a sense of fluidity throughout the whole film, which shouldn’t be
always visible. (cited in Soldatos 2004: 165)

In reality, despite their apparent discontinuity each scene refers to the

previous one, creating a complex narrative, which is self-reflexive and con-
tinuous at the same time. In this respect, the film articulates a historical
counter-discourse, both negative and positive, on the one hand dismantling
an established ­representational schema, and on the other constructing an anti-
representational style. In Pierre Norra’s terms, the film itself becomes one
‘lieux de mémoire’ or site of memory, in which visible history becomes invis-
ible since memory, both collective and individual, confronts the established
patterns of understanding, transforming thus the filmic text ‘from a history
sought in the continuity of memory to a memory cast in the discontinuity of
history’ (Nora 1989: 17).


Drawing from Robert A. Rosenstone’s suggestion that ‘the directors make
the past meaningful in at least three different ways – they create works that
vision, contest and revision history’ (Rosenstone 2006: 118), we could claim that
Angelopoulos revises historical knowledge by re-centring the cinematic nar-
rative on collective action instead of insisting on the traditional perception of
political events as grand drama involving charismatic individuals in conflict
with superior historical forces. Andrew Horton is more to the point and states

Angelopoulos’ concern in this, Greece’s most ambitious, most experi-

mental, and most expensive film made until 1975, is with a journey into
‘the other Greece,’ historically and culturally through time. More accu-
rately, Angelopoulos is at pains to make the viewer aware to what degree
history and culture are figments of presentation and enactments of
‘scripts’ written and unwritten, remembered and forgotten, which con-
tinually reappear in reconstructions that echo the past yet point toward a
future, uncertain as it may be. (1997: 102)
ea r l y fi l ms and the de m ys tif ication of power  125

Indeed Angelopoulos in this film posits the question and the problematic of
representability and, if we may borrow a neologism from information theory,
of reconstructability of history. The multiple versions of the past form a set of
theories that has to be synthesised in order to produce a convincing picture for
the contemporary individual. Angelopoulos re-synthesises the given represen-
tations by redirecting the viewer’s attention towards the silences of history,
the gaps and the lacunae: he uses the theatrical stage as his distinct device in
order to produce a non-linear narrative that would contradict the established
symbolic hierarchy of perspectives.
The theatrical metaphor permeates all three films, especially The Travelling
Players and The Hunters, as all action takes place in front of a stage or on the
stage itself. In The Hunters, the stage brings together individuals with col-
lective memory. The Brechtian techniques of defamiliarisation and distan-
ciation do not simply indicate that there are invisible mediations between the
story-message and the medium-form. Angelopoulos uses Brecht’s distinction
between the different functions of dramatic and epic theatre and employs
most of the characteristics of the latter in order to re-centre his narrative: he
‘turns spectators into observers’, he constructs a ‘world picture’, he compiles
‘an argument’; and finally he presents human nature as ‘a process’ and the
individual as a ‘social being’ whose sociability determines both its thought and
existence (Brecht 2014: 65). So in order to depict both the social and the indi-
vidual as processes, Angelopoulos adopts Brecht’s admonition that ‘all motiva-
tion within a character is excluded’ and ‘the person is seen from the outside’
(Brecht [1932] 2001: 162). For this reason, following Brecht again, he insists on
the pictorial surface on the screen as ‘what the film really demands is external
action and not introspective psychology’; because of such externality films are
appropriate for ‘the principles of non-Aristotelian drama’ and the creation of
‘a type of drama not depending on empathy, mimesis’ (Brecht [1932] 2001:
171). In an interview, Angelopoulos stated that ‘what I was trying to achieve
is a kind of Brechtian epic, where no psychological interpretation is necessary’
(cited in Demopoulos, Liappas [1974] (2001): 18). By taking the psychological
dimension out of each character, their forms and actions visualise what they
unconsciously represented: structures and forces within an ideological system
of oppression and coercion. The common people were thus the site of histori-
cal oblivion, of dark personal memory, without symbolic references. We must
not forget that the film was made during the colonels’ junta (1967–74) and
Angelopoulos insisted time and again that the film was ‘a popular epic much
more than an analysis of recent Greek history’ (cited in Demopoulos, Liappas
[1974] (2001): 19).
From Brecht Angelopoulos adopts the idea of filmic representation as a
plastic visual field, exploring a phenomenological understanding of cinematic
form, by avoiding all psychologisation of characters which might have led to
126  v r a s i d as karalis

forms of Hollywood individualism. The ‘common people’ had to be repre-

sented in their commonness and banality, as being pushed by historical forces
and controlled by pernicious mechanisms of power. The common people are
the dramatic subjects and the problem of the film: indeed the problematic
of the little person who has given up her or his agency in order to conform
with the grand narratives of the nation as defined by power, is probably the
most subversive element in the film, which led to its tacit rejection by the
Greek Communist Party. It is interesting that the film ends with verses of
the most important anarchist poet of post-war Greece, Mihalis Katsaros, and
this quotation indicated another subtext within the complex layers of invisible
­references (see Karalis 2012: 179).
Such new understanding of space foregrounds basic geometries of forms
and shapes which find their ultimate consummation in The Hunters. Vassilis
Rafailidis thought of this film as the ‘peak of Greek cinema’ that

has no relation to the smooth and without sharp edges problematic of The
Travelling Players. [. . .] As it doesn’t have an formal relation with it: here
Angelopoulos rejects the scholastic beautification (which unfortunately
was the main reason why he became so well-known) and the soothing
calligraphy of ideology and through a detailed work of abstracting all
superfluous decorations, the historical symbol regains its consummate
and concrete meaning, which leaves no margins for misinterpretations
and multiple readings of the filmic text. (Rafailidis 2003: 20)

Rafailidis was one of the most authoritative critics on Angelopoulos’ films,

as they worked together since 1965, and one could even claim that they
planned together the orientations of the New Greek Cinema. In a conversation
between them from 1969, they outlined what they called ‘national expres-
sion’ by ‘making movies which constitute testimonies on a specific space’
(Angelopoulos cited in Rafailidis 2003: 153).
Dan Georgakas stressed that ‘The Travelling Players may be thought as a
meditation with three dimensions: history, myth, and aesthetics. The viewer
is constantly invited to alternate between emotional engagement and intel-
lectual analysis’ (1997: 32). In The Hunters, intellectual analysis prevails as the
director employs the most Brecthian techniques in the mise en scène in order
to create a sense of emotional defamiliarisation, and even negativity towards
his subject matter. The film is probably unique in the annals of World Cinema
in its attempt to keep its viewers away from any emphatic identification with
what happens on the screen. It is all based on a series of awkward moments in
which tone prevails over volume and mood over verisimilitude. It is an excep-
tional example of abstraction in art as all its elements constitute an intense
reflection on the ‘urge to seek deliverance from the fortuitousness of human-
ea r l y fi l ms and the de m ys tif ication of power  127

ity as a whole, from the seeming arbitrariness of organic existence in general,

in the contemplation of something necessary and irrefragable’ (Worringer
[1908] 1997: 24). In order to achieve such inorganic abstraction, Angelopoulos
employs ‘the three-quarter view, the come-and-go pan, the deeply perspec-
tival shot, and the planimetric framing’, as David Bordwell so succinctly
recapitulated (2005: 185). Bordwell’s formal analysis stresses the ‘compo-
sitional schemas’ employed during this period. As he says, ‘his subsequent
films employ the planimetric image to combine frontal and profile views or to
create muted moments through dorsality. He striates landscapes by spread-
ing ribbons of figures parallel to the horizon’ (2005: 172–3). The planimetric
framing shows Angelopoulos’ tendency towards geometric abstraction so that
narrative loses its mystifying function and is transformed into ­alternating
markers of potentially new interpretations.
Angelopoulos also indicated that the subtext of The Hunters was Alfred
Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry (1955), a film which also subverted the
generic conventions of melodrama. The central element in both films is what
Hitchcock called ‘contrast,’ which ‘establishes a counterpoint and elevates
the commonplace in life to a higher level’ (cited in Truffaut [1967] 1984: 341).
The higher level for Angelopoulos is the exposition of the ruling class as an
agent of crime and the demystification of its language by showing its internal
panic and anxiety. The dead body of the partisan acts as the counterpoint,
the symbolic catalyst for the emergence of the hidden id: the film reverses
Sigmund Freud’s dictum ‘where id is, there ego must be’ [1915] (1991): 112).
The super-ego withdraws and the id emerges: the criminal past becomes
an active conscious reality; it is the reality of a specific ruling class with its
own symbolic order, without mythologisations or mystifications. History is
present as memory that cannot be eliminated by oblivion or cannot be dis-
guised as venerable myth, as snow becomes the symbol of the unwritten pages
of history. Angelopoulos insisted: ‘My intention was to concentrate on the
persons inside the hotel, who represent in my eyes the composite conscience
of a certain generation and certain social class’ (cited in Casetti [1977] (2001):
27). The geometric abstraction of forms indicates the skeletal structures, the
invisible scripts that create specific epistemological regimes of subjection.
The demystification of the dominant language in order to present what was
always obvious but not seen is what he achieved with this film. For various
reasons Angelopoulos changed the orientation of his cinematic project on
many occasions after the 1980s. Even the next film Megalexandros, with its
intense stylistic formalism and power-mysticism, seemed at odds with the
radical political modernism of his previous films. Despite this, there is both
continuity and discontinuity in his films, a rejection of the political as a project
of radical aesthetics and its substitution by aesthetics as a project of radical
politics. One could claim that after this trilogy Angelopoulos came closer
128  v r a s i d as karalis

to Friedrich Nieztsche’s suggestion that ‘only as an aesthetic phenomenon

is existence and the world eternally justified’ (Nietzsche [1872] (1999): 33),
which raises questions of a completely different kind. In the 1980s, after major
projects of political renewal collapsed and the last utopian vision of social-
ism disappeared, Angelopoulos started exploring what we call elsewhere ‘the
anthropogeography of European nihilism’1 caused by his disenchantment with
the political aspirations of the previous decade. Only this later period justifies
what Horton calls ‘the cinema of contemplation’ and what Bordwell diagnoses
as ‘melancholy’; during the first decade of his creative work, following Brecht,
he aspired ‘to make films politically’ (Angelopoulos cited in Fainaru [1999]
(2001): 131). The transition from ‘political modernism’ to ‘poetic melancholy’
is something that needs further elaboration.

1. I elaborate on this in my forthcoming book Greek Cinema from Cacoyannis to the Present.

Megalexandros: Authoritarianism
and National Identity
Dan Georgakas

I n critical commentaries on the work of Theo Angelopoulos, Ο Μεγαλέξανδρος

(Megalexandros or Alexander the Great, 1980) is usually omitted from
extended discussion. The film does not relate directly to the themes of the
historical films that preceded it or to the voyage and border films that followed.
In many respects, however, Megalexandros is a template for Angelopoulos’
approach to politics and offers insight into the aesthetic choices that charac-
terised his entire career. Megalexandros seeks to join history, myth and current
events seamlessly with a healthy disrespect for all things authoritarian. In that
sense, the film, for all its difficulties, holds an important place in the work
of Angelopoulos. To analyse his achievements as an auteur or to assess the
importance of his work in the development of the national cinema of Greece
requires taking its successes and failures into account.
Megalexandros must also be examined within the context of the handful of
films that examine anti-authoritarian revolutionary strategies. Most notable of
these are La Patagonia Rebelde (Rebellion in Patagonia, 1973)1 and Land and
Freedom (1997) (see Porton 1996: 30–4). Unlike Megalexandros, these films,
like most films dealing with anarchism, focus on actual historical events and
have conventional formats.2 The question of what format is best for films
with revolutionary aspirations offers an intriguing approach to evaluating
Megalexandros. Can films that seek to foster revolutionary thinking use con-
ventional structures, or should such films employ a format that is as challeng-
ing as its content?
From the onset of his career, Theo Angelopoulos insisted that challenging
political content in film must be presented in a challenging form. This per-
spective is in sharp contrast to that of a filmmaker such as Costas-Gavras who
believes that popular formats can be appropriated for revolutionary political
content, a proposition he first successfully explored in Z (1969). Angelopoulos
believed that such an approach, while offering easy access to a mass audience,
130  d a n g eo rgakas

took the risk that conventional formats might neuter revolutionary content.
In any case, he contended that stimulating audiences to think new thoughts
requires that they also confront new modes of artistic expression (see Horton
1992: 28–31).3


Angelopoulos explored revolutionary political thought in a revolutionary
aesthetic throughout the course of his political trilogy: Μέρες του’36 (Days
of ’36, 1972), Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975), and Οι Κυνηγοί (The
Hunters, 1977). These films offer a basic revision of the official history of
Greece during the era of World War II in formats antithetical to popular
cinema. Days of ’36, which was greeted by international critics as a new
departure for Greek cinema, had a moderate box office reception in Greece
and abroad. The Travelling Players, on the other hand, was a domestic and
international triumph, setting new domestic attendance records in Greece and
putting Greek cinema back on the international map of world-class cinema.
It has subsequently been cited by leading critics as one of the most important
films of the latter half of the twentieth century and is universally considered
the masterwork of what was dubbed the New Greek Cinema, the films made
following the fall of the Greek junta (1967–74). The Hunters, while not achiev-
ing the acclaim of The Travelling Players, won a substantial domestic and
international audience.
With the release of Megalexandros, Angelopoulos upped the cinematic and
political stakes by shifting from specific historical events to take on national
mythology. The film examines the entire pre-modern era with techniques
even more demanding than any employed in the trilogy. The films can be best
understood as a quartet, with Megalexandros providing the subtext or the back-
story to the twentieth-century narratives that comprise the political trilogy of
Days of ’36, The Travelling Players and The Hunters.
The complexity of Angelopoulos’ conception for Megalexandros begins with
its title. The great Alexander to be looked at is not the famed Macedonian
conqueror of the then known world. Nevertheless, there will be a long
sequence about the selection of his horse that resonates with legends regarding
Bucephalus, the historical Alexander’s steed. Here, as so often, Angelopoulos
suggests subtle cultural continuities, echoes and memories that span centuries.
Nor is the great Alexander of the film the messianic Alexander of Byzantine
folklore, an apocalyptic Alexander who was expected to appear when the
empire was in mortal danger. The film evokes such lore by using numerous
tableaux, colour schemes, and other aesthetics suggestive of the Byzantines.
The Alexander of the film is a revolutionary brigand, but we are at the end
a u t ho ritarianis m and nation al iden tity  131

of the century, not its onset. Thus, no actual national revolutionary move-
ment was in process during the time period in which the film is nominally set.
Nonetheless, Alexander wears an ancient helmet, to remind his followers of
their classic heritage, just as the famed revolutionary Theodoros Kolokotronis,
the pre-eminent general in the Greek war of independence, had done for similar
reasons.4 Yet another complication of the Alexander myth is that during the
film, when we see him re-enter his village, we hear a song normally dedicated
to St. George celebrating him as a dragon slayer. Later, a scene with a huge
tapestry reinforces that identification. This, then, is to be a tale about a clearly
symbolic personality who embodies various religious and secular mythologies.
An added irony is that the Alexander of the film is more villainous than heroic.
The film begins at the onset of the twentieth century with the lights coming
on at a New Year’s Eve ball at the royal palace. Juxtaposed to this scene is
the depiction of a prison escape by the bandit/patriot Alexander (Omero
Antonutti) and his cohorts. Riding a great white stallion no one else dares to
mount, his shoulders draped with a traditional robe, the helmeted Alexander
leads his men to Cape Sounion. Here, they find a group of English lords who
are sightseeing. The brigands capture the aristocrats and send a message to the
palace that their prisoners will not be released until two conditions are met:
Alexander and his men must be given amnesty for their crimes, and wealthy
landowners in his home district must legally transfer property rights to the
resident farmers. While this proposal is being studied, Alexander rides toward
his village stronghold in the mountains.
The cinematic setting up of the escape and the subsequent movement to the
mountains unwind slowly with little explanatory dialogue. Unknown parties
in the government have made the escape possible and subsequent events hint
at the complex relations between Greek politicians and bandit warlords in the
interior. The foreign element references are a reminder of how different Greek
political parties had a special relationship with one or another of the Great
Powers, Britain being among the most active.5
Many of the early sequences and scenes in Megalexandros are held for long
periods of real time with few close-ups. This languid pace and style of exposi-
tion suggests leisurely storytelling in the coffee house rather than the fierce
pace of modern cinema. Indeed, Alexander and his group move so slowly
through the mountains that in a key scene, the film seems to be in freeze frame.
Then, one of Alexander’s men directs his gaze to the valley below and the
camera ever-so-slowly sweeps down to a faraway bridge where five strangers
are vigorously waving black and red flags. The strangers prove to be Italian
anarchists who inform Alexander that during his absence, his home village has
become a revolutionary commune.
The film gathers momentum from this point onward. Arriving at their
village, Alexander and his men find that all the old property values have been
132  d a n g eo rgakas

abolished peacefully in favour of a totally egalitarian society. The village

schoolteacher (Grigoris Evangelatos), the leading ideologue of this revolu-
tionary change, and farmers from the commune explain to Alexander and
the anarchists that all decisions are now made through democratic voting and
everyone in the village has the franchise. A village woman plays a prominent
role in explaining the details of the new social order. To join the commune,
the newcomers must swear allegiance to its egalitarian principles. The Italians,
four men and a woman, do so with joyous enthusiasm.
In the scene that follows, Angelopoulos brilliantly employs music to
depict  political conflict. The Greek villagers celebrate the arrival of their
new Italian communards with a feast. The Italians respond by singing lively
ballads. The colouring of the clothes and the colouring of the music evokes
the sight and sounds of an anti-authoritarian society. This gala festive mood
is shattered when Alexander’s men enter the hall. Dressed in forbidding
black robes and carrying rifles, they dance a menacing warrior dance, stomping
their feet and raising their rifles defiantly. The bandits/rebels are not pleased
with the new society established in their absence. They demand individual
ownership of land and animals. They want to rule their wives as they have
always ruled them, and they believe the Italians are little more than alien
­parasites, not unlike the British aristocrats still being held captive. Feeding
their self-righteousness is the belief that they have earned the right to set the
social agenda by having risked their lives in combat and having served prison
Adding considerable credibility to scenes imbued with mythology and
abstract politics is the village setting. Rather than a sunny white village set
against Mediterranean blue that is the stuff of travel posters, Angelopoulos
presents the historic poverty of rural mainland Greece. The specific loca-
tion, the village of Dotsiko which is some fifty kilometres from the town of
Grevena in Macedonia, was carefully chosen by Angelopoulos. He left nothing
to chance, arranging to have the village virtually rebuilt by set designer Mikis
Karapiperis to simulate the look it would have had at the turn of the century.
Its harsh northern environment is beautifully captured by Yorgos Arvanitis,
the cinematographer on all of Angelopoulos’ films.6
As the tension between villagers and warriors grows, a royalist army
approaches the village. The only factor that holds them back is Alexander’s
threat that if they attack, the English prisoners will be killed. The royalist com-
mander draws Alexander into secret negotiations and promises him personal
rewards if the crisis works out favourably for the government. In due course,
Alexander will order the death of the Italians and the leaders of the commune,
including the schoolteacher. The government, however, reneges on its secret
pledges and the enraged Alexander responds by killing the English nobles.
The royalist army then moves forward to crush what remains of the rebellion.
a u t ho ritarianis m and nation al iden tity  133

As in formal Greek tragedy, the killing is done offstage and the lamenting
onstage, often with devices similar to a Greek chorus.
Perhaps the most memorable scene of the film, and one that underscores the
complex political argument being made, features the death of Alexander. The
revolt he once led but now has suppressed has been lost to the royalists. The
dream of an anarchist community dedicated to individual liberty developed
by the villagers has been lost. The hoofs of the royal cavalry’s horses can be
heard pounding the stones at the outskirts of the village. In a sequence shot
from directly above the participants, villagers clad in black robes surround
Alexander, swirling closer and closer until their robes smother him to death.
When they pull back, however, there is only a ceremonial bust, for Alexander,
as one has guessed all along, is not separate from the villagers but a part of
them. The film is not about political factions but the struggle within the soul
of the Greek villager. Thus, when the cavalry unit clatters into the plaza a few
minutes later, they need not deal with a flesh and blood corpse. Now safely
dead, Alexander’s bust may now grace the plaza as a patriot.
The final scene of Megalexandros underscores the mythological nature of
the hero. The young Alexander is seen riding a mule into the city, but the lad
is not to be viewed as an individual. He personifies the entire nation and all
the cultural baggage the Greek villager carries into the city. This is evoked by
drawing on Greece’s oral traditions. The suffering Macedonian farmer who
opened the film with a direct address to the camera returns now as an off-
camera voice that explicitly informs us: ‘And that’s how Alexander got into
the city’.

Figure 8.1 Megalexandros

134  d a n g eo rgakas

Speaking of the scene, Angelopoulos has stated:

This is a modern city – present-day Athens, in fact – in contrast to the

rural turn-of-the-century world of the rest of the film. When the little
Alexander enters the city, he brings all the experience of the century
with him. He has gained a total experience of life, sex, and death, and he
comes into the city at sunset, and over it there is a great question mark.
How long will the night last, and when will a new day break? (Mitchell
[1980] 2001: 29)

Greatly complicating this straightforward political scenario is the portrait

of Alexander as rendered by Angelopoulos. Details of Alexander’s birth
are unknown other than that he was adopted by a village woman (Toula
Stathopoulou). Later, he married this woman, which means his step-sister
is also his step-daughter (Eva Kotamanidou). Still other sequences show
this sister-daughter as his mistress. A small boy, who is the son of the adop-
tive mother, is sometimes depicted as being the young Alexander (Ilias
Zafiropoulos), but other times he appears in the same sequence as the elder
Alexander. The bewildering shifting webs of identity and relationships are
so complex and ambiguous that the viewer must accept the characters not as
individuals but as generations of characters.
This attempt to escape the usual constraints of time, matter and space when
dealing with the human personality is evident in other films of Angelopoulos.
In Το Βλέμμα Του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995), for example, he had Maia
Morgenstern play several different roles in order to suggest mythological
allegories, gender stereotypes and historical continuity. The success of such
a schema is primarily intellectual, depending on the repeating patterns of
human behaviour rather than the resolution of individual destinies. For most
viewers, the shifting allegorical identities, however, only complicated what
was already a dense plot. Megalexandros did not fare well with either Greek or
foreign audiences (see Horton (1997a): 128–9).7


Aside from its aesthetic challenges, one of the reasons Greek audiences may
have reacted negatively to the film was that Angelopoulos had gone out of
his way to remind them that most Greeks were still only a single generation
removed from ‘the village.’ The brutality and poetry of village life, which had
not significantly altered for centuries, was just below the surface of the modern
Greek personality. This theme also reflects one of the motifs of The Travelling
Players. During the course of that film, the travelling players are shown trying
a u t ho ritarianis m and nation al iden tity  135

to perform the play Golfo and never being able to do so, a clear signal from
Angelopoulos that the ever popular melodrama refers to a Greece that exists
only in myth and can never be physically ‘entered’ (see Pappas (1976): 36–7).
Many Greek leftists believed Megalexandros was inappropriate for the
times. In his final years as Prime Minister, the conservative Constantine
Karamanlis, acting finally to bring the Civil War era to an end, had legalised
the Communist Party of Greece, opening the door for the return of exiles.
Andreas Papandreou, running on the slogan of Αλλαγή (‘Change’), would soon
head the first socialist democratic government in Greek history. Thus, at the
very moment when the Greek people had finally won the right to honour the
resistance fighters of World War II, Angelopoulos seemed to be resurrecting
charges of leftist cruelty. That his Alexander bore a striking physical resem-
blance to Aris Velouhiotis, the most famous leftist guerrilla leader, seemed a
retraction of the views so passionately expressed in The Travelling Players.
Moreover, the valorising of anarcho-communism celebrated ideological views
unpopular with the traditional Greek Left. Even more troublesome was the
depiction of revolutionary leaders just freed from prison ruining a revolution
in progress, a theme that echoed the charge raised by some leftists that the
revolutionary momentum of the Resistance which was most strongly evident
in the mountains had been betrayed by Nikos Zahariadis and other communist
leaders when they returned to Greece after being released from Nazi prisons.
The murder of the Italian anarchists, in turn, revived memories of the internal
conflicts of the Spanish Civil War.
What was often missing in these critiques (see Karalis 2012: 190–2) was
acknowledgement that Angelopoulos remained committed to a socialist vision.
Although his village anarchists did not fit into Marxist-Leninist concepts of
how social upheaval takes place, they embodied the revolutionary traditions of
Peter Kropotkin, Errico Malatesta and Nestor Makhnov. In The Hunters, one
of the most dramatic images was that of silent revolutionaries floating across
the lakes of northern Greece in barges festooned with gorgeous red flags and
bunting. These poetic images suggest the enduring ideals of socialist revolu-
tion. Megalexandros, rather than simply being abstractly anti-authoritarian or
anti-Stalinist, affirms a non-coercive pathway to the socialist future.
For conservatives, of course, Angelopoulos’ continued espousal of revolu-
tionary change was sin enough. If Alexander on his white mount looked like
Aris to the Left, he looked very much like a mockery of Saint George to the
Right. The English lords allied with the palace paralleled the American allies
of contemporary conservatives just as the Italian anarchists resembled the
extra-parliamentary New Left groups disrupting normal politics in Italy.
The  Alexander bust was also uncomfortable for an official history that had
turned the lives and deeds of the contentious guerrilla captains of the struggle
for independence into hagiography.
136  d a n g eo rgakas

As far as Angelopoulos was concerned, Megalexandros deepened the revolu-

tionary analysis of his trilogy. In the aftermath of the Greek junta of 1967–74,
it had been a priority of the New Greek Cinema to reclaim the revolutionary
tradition of Greece. Now, as parliamentary socialism was on the rise, there was
room to ask what kind of democracy and what kind of socialism was appropri-
ate for Greece. His reservations about authoritarian revolutionaries seemed
most relevant as the guerrillas of the 1940s were being idealised uncriti-
cally and the Left was again showing a strong taste for charismatic leaders.
Interwoven into all these issues were traditional cultural attitudes that were
otherwise rarely questioned. Surely, Alexander the Great had been as cruel as
he was visionary, and the guerrilla captains of the war of national independ-
ence were not renowned for their sense of mercy. Angelopoulos had given
himself the unpopular task of warning Greece that its beloved Alexanders
carry a cultural heritage that is capable of crushing the most noble of dreams.
While Angelopoulos continued to celebrate the nobility of certain communal
dreams, he was not afraid to explore the contradictions in the souls of the
On the never-ending question of defining Greek identity, Angelopoulos opts
for a complex vision of continuous connection with the past. He does not think
modern Greeks are Classical Greeks, but he depicts a continuing and evolving
continuity through the Byzantines and then the Turkish Occupation to the
modern Greek state that fuses Western, Eastern and Balkan elements into a
unique amalgam. Megalexandros asserts this identity rather than debating it.
In confronting the shortcomings of the contemporary Greek popular move-
ment, Megalexandros stood alone in the New Greek Cinema. Other noted
directors in the post-junta period found it difficult to venture much beyond
recovering the history that had been denied from the 1950s onward. Pantelis
Voulgaris, who had presented the travails of royalist concentration camps in
the ironically titled Happy Days (1976), continued to focus only on the story
of the persecution of the Left in Τα πέτρινα χρόνια (The Stone Years, 1985), a
film made half a decade after Megalexandros. This focus can also be found as
late as 1997 in Vangelis Serdaris’s Vassiliki. Nikos Koundouros, who had been
on the cutting edge of Greek cinema since the 1950s, took the relatively safe
road of dealing with Greek victimisation rather than Greek ambition in his
epic 1922 (1978). In short, no other Greek filmmaker was prepared to venture
into the territory Megalexandros had pioneered.
Also working against popular acceptance of Megalexandros were
Angelopoulos’ stylistic peculiarities. After being used in four feature films,
they had lost their novelty and had begun to annoy rather than stimulate
audiences. In a corollary to the idea that popular formats can subvert radical
themes, this film seems to be an example of how esoteric formats can also
subvert radical themes. A film celebrating democratic vision was an ideal ideo-
a u t ho ritarianis m and nation al iden tity  137

logical test for the director’s signature style. Angelopoulos had always argued
that his manner of pacing, his circular shots, long shots, and the dead spaces he
provides in the narrative were designed to liberate the viewer from the tyranny
of the director’s gaze (cited in Demopoulos, Liappas [1974] (2001): 21). The
viewer could choose what to look at in any given scene and had the time to
ponder choices made and even go back to looking or thinking about something
that hadn’t seemed important at first. Such a style provides a form of gazing
that transcends the director’s vision to some degree, making the viewing
­experience itself a part of the political argument being made.
Even more problematic was the development of the major character.
Angelopoulos wanted Alexander to be seen from afar as such figures are usually
seen in actuality, but that approach was carried out so severely that the lack of a
strong individual identity deprived the film of emotional energy. The historical
films of Roberto Rossellini, done in a similar style of acute distancing, have also
been criticised for this lack. In addition, there is little information provided on
the source of the teacher’s anarchist creed or the acceptance by the villagers of
that creed. Given this scant psychological information, perhaps more film time
was needed for viewers to compose their thoughts on this aspect of the film.
In contrast, the opening sequences depicting the prison escape and trip to the
mountains feel overly long and stylistically self-indulgent.
Even so sympathetic a critic of Angelopoulos as Andrew Horton feels that
Megalexandros is one of Angelopoulos’ least successful works. He argues that
the film tries to take in too much territory and that the personal relation-
ships are impenetrable (Horton (1997): 61–64). A suggestion has been made
that The Travelling Players is like James Joyce’s Ulysses, challenging but acces-
sible to anyone willing to work a bit, and that Megalexandros is like Finnegans
Wake, a tome only the most ardent fans can admire.8 Despite these misgivings
and the usual observation that whatever its fault the film had unforgettable
moments, Megalexandros was recognised by critics as a major work. At the
annual Thessaloniki Film Festival, the film won the awards for Best Film, Best
Photography, Best Sets and Best Costume. More significantly the film won the
Golden Lion award at the Venice International Film Festival.
Angelopoulos has stated that he creates various planes of access to his films
to engage different kinds of viewers. He doesn’t consider any one of these
planes more valuable than any other and doubts anyone but he himself is aware
of all the planes. The three most obvious of these portals are the fictional story
being told, the mythological elements and the historical references. In regard
to Megalexandros all three appear to have failed with the international audi-
ence. The saga of Orestes had provided a well-known mythological dimension
to The Travelling Players, but audiences either were unfamiliar or uninterested
in Alexander lore. The trilogy films had dealt with aspects of the World War
II era that were familiar to audiences in the way the making of modern Greek
138  d a n g eo rgakas

society is not. Most damaging of all, the specific characters of Megalexandros

did not beguile the imagination.


Moving from an auteurist or national cinema focus to that of world-class films
dealing with the anarchist tradition, the approach taken by Angelopoulos in
Megalexandros must be seen as extremely innovative. Most films supportive
of political anarchism deal with individual martyrs such as Joe Hill (1971)
and Sacco and Vanzetti (1971) or with terrorists as in Film d’Amore e Anarchia
(Love and Anarchy, 1973) or Nada (1974). These themes had already been
established by the pioneers of cinema. Edwin S. Porter told the story of the
anarchist who assassinated President McKinley in Execution of Czolgosz,
with Panorama of Auburn Prison (1901) and D. W. Griffith took on anarchist
­terrorism as a ­phenomenon in The Voice of the Violin (1909).
Yet another example of the focus on a personality is Viva Zapata (1953).
Competing revolutionary versions are personalised into a conflict between
Fernando Aguirre (Joseph Wiseman), an authoritarian, professional revolu-
tionary and Emilia Zapata (Marlon Brando), an anti-authoritarian bred by the
injustices of his daily life. Although Zapata makes an emotional statement at
the conclusion of the film about the necessity that workers control the means
of production, neither director Elia Kazan nor scriptwriter John Steinbeck
acknowledged in their comments about the film that the real-life Zapata had
anarchist advisers and ran his military in a very decentralised manner. The
focus, instead, is on Aguirre’s hunger for political power and Zapata being
personally betrayed, martyred and transformed into a legendary leader on a
white horse.
Closer in spirit to Megalexandros but completely different in format is Rebellion
in Patagonia, which uses a melodrama to deal with an anarcho-syndicalist
revolt by Argentinean farm workers. The rebels are ultimately betrayed by a
duplicitous military and a group of bandits/revolutionaries who call themselves
Bolsheviks. The plot focuses on the perspectives of revolutionary  anarchist
leaders regarding anarcho-syndicalist forms of governance and organisation.
The major dramatic crisis involves the response of the anarchist leaders when
they understand their fellow workers have voted a course of action sure to lead
to disaster. Should they accept the group decision or act as they think best? If
they accept the judgement of their fellow workers, they are likely to be executed.
If they flee in order to fight another day, they violate their ideological creed.
Megalexandros opts against depicting the anarchist experience as a set
of personal histories. Thus, while absolutely rejecting Eisenstein’s use of
montage to shape his narratives, Megalexandros is close in spirit to Eisenstein’s
a u t ho ritarianis m and nation al iden tity  139

The Battleship Potemkin (1925). That film attempted to depict a revolutionary

moment as the communal experience of an entire crew rather than through
the usual means of individual profiles. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Russian
navy was one of the strongholds of Russian anarchism.
Reaction to films in which anarchists are positively portrayed is often
determined by factors outside the film itself. Any film taking on the struggles
between the communist and non-communist Left in a complex struggle such
as the Spanish Civil War faces this problem. Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom
(1995) offers an example. Like George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, it centres
on a pro-communist Englishman who goes to fight for the Spanish Republic
and is inadvertently assigned to an anarchist unit. He soon comes to support
its political perspectives. The plot turns on the communist liquidation of this
and other non-communist units in the midst of the mortal struggle with the
fascist forces of General Franco. Angelopoulos hoped to avoid shading the
larger arguments in the debates within the Left between its libertarian and
authoritarian elements by using a political setting that was only metaphorically
linked to actual events. Unlike Land and Freedom or Rebellion in Patagonia,
Angelopoulos offers no long didactic speeches or scenes with formal debates.
Instead, his argument is presented almost exclusively with images and music
closely linked to everyday events. What clearly differentiates his approach is
that the authoritarian monster is as much an inner demon as an outside villain.
The political trilogy that began with Days of ’36 disabused the Greek expe-
rience with socialist revolution of all its illusions. Rather than drawing a cynical
conclusion, in the film that transforms the trilogy into a quartet, Angelopoulos
reaffirms the beauty of the socialist dream. In the wake of the fall of the Soviet
Union and the global rethinking of the dialectics of revolution, Megalexandros
increasingly seems less abstract and narrowly Greek than it once did. Even
its technical difficulties have a certain amount of virtue. Megalexandros holds
an important place amid a small group of exceptional political films. With the
passage of time, it may be recognised as a masterpiece of its kind.

1. Available in the United States from The Cinema Guild, 1697 Broadway, New York, NY
2. The most extensive coverage of anarchism as a theme in film is found in Richard Porton
(1999). However, Porton’s comments on Megalexandros are limited as the author was
unable to obtain a print.
3. The views attributed to Angelopoulos largely stem from a multi-hour interview with the
director by the author in 1992 at the time the Museum of Modern Art in New York
presented a retrospective of the films of Angelopoulos. Numerous less formal discussions
followed until the director’s death in 2012.
140  d a n g eo rgakas

4. Angelopoulos gathered considerable material regarding Alexander lore from a book

published in Greece as The Book of Megalexandros.
5. An ongoing theoretical concern in Greek theoretical writing involves Greek national
identity. Some critics virtually ignore the domestic politics in the film to concentrate on
the role of foreign powers in the Greek revolution and subsequent governments. See for
example Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli (2011).
6. For a discussion of the care Angelopoulos takes to find sites for his various films see
Andrew Horton (1997), The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation,
Princeton: Princeton University Press, 120–121. The director has boasted that he has been
in every village in Greece. His cinematic use of village sites is discussed extensively by
Michael Wilmington (1997b).
7. The film did poorly in Europe and even worse in the United States. Although shown at
some festivals, it was not commercially released, drew scant critical comment and remains
virtually unknown to American audiences.
8. Panel on the work of Angelopoulos, Society for Cinema and Media Studies, 1997.

Tracks in the Eurozone:

Late Style Meets Late Capitalism
Mark Steven


M any of Theo Angelopoulos’ otherwise affectionate critics deride the final

film he completed as an artistic failure. In Fredric Jameson’s view, Η
Σκόνη του Χρόνου (The Dust of Time, 2008) is an unsuccessful attempt ‘to break
new ground by transferring the paradigm of discontinuous collective temporali-
ties to the drama of individuals’, doing so in such a way that the historical terrain
Angelopoulos once charted so heroically persists only on a distant horizon. The
director himself concedes the objective basis of this transformation. He insists
that, in his final films, ‘history becomes something of a fresco in the back-
ground. Put another way, what used to be History becomes an echo of history’
(Angelopoulos in Horton 1997b: 109). But it is not just the historical content
that has diminished into an echo of its earlier soundings. For Angelopoulos, all
history is as much a matter of form as it is of content. Leading up to the creation
of this final film an extensive mutation took hold of the director’s aesthetic, first
making itself known in the films from the late 1980s before gradually engineer-
ing the evolutionary supersession of the hitherto favoured techniques. By 2008,
the Brechtian accent from the 1970s had been thoroughly suppressed, leaving
in its place what appeared as the visual eloquence of a generically art-cinematic
aestheticism. The dialectic had given way to narrative continuity. The bravura
tracking shots and totalising pans had withdrawn into unobtrusive zooms and
gently tilting crane shots. The antiheroic and often bourgeois individual had
replaced the embattled collective. And, expediting that replacement, the long
or medium shot found itself usurped by the Hollywood close-up. It is because
of such changes that a cinema of political commitment has been seen to abjure
history and embrace sentimental humanism.
These metamorphoses bear all the insignia of what Edward Said once
described as ‘late style’, a sensibility that conditions artistic endeavours
142  m a r k s te ve n

produced late in one’s career or life, and which is usually recognisable in

manifestations of contradiction and disavowal. Glossing Theodor Adorno’s
posthumously published reflections on the ‘third period’ of Beethoven’s
musical output, Said argues that what we are presented with in those works is
‘a moment when the artist who is fully in command of his medium neverthe-
less abandons communication with the established social order of which he
is a part and achieves a contradictory, alienated relationship with it’ (2006:
8). Said’s dense prose here mirrors what he recognised to be the signature
of Adorno’s own late style, an internal force that took hold of the German
philosopher’s sentences, sharpening ‘their incomparable refinement, their
programmatically complex internal movement, their way of almost routinely
foiling a first or second or third attempt at paraphrasing their content’ (2006:
14). Adorno similarly found Beethoven’s late style in the complicating modi-
fication of his aesthetic, hearing it in the ‘decorative trill sequences, cadences
and fiorituras’ of that third period (cited in Said [2002] 2006: 9). If the meth-
odological supposition guiding these interpretations is accurate, that late style
sediments as the transformative complication of form, perhaps it is precisely
this, a late style, which we encounter in Angelopoulos’ final films. Perhaps,
too, late style might explain why those films are so consistently preoccupied
with the historical outcast and recurrently with the undertakings of ageing and
intransigent movie directors. ‘His late works’, Said tells us of Adorno, ‘are a
form of exile from his milieu’ (2006: 14).
But what our preliminary description of Angelopoulos neglects is the self-
contradictory aspect of late style. Angelopoulos’ unmistakable shift from one
aesthetic mode to another might be a kind of exilic disavowal, but it is not
problematic or complicating or alienated in and of itself. To be sure, art cine-
ma’s will to an ostensibly humanist aestheticism provides a point of entry into
thinking how compositional beauty can in fact be political. As Jorge Sanjinés
rightly claimed in 1977, ‘a beautiful film can be more revolutionarily effective,
because it won’t stay at the level of the pamphlet. A cinema, like a gun, as
the cinematic expression of a people without a cinema, must be preoccupied
with beauty because beauty is an indispensable element’ (cited in Galt 2011:
208).1 To embrace beauty is not necessarily a capitulation to bourgeois ideol-
ogy or an expression of market cynicism. Rather, the beautiful is a crucial
artistic concept whose ownership remains a point of contestation. ‘For we
are fighting’, claims Sanjinés, ‘for the beauty of our people, this beauty that
imperialism today tries to destroy, to degrade, to overwhelm’ (cited in Galt
2011: 208). While this kind of thinking might contribute to an understanding
of Angelopoulos’ late films and their performative concern with beauty, what
would remain unacknowledged is that The Dust of Time fails to satisfy with
the stunning visuals we might expect from its director. In many instances and
as a whole the film’s potential beauty seems degraded and overwhelmed. For
tracks in the eurozon e  143

that reason, I want to suggest this film is a work of late style not only because
it articulates within a different and seemingly reactive aesthetic to the earlier
films, but also because this new aesthetic remains unattractively disjointed.
For instance, and to cite one of the more readily apparent complications, this
film is somewhat brief by Angelopoulos’ standards. Shorter films are fine and
pose no aesthetic problems of their own, but here that relative brevity creates
formal tension when truant scenes appear to have been replaced by verbal
exposition. Moreover, the expository dialogue, which is delivered predomi-
nantly in English, often comes across as wooden, as though the cast of inter-
national superstars is uncertain how to deliver lines. As Sylvie Rollet puts it
in this book with reference to the stilted acting: ‘The film seems to “speak”
the classical language of cinema as if it were a dead language’. Irreducible
and interconnected aspects of the film such as these might betray the force of
real contradiction: that, in the pursuit of a particular aesthetic, Angelopoulos
made a palatably shorter film with an appealing cast, but a film whose length
and cast ultimately contribute to its bristling recalcitrance.
This chapter argues that in The Dust of Time Angelopoulos is not just arriv-
ing at or intensifying a late style for reasons intrinsic to the aesthetic logic of his
cinema, though that is certainly a key aspect to the final works. Specifically, my
sense is that his late style is equally a response to unresolvable material condi-
tions as it is to the oeuvre from which it evolved, and that the warping presence
of history registers consciously in the film’s narrative but also unconsciously
in its objective discordance. When asked to respond to his critics about this
film, Angelopoulos insisted that ‘directors are not chosen by the critics or by
the audience but by the time’, and claimed that each film he makes is another
chapter ‘of a big book, about human destiny, about the times passed and about
the times coming’ (cited in ‘The Dust of Time’, 2009). Taking the direc-
tor’s statement seriously, the goal here is to demonstrate that Angelopoulos’
late style is not a matter of historical dissimulation. It is, rather, a mediated
response to history, and a response that nonetheless retains its political energy.
With a mixture of formal analysis and historical description I want to show
that in its complications Angelopoulos’ late style nonetheless enshrines a
consummate political intelligence. Rather than dismiss the actual problems
with the film my goal here is to situate them within Angelopoulos’ evolving
aesthetic and within their historical context, and to demonstrate the peculiar
relationship between form and history in this work. Without critically amelio-
rating such problems, this demonstration might help revise the c­ onventional
narrative of Angelopoulos’ political involution.
The Dust of Time knowingly weaves itself between two historical moments,
both of which occupy the two films that were to bookend it as the centrepiece
of an incomplete trilogy. The narrative conceit that locks these moments into
a dialectic is simple enough, comprising the director, A. (Willem Dafoe),
144  m a r k s te ve n

attempting to make a film about his parents, Eleni (Irène Jacob) and Spyros
(Michel Piccoli), about their experience in the USSR in the 1950s, and about
their subsequent emigration to the United States and Canada in the 1970s;
and, narratively fulfilling the dialectical configuration, it also contains scenes
in which A.’s efforts to direct this film are met by his parents’ return to Europe
in the present day. Of course, the various trilogies into which Angelopoulos
periodised his own films should be approached with some caution given how
imprecise the director was with that term, but in this final iteration the unify-
ing structure is much firmer than elsewhere. Unlike the other trilogies this
one was deigned from the outset to obtain within a triadic structure; indeed,
what was to become the trilogy had originally been intended for just one film.
Moreover, each film is historically sequential to the one that preceded it, so
that if completed the trilogy would have chronicled three consecutive periods
in world history, spanning from the Greek diaspora’s exile from Odessa in
1919 to the Greek Sovereign Debt Crisis beginning in 2009.
The trilogy begins with To Λιβάδι που Δακρύζει (The Weeping Meadow,
2004), which is set during the historical period of interwar modernism as
defined by serious political projects, grand military allegiances and world-his-
torical oppositions between the communist left and the fascist right. Formally,
this film resembles Angelopoulos’ work from the 1970s, reprising many of
the technical feats from that period: collective subjectivities woven into epic
narratives, discontinuous temporalities, surreal tableaux, lengthy tracking
sequences, planimetric long shots and so on. Using these familiar forms, the
film chronicles the historical blight of modern Greece, ranging from the Red
Army invasion of 1919 through World War II and the Civil War of 1945–50,
and it does so while focusing its narrative on a tragically fated pair of lovers,
Eleni (Alexandra Aidini) and Alexis (Nikos Poursanidis). The Weeping Meadow
thus returns formally to a major site of cinematic modernism, to its revivifica-
tion in the 1960s and 1970s, but also thematically to first-wave modernism’s
distinctive coloration by military struggle and by an upsurge of radical poli-
tics.2 While The Weeping Meadow, made in the early years of the twenty-first
century, might be the result of nostalgia for cinematic modernism and its his-
torical undercurrents, the renewed interest in older forms and the insurgency
those forms depict produces an aesthetic and political symbiosis that will be
useful in our analysis of its sequel. A desire to recapitulate older forms in rela-
tion to the historical period that was the focus of those earlier political films
is to forge a dialectical bond between cinematic form and historical content,
as though to imply that the avant-garde aesthetic from the earlier work is
inseparably peculiar to its time. But, in this film, the avant-garde aesthetic
and the political vitality of collective life are mutually dependent and perfectly
anachronistic. As Vrasidas Karalis has observed of this film’s direction: ‘when
he reverts to his old monumental style, a certain incommensurability emerges
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between the form and its significations. The personal is the new mode to
emerge in the latest films by Angelopoulos’ (2012: 263). To be sure, that its
narrative takes place under the generic ensign of tragedy might even betray a
conscious realisation of its superannuation within the director’s oeuvre.
The trilogy would have concluded in the late capitalist present, in the second
decade of the twenty-first century, in which the ascendency of neoliberalism
finds itself antagonised by internal contradiction and by a resurgence of the
old oppositions between left and right. This historical period reached a local-
ised apotheosis with the creation of the Eurozone, an economic and monetary
union comprising seventeen European member states, all of which adopted
the Euro as their common currency and sole legal tender. The mass adoption
of the Euro by eleven states on the first of January 1999 was one of the most
punctual and systematic transformations in economic history, comparable to
the collapse of the Eastern Bloc approximately one decade earlier. ‘The substi-
tution of a dozen monies by one was’, as Perry Anderson has put it, ‘handled
extremely smoothly, without glitch or mishap: an administrative tour de force’
(2011: 49). The stated purpose of the single, shared currency is to lower trans-
action costs and increase predictability of returns for business, and therefore
to unleash higher investment and faster growth of productivity and output; its
shared policies, however, allowed for the financially stable sovereigns to exact
coercive power on the domestic administration of individual states. It is thus
that the Eurozone – often working cheek-by-jowl with the IMF and the ECB
– nominates a legally sanctioned force of economic imperialism, driving the
money nexus more directly, as mediated through ­governmental apparatuses,
into experiential life.
The final, incomplete film in the trilogy would have been H Άλλη Θάλασσα
(The Other Sea), a movie that promised to address itself to the situation of neo-
liberalism in Greece, conceived of as a member of the Eurozone. If completed,
The Other Sea would have been the film with which Angelopoulos joined
ranks with a number of other historically interested filmmakers to document
the Greek Sovereign Debt Crisis. On that front, Greece has felt the effects
of the Eurozone perhaps more directly and more negatively than have most
other participating states. Soon after its entry in 2002, Greece was subject to
charges that its economy was not strong enough to warrant admission, given
that its government appeared to have falsified their deficit numbers by using
antiquated accounting methods. All of this, most of which took place after the
Financial Audit of 2004, led to immediate changes in domestic policy, many
of which pre-empted the Eurozone’s direct interventions to follow in 2009.
These interventions include the external imposition and internal implemen-
tation of shock-therapeutic austerity measures, the privatisation of govern-
ment assets and the transformation of laws surrounding domestic production.
Despite and also because of massive cuts to its funding, Greek cinema has been
146  m a r k s te ve n

quick to react to this situation, and the Greek Weird Wave arguably occupies
within an aesthetic of nationalised reaction.3 Though we can only speculate on
how The Other Sea would have been realised on screen, from what we know
about its narrative we can safely forecast that from within this context it would
have given new life to the political energies of the earlier films. As Andrew
Horton shows by looking at its script in the afterward to this book, the film was
to have taken place amidst factories and shanty towns and it was to have been
populated by striking workers and unemployed immigrants; it was to have
portrayed parliamentary corruption in the despicable crime of people traffick-
ing; there was to have been open conflict between the state and the workers,
intensified by the bulldozing of an immigrant settlement; and, at the heart of
all this, there was to have been a small theatrical troupe, an evident throwback
to the 1970s films and especially Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1971),
trying to stage Bertolt Brecht’s Threepenny Opera.
The Dust of Time is concerned with what happened between these two very
different moments, of revolutionary modernism and of a politically animate
response to neoliberalism, and so it represents a kind of interregnum for politi-
cal and artistic practice. The opening sequence, which typifies the narrative to
follow, folds time and history in such a way that recalls what Angelopoulos once
achieved when combining several years into a single shot. In this sequence,
A. arrives at the Cinecittà movie studio in Rome, to edit a film that we later
learn is about his parents. Several shots depict him pacing through the studio
with a beleaguered assistant who reminds him of his producers’ concern for the
film, which is running over budget and behind schedule. These shots are inter-
cut with those of a man on a train, receiving counterfeit papers with which he
and an unnamed woman are to cross the border out of the USSR. After super-
imposed text announces the film’s title, the camera moves in for a close-up of
A.’s face while he gazes through a viewing apparatus, with the rapidly passing
filmstrip partially obscuring our view of his concentration. Accompanying this
image are the triumphant overtones of a marching band accompanied by the
cheering of a crowd, which together serve as a sound-bridge to what follows.
The scene cuts to a medium close-up of Joseph Stalin, in what appears to be the
stock historical footage viewed by A., which then alternates increasingly distant
and low-angle shots of the iconic demagogue with panning medium shots of a
clearly exuberant crowd, marching in Red Square. The camera pulls back to
reveal that this footage is screening in an old cinema, in a commune for exiled
Greeks somewhere in the USSR. Here the man from the train, Spyros, meets
with Eleni, with whom an attempted exodus from the USSR thus begins.
As a technical device, this sequence unites the film’s two temporalities and
in that sense it formalises A.’s opening monologue, a kind of Faulknerian epi-
graph: ‘Nothing ended’, he says in voice-over. ‘Nothing ever ends. I returned
to where I let a story slip into the past. Losing its clarity under the dust of time,
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and then, unexpectedly, at some moment, it returns, like a dream. Nothing

ever ends’. But note here that the mediation between past and present is by
way of film: the cinematic medium is presented as an index to these seem-
ingly distant and hitherto narratively unrelated temporalities. And note, too,
that the past is monumentally socialist, whereas the present, with its talk of
producers, financiers and budgetary constraints, is decisively bound to the
market. It is as though the film itself, The Dust of Time, wants to allegorise its
own historical location, stretched between these two moments and the political
forces that define them.
The aesthetic labour for The Dust of Time, which is dictated by its position
within the trilogy as well as by this opening scene, is to register that histori-
cal transition from modernism to neoliberalism dialectically. Many years ago
now, Jameson proposed that, in Angelopoulos’ shifting architectonic, the ‘ele-
ments of a formal regression to much less interesting matters coexist with a
leap ahead to a new formal situation utterly unforeseen in the earlier period,
and anticipatory of realities not yet adequately confronted anywhere in the art
beginning to emerge in our New World Order . . .’ (1997: 89) The challenge
faced by Angelopoulos is to present capitalism’s post-war defeat of the left at
the same time as delineating a prehistory for the future left’s unpredictable
resurgence. In what follows I want us to look at scenes set in the past of the
USSR (specifically the USSR soon after Stalin’s death) and scenes set in the
European neoliberalism that mediates this past back into the film’s narrative
present. The goal here will be to scan those two overlapping space-times for a
submerged political intelligence making itself known precisely through their
overlap, and to determine the ways in which that intelligence might seize hold
of and galvanise a late style.

One of the early scenes in The Dust of Time introduces a visual trope that will
return throughout the film: an extreme long shot depicting vast metallurgical
plants that pump billowing plumes of smoke and ash into a poisoned sky. This
tableau is emblematic of what Slavoj Žižek describes as the historical terrain
mostly likely to produce revolution. ‘The postindustrial wasteland of the
Second World’, he says, ‘is in effect the privileged “evental site”, the symp-
tomal point out of which one can undermine the totality of today’s global capi-
talism’ (2006: 159). While this formulation might be abstract, it nevertheless
acquires an additional potency in relation to the films of Angelopoulos, where
factories remain home to variously disenfranchised collectives and a principal
site on which those collectives forge if not revolutionary then at least histori-
cally obstinate modes of being.4 But in The Dust of Time, the revolution took
148  m a r k s te ve n

place many years earlier; its historical sequence has already run its course; and
now the factories are once again alien. They remain operational, but their land-
scapes are uninhibited and seemingly uninhabitable. There is, to be sure, no
single shot that includes both humans and factories on the same visual plane;
instead, the former are doomed to trudge aimlessly about snowdrifts on the
steppe, appearing only in distant foregrounds, while the latter function in the
background as though by daemonic volition. Humanity’s manifest alienation
from this landscape is emphasised in one of the film’s more remarkable images:
a slowly zooming and upwardly tilting long shot of a zigzagging stairwell,
standing out black against ashen snow, which men and women mount in reso-
lute silence. Unlike the slow march of alienated factory workers in Metropolis
(1927), this Escher-like ascent keeps its climbers in isolation from one another,
visually spacing them apart with only two or three workers to each flight of
stairs, like ants forever circling the Mobius strip. In voice-over, Eleni informs
us that we are in Siberia and that the year is 1956, three years after the death of
Stalin (which we will discuss in a moment).
This kind of decaying industrial landscape, so frequently emblematic not
of revolutionary momentum but of historical stagnation, has been a staple for
cinema in the late USSR and its aftermath, receiving devoted treatment in
the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and Béla Tarr.5 I nominate these two directors
because of the obvious similarities between them and Angelopoulos, but also
because they are in almost every way antithetical to their distant geopolitical
precursors, such as Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov, whose utopianism
was palpable in the unrivalled speed of their forms and in their sheer love
for the industrial proletariat. These two decidedly post-utopian filmmakers,
Tarkovsky and Tarr, traded in montage and action-images for long shots and
extended duration; their films reactively depict lumpen masses as opposed to
the victorious multitude; their narrative focus shifted from the collective (and
its heroic leaders) to the hard-won humanism of the (often fractured) family
unit; and, perhaps most notably, they enjoy classical beauty. Here I want to
identify The Dust of Time, or at least its USSR sequences, with the aesthetic
predilections of those other two directors, and so with the melancholic tenden-
cies of what I would like to call post-utopian cinema. András Bálint Kovács
provides a perceptive description of the political undercurrents guiding this
aesthetic with specific reference to Tarr. For him, after the descent into
Stalinism, ‘the wish to overturn the communist regime by force was viewed
as purely destructive rather than heroic and revolutionary, and so the slow
erosion of an authoritarian, corrupt, cynical and unproductive social and
political system seemed to be the future for generations to come’ (2013: 132).
One particularly melancholic feature of the mise en scène in The Dust of
Time is a visual trope that appears and reappears throughout Angelopoulos’
career and as a marker of his late style: a preoccupation with ‘broken stones and
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statues’, as one of his characters put it in an earlier film. During the mid-to-late-
1950s and after Stalin’s death, statues of socialist leaders and the champions of
the Russian Revolution became metonymic for the process of de-Stalinisation,
with every disintegrating bust and severed head ultimately registering the
deterioration of state socialism. In The Dust of Time, Eleni’s temporary lover,
Jacob (Bruno Ganz) is summoned by the director of the Cultural Centre, in
Siberia, and is led into an abandoned warehouse, in which he and Eleni navi-
gate their way between dozens of alabaster statues of Stalin. ‘Siberia, December
’56’, Eleni’s voice-over reminds us. ‘In the space of a single night portraits and
statues of Stalin disappeared’. The visual effect here is much less striking than
Lenin’s colossal funeral barge in Το Bλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995),
but these smaller statues serve the same metonymic purpose, signifying elegia-
cally. ‘It’s a goodbye to an era’, explained Angelopoulos. ‘I am saying goodbye
to all of that, which is or was also part of me and my childhood and youth. That
broken statue represents the end. A complete end’ (Horton 1997b: 104). There
are historical reasons for the affective intensity with which Angelopoulos feels
that end, and many of these reasons are to do with the dissociation of commu-
nism as a utopian idea from its implementation through the socialist state, and
especially with that state’s assimilation back into the matrices of capitalism.
The historical transition from socialism into a post-socialist aftermath is given
no finer artistic treatment than in one of the more inspired sequences from The
Dust of Time, which centrally involves a statue.
At the beginning of their attempted escape from the USSR, Eleni and
Jacob board a streetcar, which soon grinds to a halt before the convergence of
a silent multitude, whose hundreds of men and women are amassing before

Figure 9.1 The Dust of Time

150  m a r k s te ve n

a ­town-square statue of Stalin and a column of red flags. The scene begins
within the streetcar, which is still moving, as we gaze out through a cloudy
window. Once the streetcar stops there are two alternating shot types. One is
the non-focalised but embodied perspective shot, which first tracks and pans
to follow the streetcar before settling on the people marching alongside it, and
which later views the scene from within the streetcar, panning 90° away from
the multitude to focus on the melodrama of the two, when Eleni and Spyros
declare their love. Eleni notices that the music has stopped. Until now we have
only heard the classical score on a non-diegetic soundtrack, to which Eleni
and Spyros also seem to be recorded, giving their voices an uncanny, almost
disembodied feel. As both lovers look out of the window, the film cuts not
to their perspective but to the centre of the square, below the statue, looking
back at them: it is almost a distant reverse shot, depicting five soldiers, the
crowd that surrounds them and the roof of the streetcar which is barely visible
over their heads in the background. This second type of shot belongs to the
inhuman perspective camera itself, which previously observed the marching
crowds with a frontal medium shot, before recreating that angle here from the
foot of the statue. Four more soldiers fall in and salute as a crackly speaker
system makes its announcement, which translates into English: ‘Comrades!
Citizens of the Soviet Union! Today our leader Comrade Stalin has died.
His great heart has stopped beating. The sun has set’. The camera cranes
upward and simultaneously tilts downward so as to capture the entire crowd
in a single overhead image, keeping the nine soldiers in the centre foreground.
The speaker requests a moment of silence, the Internationale is played, the
Internationale ends, and the crowd gradually disperses, with the soldiers
leaving first. Sobbing and wailing is audible over the crunching of heavy boots
through snow. The final person to leave, from just right of the shot’s centre,
pauses and raises both arms, as though bemused.
This is how the collective atomises, decoupling down to the singular individ-
ual, to the affected, subjective analogue for whatever romantic drama now plays
out invisibly in the streetcar. While that melodrama prepares to resume its place
as the narrative focalisation the multitude leaves only temporary tracks in the
snow. The camera’s movements serve to illustrate and emphasise this transition,
from one world view to another, shifting from an epic or monumental histori-
ography to the differently affective realm of sexual and familial relations. This
scene takes place early in the film, and it thus helps frame the events that follow
both narratively and historically. According to Boris Groys, it was this event,
the death of Stalin, which inaugurated a post-utopian way of life in the Soviet:

The barricades against bourgeois progress that were supposed to protect

the country from the flood of historical change now crumbled as the
Soviet Union sought to return to history. Some time passed before it was
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realized that there was nowhere to return to, for history itself had in the
meantime disappeared. The entire world entered the posthistorical phase
when – and here Stalin’s experiment played a part – it lost its faith that
history could be overcome. For when history no longer strives toward
consummation, it disappears, ceases to be history, stagnates. (1992: 75)

Despite its apparent disappointment with the outcome of Soviet history,

post-utopian cinema, which in this film consciously post-dates Stalin’s death,
does not descend into a facile celebration of capitalism and liberal democracy.
Instead, it returns to those sites of a now extinct or exhausted socialism with
a conflicted sense of longing, as though wanting to preserve the residual ener-
gies of the premise on which the USSR was created to begin with. While the
former GDR is perhaps the most familiar locale of this affective structure,
which articulates as historical farce through films like Hedwig and the Angry
Inch (2001) and Good Bye Lenin! (2003), The Dust of Time is similarly con-
flicted about the transition from socialism and it registers that conflict with a
more sombre formalism.6 We can see this in its depiction of Eleni and Jacob
leaving the USSR for the West, in an episode that clearly registers an even
more potent disappointment with the USSR’s geopolitical alternative than
with the Gulag-esque setting in which they been living.
‘Goodbye, Russia. Goodbye’, mutters Jacob, at the Soviet-Austrian border.
During their admission to Austria, Eleni and Jacob are positioned at the front
of a large group, not quite as numerous as that which gathered around the
statue for Stalin’s death, whose final member, an elderly man, is reluctant to
cross. He stops, sits on his suitcase, and cries, before his granddaughter rushes
back, leading him by hand into the free world whilst singing a Christmas tune.
The world into which he as well as Eleni and Jacob now enter is depicted in
the subsequent shot, in which we are told that it is New Year, 1974. The Soviet
refugees dance to an accordion and at what appears to be gunpoint (watchtow-
ers with spotlights and armed guards preside over them). The crowd is then
divided into two groups, destined either for Israel or for the United States
and elsewhere, and the two speaking characters, Eleni and Jacob, are sent in
their separate directions. ‘My destiny takes me somewhere else,’ says Eleni.
‘No matter how many years have gone by, no matter what happened between
us, I am someone else’s woman. Let me go.’ Once again, like the passage from
Stalinism into its aftermath, the transition from the USSR into the West is a
movement defined by atomisation, and it registers here as melodrama.
These objective features of the film – the industrial landscapes, the broken
statues, the tilting crane shot, the visual and narrative scattering of the USSR’s
former subjects – should recall those celebrated shots from Angelopoulos’
earlier films, in which the form itself seemed to forge politicised groups. That
is what we see when the marching drunkards are tracked by the camera as they
152  m a r k s te ve n

become lockstep fascists in The Travelling Players; or when the prisoners are
rearranged into an insurgent cell by panning shots in Μέρες του ’36 (Days of
’36, 1972); or even in The Weeping Meadow, when the planimetric depiction of
the flotilla generates a community borne together and hierarchically flattened
by grief. But, in The Dust of Time, that collectivising composition is set to play
out in reverse, disaggregating multitudes into individuated subjects. Unlike
those earlier films, here groups are only depicted at the moment of their dis-
persal, as they splinter apart visually, narratively and historically. This is the
very essence of a post-utopian cinema, the atomisation of humans into unre-
lated and alienated individuals, preparing them for a new life under capitalism.
It also underwrites one of the defining features of Angelopoulos’ late style, a
shift away from the collective to the individual, and the kind of aesthetic tropes
that accompany such a shift.


The USSR sequences are not part of the film’s dominant narrative modal-
ity. Rather, those sequences take place in analepsis, and are reframed by the
film’s structuring device, which centres on a director whose attempt to make
a film about his parents’ experience in the USSR is interrupted by the disap-
pearance of his daughter, who is also named Eleni. Casting a filmmaker as
the protagonist had by 2004 become a mainstay of Angelopoulos’ narratives,
and is readily familiar from Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage to Cythera, 1984) and
Ulysses’ Gaze. But here the decision to focus on a director provides a critical
mediation between the past and present, hypothetically allowing the film to
think about its own role and the role of its medium in the transition between
historical moments. For what remains of this chapter, I want us to look at some
of the ways the film invites this reflexive allegory, and to account for some of
the ways that its historical context contributes to an aesthetic discordancy,
which will return us to the question of late style.
Setting aside the producers who finance and capitalise on A.’s creative
output, whose invisible presence is telegraphed in the film’s opening minutes,
the world he inhabits is conspicuously more repressive, more securitised and
altogether more authoritarian than the Siberian setting in which he was con-
ceived and born. Almost all of the outdoor scenes set in the present day include
an assortment of paramilitary guards or what A. criticises as ‘Rambo types’,
jackbooted men dressed in black fatigues, heavily armed and sometimes teth-
ered to guard dogs. The securitised state as figured by this omnipresence of
military force also articulates the multiple screens made visible in this setting.
When the present-day Eleni and Spyros pass through an airport there is a long,
slowly zooming shot of the X-ray scans to which all passengers must submit
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prior to entry into Europe. The shot is composed, looking from its margins to
its centre, by multiple screens: nearest to the frame are two blue X-ray scan-
ners, before which stand the fully clothed passengers; more central to those are
two vertical screens upon which images of the passengers appear naked; at the
centre of the frame, in the background, is a door leading to an exit, flanked by
two guards; in the foreground is another screen, where a third guard checks
the replicated images of the naked passengers. The camera slowly zooms in on
that foreground monitor when an elderly Spyros appears on it, as though to
accentuate physical senescence.7 After several seconds the shot is interrupted
by A.’s off-screen shouting: ‘What do you want from me? What the hell do you
want from me? I refuse to go through this humiliating process’. An anonymous
mans breaks free of the queue, fleeing from the guards and into a completely
different space-time: the scene of the border crossing, which we have already
discussed. These images of high-tech security scans and of an emphatically
intimidating paramilitary appear on either side of that scene, emphasising
a continuity between guarded borders leading out of the USSR and, here,
borders into the Eurozone. They imply a subtext about the militarisation of
the free world and the recruitment of screen media for that purpose, and they
seem to indicate that both historical moments, past and present, have been
conceived of by the one consciousness.
If Angelopoulos’ post-utopian cinema can be diagnosed with political nihil-
ism or even with a conflicted nostalgia for historically inaccessible socialist
alternatives, then that diagnosis must account for the fact that the scenes set in
the USSR have been imagined from this very present. One scene, from near
the film’s ending, knowingly emblematises the relationship between this kind
of cinema and the historical moment that produced it. A.’s missing daughter,
the younger Eleni, has been located. A. as well as both his parents, Eleni and
Spyros, are brought to her location, where she has been sited looking from
the window on the third floor of a derelict building that is now surrounded
by riot police. The senior Eleni is granted entry by the building’s hitherto
unseen inhabitants. As she arrives on the third floor the camera circles her and
in doing so it takes in the mass of dispossessed men and women living there,
one of whom tosses a bottle that shatters near her feet, as well as the advancing
squadron of riot police, who have amassed on neighbouring rooftops and are
filling the lower levels of an adjacent building. There is real suspense in this,
conveyed by an unmistakable volatility. Here, in the Eurozone, ‘the unem-
ployed and underemployed’ are, as Costas Douzinas has written, debarred
from ‘the political system’ and ‘treated as a security threat and policing
measure’, and it is precisely that threat which temporarily dynamises this scene
(2013: 26). All of this is redolent of Angelopoulos’ 1970s films, and even The
Weeping Meadow, where refugees take shelter in abandoned buildings, and in
which barely repressed class conflict is forever on the verge of eruption. Here,
154  m a r k s te ve n

however, the sutures that previously would have sided us with the refugees
and exiles have been aggressively reversed in what appears to be a supreme act
of bad faith. As the two Elenis are reunited for a moment of unearned pathos –
the granddaughter runs to her grandmother and unconvincingly repeats the
phrase ‘I want to die’ – the riot police close in, forcibly clearing the building
of its inhabitants. There is no struggle or retaliation. The volatility dissipates
and melodrama is triumphant. By dispersing the building’s occupants the riot
police ensure the melodramatic sacrosanctity of this narrative instant, so that
the film can better enjoy its sentimental apotheosis without feeling the threat
of history, embodied by the disenfranchised multitude, which paradoxically
is now more present than ever in its forceful extirpation. Whatever beauty or
humanism or melodrama prevails here is forcefully surcharged by military
We have seen that this film contains elements of post-utopian cinema, that
the forces of capital seem to structure its circumambient narrative, and that
these two levels of the diegetic universe overlap for an uneasy late style, which
shifts formally and thematically away from the collective and towards individu-
ation, and in doing so faces if not outright contradiction then at least a paradox.
The film depicts that shift, allegorising the fate of its own aesthetic as a response
to history, without necessarily endorsing it: the melancholy border-crossing out
of the past and the highly visible militarisation of the present seem to authorise
this assessment. While this does not ameliorate some of the film’s more basic
errors (the dialogue remains especially painful) it nevertheless provides us with
an optic through which to review some of the more self-contradictory aspects
of Angelopoulos’ late style, which attempts to forge something beautiful from
material conditions that militate against its success. Finally, then, what about
those seemingly divine glimpses of a utopian alternative, which were offered
by the earlier films and which might stubbornly convey the nucleus of a now
impossible collective life, before that life prepares for its unpredictable reacti-
vation in the trilogy’s incomplete third film: are they present in all of this?
Bringing us full circle, we encounter signs of collective life in moments of
late style as a kind of expatriate grace, and we can finish here with just one
instance of this. Reunited in old age, in what we already know to be the milita-
rised Eurozone, the three lovers, Eleni, Spyros, and Jacob, wander the streets
of Berlin and enter a Metro station. ‘We dreamt of another world,’ says Jacob.
‘Now it is all lost. Yet it all began so differently,’ to which Spyros replies:
‘We were cast aside by history.’ A folk band busks in the Metro and the three
lovers take turns dancing: first Spyros and Eleni, then Spyros allows Jacob,
now Eleni’s husband, to take his place. The dance lasts only seconds, with the
camera slowly arcing around the three like an invisible fourth party, but in
this moment and for just those few seconds we bear witness to the cinematic
recoupling of the preterite individuals, whose descendants will, if not yet
tracks in the eurozon e  155

­ istorically then at least in a nigh fittingly unrealised sequel, be seen to inherit

the earth. Late style emerges once again here in a structural complication faced
by narrative continuity, as the inability to convincingly terminate this genu-
inely affecting orchestration, which would thereby reconcile the characters’
past with their historical present. Rather than having the dance end naturally
or by way of some external intervention, the form itself seems to intrude on
them through another melodramatic irruption. Eleni’s inexplicably failing
health, or perhaps even her age, causes her to faint. The three characters are
thus returned to their post-utopian present, but that return is underwritten
by the force of a late style, which complicates any peaceable reconciliation
between the Soviet refugees and the New World Order: for now, theirs is a life
that can only endure aside from history.

1. In the excellent book from which this quotation is borrowed, Pretty: Film and the
Decorative Image, Rosalind Galt argues that ‘art cinema’s definitional interest in the artistic
qualities of the medium’ suggest that it will comprise a ‘complicating rejection of
modernist austerity’, a dynamic which, she insists, contributed to the canonisation of
Michelangelo Antonioni and Bernardo Bertolucci. ‘Between anti-aesthetic austerity and
the richly designed image’, she argues, ‘prettiness is at stake in art cinema and in the terms
of its critical contestation’ (2011: 192–3).
2. This is how András Bálint Kovács periodises cinematic modernism, whose dominant
periods ‘followed the two important avant-garde or modernist waves in art: the first in the
1910s and 1920s, the second in the 1960s’ (2007: 52).
3. As the director of one of these films, Athina Rachel Tsangari, describes her assuredly post-
industrial aesthetic: ‘These are the ruins of modern Greece. They are like the Acropolis,
which are the ruins of our collective psychosis with our past. It’s a bauxite mine, depleted
by a French company that came, took everything, ruined everything and left’ (Tsangari in
Lucas 2012).
4. See, for instance, the scene from The Weeping Meadow, in which a band of musicians
emerge, one by one, from within the abandoned factory.
5. We can see this in Зеркало (The Mirror, 1975) and Сталкер (Stalker, 1979) directed by
Tarkovsky, and in Sátántangó (1994) and Werckmeister harmóniák (Werckmeister Harmonies,
2000) directed by Tarr.
6. In The Dust of Time the dismantling of the Berlin Wall is only mentioned via radio
broadcast, heard distantly from the USA. However, the recurrent trope of an angel’s ‘third
wing’ can be taken as an allusion to Wim Wenders’ Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of
Desire, 1987), which is set in East Berlin and which also stars Bruno Ganz.
7. The blocking here is a near quotation of the old man in the hospice from Werckmeister
8. This scene might be productively juxtaposed to the superlative travelling shot from the
end of Children of Men (2003), which is narratively and thematically similar to this, but
tonally very different: unlike this, that scene amplifies the political tension to a fever pitch.


Cinematography of the Group:

Angelopoulos and the Collective
Subject of Cinema
Julian Murphet

I t would be arguable that the gold standard of commercial narrative film,

the ‘affection image’ or facial close-up, is a fatal error for any cinema of the
Left; that Griffith’s pioneering innovations in the conventions of close-up
cinematography were nothing less than a capture of the fledgling discourse
of narrative cinema for the forces of sentimental reaction, leaving a legacy of
bourgeois individualism lodged within the very grammar of the form. The
conventions of eye-line matching and shot-reverse-shot montage, and the
anchoring of emotional catharsis in the fetishised face as such, have tended
to predispose commercial film narrative towards an individualist formal con-
servatism – melodrama in the age of mechanical reproduction. To that extent,
the programmed apparition of these faces in a crowd – the routine singling out
of some privileged visage from amid the anonymous masses of modernity –
­functions invariably in narrative cinema as a foreclosure of potential political
energies, and their translation into some other ethical discourse: personal,
emotive, moralistic. Within the hegemony of the close-up as ‘money-shot’ of
sentimental cinema, other modes of framing, especially the long shot, are sub-
ordinated to roles of mere locational establishment or the necessary discharge
of kinetic energy in relatively autonomous action sequences. It is more or less
impossible to construct a critical political cinema in the terms offered by this
hegemony, even when treating the most ‘radical’ materials, as witness the
fatuous mendacities of Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981), or the clunking mechan-
ics of the biopic in Frida (2002), to mention only two egregious examples.
The long history of Left cinema has typically sought strategies of refus-
ing this particular trap of ideological closure, and to articulate new, collective
ways of seeing and feeling in film form. Eisenstein’s heroic working masses
tended to swarm inside the frame, dynamically overrunning the Apollonian
constraints of the individual body on screen, and serving to counterpoint his
mostly satiric close-up portraits of the people’s class enemies. Apart from their
160  j u l i a n m urphe t

service in framing the notable ‘world-historical’ individuals (Kerensky, Lenin,

Ivan, Nevsky) who people his films, Eisenstein’s close-ups were indeed more
often of Marxian ‘types’ than bourgeois subjects: lumpens, spies, ecclesiastics,
officers, politicians, and industrialists. Vertov meanwhile waged war on the
individual as any kind of support for cinematic sequences, and even when
detailing the individual body tended to compose it out of dissociated parts, so
that the faces themselves seemed to float free of any particular person. Buñuel,
having framed the rural poor with only passing attention to individual faces
in Las Hurdes (1933), and presented the urban lumpenproletariat with a sly
neo-realist classicism in Los Olvidados (1950), then developed a satirical group
cinematography for the ruling-class collectives of his later films – and relished
scenarios in which these groups were broken in upon or exposed to other
groups, instigating a formal breakdown in the cinema’s closed group security
for the bourgeoisie. By the 1970s, with an international rise in militant Left
and Third cinemas, new strategies were devised for the presentation of the col-
lective nature of experience – as witness Cuban cinema’s revolutionary collec-
tivism, Fellini’s nostalgic-progressive evocations of organic communities, or
Godard’s pitiless horizontal track, in Tout va bien (1972), back and forth along
a line of supermarket checkouts, beyond which the anarchist youth c­ ollective
agitates the milling herd.
Moving images like Godard’s rehearse the contemporary work by Jean-
Paul Sartre on groups, and the dialectical tension between the ‘inert seriality’
(Sartre [1960] 2004: 355) of massed modern living, on the one hand, and the
eventful creation of a synthesised or ‘fused group’ (2004: 345) in the move-
ment of praxis, on the other. The very logic of these films’ various attempts
to propose a new, non- or post-individualistic subjectivity for filmic elabora-
tion chimes with the rise of new political group formations in the women’s
movement, anti-colonial activism, Black Power and gay liberation at the same
time. Sartre’s pioneering conceptual efforts could thus be seen to have taken
on flesh in the streets in this period, in a manner evidently more propitious
for cinematic treatment than the much more abstract and forbidding notion
of economic class itself, only fitfully transposable into filmic form on the basis
of this or that vanguard party or group in any event, if not in an openly pro-
letkult manner or apolitical ‘blue collar’ variety. In these and many other Left
cinematic efforts over the long arc of the twentieth century, the individual
was displaced from the centre of narrative gravity, in favour of forms of col-
lective subjectivity, a tendency reaching some kind of apotheosis in Peter
Watkins’ extraordinary, nearly six-hour long La Commune (de Paris, 1871). In
a more liberal mode, the tendency can also be seen working its way through
the American canon in the cinema of Robert Altman, who proved stubbornly
indifferent to the standard individualism of his national climate; and more
­latterly in the early work of his great disciple Paul Thomas Anderson.
cine m ato graphy of the group   161

If it is true, as Fredric Jameson observes, that in Theo Angelopoulos we

have a cinema openly seeking to ‘neutralize the categories of individualism
and the individual body but also the individual character altogether’ (1997:
85), then it will be useful to specify some of the formal means whereby that
neutralisation is effected. For while Angelopoulos remains a distinctive polit-
ico-aesthetic intelligence, as distant from the Vertov-like provocations of mid-
period Godard as he is from the categories of ‘imperfect cinema’ or Watkins’
pseudo-documentary style – closer, perhaps, to Antonioni and Tarkovsky than
these more dedicated ‘group’ forms, Angelopoulos nevertheless retains ele-
ments of an aesthetic quite foreign to those other post-war auteurs; a veritable
(and nationally derived) classicism whose ponderous indifference to standard
principles of action or conventional scenography is registered in the extreme
longueurs of his various episodes. That is to say, in Angelopoulos, the group
shot is always conceived through a double-optic: at once a formal reference
to a classical pre-modernity in which the travails of individuality have not
yet properly emerged, and a political incitation from within the throes of
late modernity to re-imagine post-subjective collective identities resistant to
alienation and anomie, typically by way of references to the militant group
­formations of Greece’s tortured political past.
Or at least, so much might be said for the first sustained phase of his oeuvre,
spanning the years 1970–80, since the determinate break that has been uni-
versally detected at that latter point is generally associated with a turn to more
subjective cinema (rightly or wrongly), in which the group focus is typically
constricted to a familial scale if it survives at all as a bearer of actantial value.
Jameson’s charge that the second phase is organised around ‘the individual
subjectivity, the individual experience, the leading protagonist, the narrative
‘point of view’, which he characterises in terms of aesthetic ‘regression’ and
an ‘annulment’ of the first phase’s commitment to collectivity (1997: 88–9),1
strikes me as rather unfair and properly descriptive of only the director’s least
important work, the execrable Ο Μελισσοκόμος (The Beekeeper, 1986), and
the studious festival work Το Βλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995);
since one would be hard put to identify the protagonist of Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα
(Voyage to Cythera, 1984) or Το Μετέωρο Βήμα του Πελαργού (The Suspended
Step of the Stork, 1991), while Το Λιβάδι που Δακρύζει (The Weeping Meadow,
2004) strikes a determined return to collectivity proper, and the glorious Τοπίο
στην Ομίχλη (Landscape in the Mist, 1988) not only features a pseudo-couple
as its central actant, but centrally revives the travelling players themselves. In
any event, it is surely important to insist that just as the Oresteia itself (like all
the Aeschylean and Sophoclean classics that Angelopoulos habitually invokes)
is concerned with the allegorical relationship between the family and the state,
the group in Angelopoulos is never to be fully separated from the familial
network in which it is invariably enmeshed. His classicism, indeed, makes it
162  j u l i a n m urphe t

finally impossible to disentangle the sacred affective investments of familial

ethics from the political responsibilities of the group itself.
In any event, the purpose of this chapter is to scan Angelopoulos’ early
contributions to the project of a collectivist cinema for those signature formal
effects that make his work truly distinctive; and so to delineate some aesthetic-
political limits to his cinematography of the group, which may therefore have
forced him by a mounting aesthetic logic – as well as a geopolitical one – to
transfer to a more ‘subjectivist’ approach in his later work. Rather than assume
that the change in focus and the retrieval of what Jameson elsewhere calls ‘pro-
tagonicity’ from 1984 onwards is an extrinsic phenomenon imported into the
work – for example, that the themes of migrancy and of the cosmopolitan peri-
patetic artist that pepper the later work, are simple effects of historical change:
the crisis in the Balkans, and the closure of a certain chapter in Greek history
within an emergent neoliberal consensus – it is as well to consider the strong
possibility that the change resulted as much from internal pressures and the
sensed limitations of the earlier mode itself. My own hypothesis is that both
extrinsic and intrinsic causality dovetailed in the early 1980s, and precipitated
a seismic redistribution of cinematic techniques within Angelopoulos’ formal
arsenal – the most evident of which is the relative eclipse, indeed the virtual
disappearance, of what will be the central technical exhibit of this chapter,
namely the long-take circular or semi-circular pan in long shot, stretching
from between 180° and 720°, as the great auteur’s most distinctive device for
dynamic group framing.
The pan, whose etymological origins in the Greek word (Πᾶν) for totality is
an obvious dimension of its significance in this classicist cinema, is an under-
studied grammatical term in cinematic articulation: less flamboyant than the
tracking shot, less aggressive than the cut, and more invisible than the zoom
or tilt, the pan seems destined to a relatively minor role in the distribution
of filmic narrative devices, on the order of the comma in written language,
relegated to the analogous gesture of a turn of the head in conversation. And
yet things begin to look different when the 90° angle is breached, and the
camera proceeds to exceed the natural turning angle of the human neck (à
la Linda Blair in The Exorcist) – for at such moments, the pan truly seeks to
fulfil its concept in that 360° arc which completes a full circuit and maps out
all the available space in a single horizontal sweep. Think of the opening tel-
ephoto pan of Altman’s Thieves Like Us, (1974), which patiently articulates
the convict world by way of handcar, boat, and automobile; or the early stable
shot in Andrei Rublev, (1966), which fuses the world of peasant carnival and
laughter into a rounded whole; or the farmyard piano sequence in Godard’s
Weekend (1967); or the well-known murder scene from Renoir’s Le Crime de
Monsieur Lange (The Crime of M. Lange, 1936), which Bazin described as a
‘pure spatial expression of the entire mise-en-scène’ (Bazin [1971] 1992: 42).
cine m ato graphy of the group   163

The pan, once it leaps the traces of an acute angle, is perhaps cinema’s most
trenchant shorthand for the totality as such: a camera movement whose logic
is not self-regarding but self-effacing, committed to opening up the space that
surrounds the frame, dismantling the fourth wall, and disintegrating the privi-
leged position of the spectator. In early Angelopoulos, as we are about to see,
that logic is precisely matched with his avocation for a cinematography of the
group, such that its principal function is to allow the group to come into being
as such, as a mobile and purposeful unit, and not merely a ‘planimetric’ spatial
composition of bodies (Bordwell 1997: 21–2). In a word, if the pan’s most
august aesthetic role is to unfurl a world, then in Angelopoulos that world is
always already occupied by groups, alive with their cross-purposes and contra-
dictions. Here, to totalise is to disclose the way in which a world is riven from
within by the various groups that claim it, incompatibly, as their own.
Let us begin where Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970) ends, in the
culminating scene where the murderous couple are led away from the village
by the agents of the state, only to confront what Hegel would have called
the ‘ethical community’ of village women standing for the ‘law of the heart’
– who attack the murderess in a group assault. The scene is mounted in a
sequence of shots: first a panning still camera which follows the culprits and
the police down the hill, only to break its rightward drift when the woman
catches sight of what we do not yet see, and lurches left to trace a full 360°
pan which articulates the hitherto dissociated village community into a ‘fused
group’ ready to act: its total silence and the stillness of the poised bodies
endows the ­full-circular pan with a prodigious aesthetic gravity. This is fol-
lowed by a quick medium shot, panning left, of a breakaway woman who
leads the charge; then a high-angle tilted shot of the whole group rushing
upon and surrounding the guilty woman for violating the family bond. There
follows a montage of five hand-held POV shots of the melee (very unusual
for Angelopoulos: he would never again repeat the same device); and then
a punctuating return to the high-angle group shot as the affray nears its end
(in a circular composition that will be loosely echoed and perfected ten years
later in the climactic sequence of Ο Μεγαλέξανδρος (Megalexandros, 1980) as
we shall see. What bears particular attention here is the slow and silent 360°
pan at the start, for with it Angelopoulos establishes what will be an endur-
ing strategy for presenting the group in his cinematic discourse. Indeed, I
am going to argue that the 360°, 720° or 180° pan is his preferred technical
device for transforming a mere community into a fused group. Its virtues in
this regard are several:

• The pan discloses the spatial horizon within which a group emerges, since
in Angelopoulos there can be no group without the space in which its act
becomes possible.
164  j u l i a n m urphe t

• The pan gathers anonymous, distributed agents into a circle, a knot, of

political or ethical energy.
• The pan exceeds the orbit or trajectory of any particular individual, its
momentum is molar, not molecular.
• The pan totalises, it literally fixes the Πα̃ν or all within which a group
breaks loose from its merely serial, practico-inert dispensation in the larger

So far, so good. And we can immediately see the difference a totalising pan
can make when we compare the opening scene from Μέρες του ’36 (Days of
’36, 1972). Here the energy is arranged entirely the other way around: a static
extreme high-angle shot of the workers gathering in the factory square, fol-
lowed by a motivated pan, tracking the political organiser as he approaches
the elevated ground where he will be assassinated. This is a distinct grammar:
the grammar of non-fusion, of an aborted encirclement, of a collective failing
to group itself. It is ‘corrected’ later in the film, in the great prison-yard
sequence, which is the first of Angelopoulos’ fully mature 360° pans, and
which firmly establishes the irresistible logic of a group’s fusion from scat-
tered corpuscles. In a truly bravura demonstration, Angelopoulos does for the
closed yard what he had before done (and will again do) for the mountain-top
village: establish its ‘world’, its horizon and spatial limit, as well as the inhab-
itants who, scattered into eight groups around the yard, mill and smoke and
mutter in their everyday alienation. But far more than this, the slow duration
of the shot, its inching pan around the yard, maps out something extraordi-
nary, the lineaments of an event – as, in eight separate linked trajectories, an
emissary from each groupuscule nonchalantly ‘passes it forward’ to the next,
the unspoken word of revolt, unheard but communicated with a sequential
logic whose dynamic is that of totalisation. This is how a group forms out of
a serial collective, in an orchestrated pan that the panoptical eye of the prison
authorities is of course trained to perceive, and rushes in only to find the word
already threading the group together unassailably into a political unit. This
extraordinary sequence shot performs precisely what was most distinctive
about Angelopoulos’ cinematography of the group: its patience and apparent
turgidity, within which a surreptitious political energy incubates and spreads
along a highly disciplined circular vector.
Those implications will be taken up and ‘sublated’ in the pivotal central
sequence of Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975), wherein first one collec-
tive, and then another, more focused and fused one, gather in a town square
to rally for the progressive cause against royalist nationalism. Here, the pan is
itself sublated, gathered up into itself and squared: as the off-screen gunshots
disrupt the rally, scattering the collective into the alleyways and lanes, the cir-
cling camera, with a pause at the 180° mark, patiently traces the evaporation
cine m ato graphy of the group   165

Figure 10.1 Diagram for the opening scene of Days of ’36

of the crowd until, having come full-circle, only a lone bagpiper traverses the
square behind the dead bodies and one, the old accordionist (Yiannis Furios),
rises from playing possum and disappears – before, miraculously, the unthink-
able happens, and the camera begins a second 360° tour of the square, which
now, again pausing at the 180° point, recalls the scattered collective from its
holes and warrens back into the light of day, only purified of those elements
that had prevented it from fusing into a militant collective in the first place –
the pro-Americans and the Greek chauvinists. In this film’s dialectical nostal-
gia, only the red flag can convoke a true group, a genuine political subject, in
the political economy of urban space. And it takes a 720° pan to prove it: the
first circuit disavowing the solidarity of the unstable coalition; the second con-
voking the true political agent, the militant group adequate to the totality. This
dynamic framing is what Angelopoulos calls a ‘close-up of the group’ (cited in
Archimandritis 2013: 32–3).
This is a film whose extraordinary formal dialectic allows for a further
complication of the logic of group cinematography: first by way of the three
medium shot monologues that serve as punctual choruses to the film’s histori-
cal tragedy (as close as Angelopoulos allows himself to come to a genuine close-
up); and second by way of a different device to establish another kind of group
formation – the right-wing collective as fused group, presented allegorically in
166  j u l i a n m urphe t

Figure 10.2 The Hunters

the film’s greatest tracking shot as the passage from dancehall to town square
of some inebriated royalists in progressive stages of tightening cohesion, pack-
aged into a single sequence shot traversing six years of narrative time. These
two devices offset the central 720° pan by recalling us to lateral or linear move-
ment, on the one hand, and tragic stasis, on the other. The unique political
dynamism of the film arises from its articulation of distinct group formations
by way of specific formal devices, a clash of registers and modes that express
the underlying political tectonics in the space of presentation. At its heart is a
group that never properly fuses – the players themselves – and which is not
the subject of totalising pans, but of frontal or dorsal frieze-like ‘planimetric’
tableaux compositions, which can either move or not, but which dispose the
collective as a horizontal line, a cut or fold in space, but never a unity as such.
The travelling players ‘carry’ the film, but they are not the subjects of its totali-
sations. These rather happen in the spaces around them, and the film’s formal
genius is to allow their traversals of the countryside to enable such moments,
from left and from right;2 ‘things happen to them; they don’t make things
happen’ (Kovács 2007: 254) as András Bálint Kovács writes of characters in
neo-realist cinema.
But Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977) is perverse in displacing its centre of
narrative gravity away from the communists and partisans, or the artists, and
towards the ruling class as a group in its own right, leading the film towards
properly Buñuelian effects and a mood openly satiric despite the grim materi-
als covered. The specific dependency on Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (The
Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, 1972) is felt heavily, as is the Hitchcockian
cine m ato graphy of the group   167

wit of The Trouble with Harry (1955)3 and Rope (1948), not to mention the
savage group aesthetic of Salò, or the 120 Says of Sodom (Pasolini, 1975). But
in the film’s most dazzling shot we see how determined Angelopoulos is to use
the pan (here only 180°, and with some minor longitudinal tracking) to articu-
late groups along an irreconcilable faultline. The triumphal ruling-class group,
singing their fascist anthem boisterously on the lakeside boardwalk outside its
nostalgic hotel, is arrested by a spectacle that pulls the camera rightward in a
motivated eye-line pan, where it discovers the miraculous sight of a surreal
flotilla of communist vessels flanked by swans, tracing a red line of blood and
political loss across the melancholy horizon of water, mountain and evening
sky. It is the most calculatedly glorious shot in early Angelopoulos, a serious
down-payment on his later aestheticism. But its function is to convoke two
groups, both fused, along an axis of disjunction: the transition from land to
water, from present to past, from ruling class to partisan ghosts, is absolute,
horizontal, and pure. The pan totalises what cannot be totalised, which is
perhaps why it stops halfway, arrested by the political contradiction into which
it has stumbled. This is a film about the haunting of one class by another, about
the persistence of the obliterated past within the present, and Angelopoulos
has discovered the means to have his cake and eat it with his signature formal
Another pan somewhat earlier in the film (52:35–56:14) takes up the alle-
gorical mode of the tracking group shot in Travelling Players, and arranges
for the ruling-class group (emerging from their club and dancing towards
the camera) to come into open confrontation with the organised working
class at a crossroads in a built-up city area. Once again, rather than an act
of fusion or totalisation, what we have here is an interrupted pan that stalls
in order to propose a conflict of lines and spatial forces. Finally, the pan
completes itself in a scan away from the site of conflict just as it is growing
hot, and describes its 180° semicircle, but only to capture the solo witness of
the ruling-class group’s uneasy ‘fellow-traveller’, who cannot be fused – we
watch him watching the brutal act of political suppression. But this has not
yet exhausted the permutations on the pan in this remarkable film; for what
are we to make of the utterly innovative moment in which, finally celebrating
the New Year as an uncontaminated collective, the ruling group is visited by
the ghost of the dead king, who proceeds to dance with the hitherto silent
female member of the group. This astonishing shot 4 contains within itself
the perfect formal inversion of a 360° pan: a 360° orbital glide, which places
the woman (Eva Kotamanidou) where the panning camera would usually be,
and completes a glacial circuit around her dancing form, such that the entire
group is d ­ isclosed, seated in dinner suits and evening dresses, around her and
the king’s invisible spectre, who eventually copulate on the floor. It is as if
Angelopoulos has turned the glove of the full-circular pan inside out, in order
168  j u l i a n m urphe t

to expose the obscene kernel of ruling-class group formation: the sentimental

nuclear fusion of nostalgic reaction, whose secret political logic is rape and
human sacrifice.
All of which could still not have prepared us for that supreme apotheosis
of group cinematography that is Megalexandros – as astonishing a meditation
on collectivism and the politics of group formation as anything in the canon,
and certainly Angelopoulos’ most sustained experiment in de-individualised
cinema, which perversely takes as its subject the irruption of a charismatic
individual from within the ‘knowable community’ of an anarcho-syndicalist
mountain-top village commune. The film’s subject matter concerns the inevi-
table political and ethical tensions over time between this commune and the
militia that it secretes from itself as a necessary instrument for preserving its
autonomy: between the community and its guardians, since, in Plato’s sense,
the philosopher (‘Teacher’) is entirely in the service of the commune. The
initial entrance of Alexander (Omero Antonutti) into the village is one of
several memorable set pieces: a first, static extreme long shot of the commu-
nards spilling over the lip of the protective hill; cut to a leftward panning shot
of the company of militia and accompanying anarchists arriving at the place
of the first shot, so that the two groups can hail one another across the liquid
element of a bordering river (already a recurrent tableau in Angelopoulos, and
one that will be elaborated further in subsequent films); next a radical surprise,
a 90° lateral cut to frame the bridge that links the village path to the rest of
the country, but in total silence apart from the burbling stream, as a swinging
pan left and right connects the militia leader, Alexander, with the commune’s
organic intellectual, the Teacher (Christophoros Nezer), who then proceed
to embrace on the bridge; then a cut to the critical shot of the village square,
in which Alexander is surrounded in an organic circle by the entire village, as
if to reintegrate him into their ethical substance, their nation and express his
belonging to them. Here I want to argue that the totalising circle, the 360° pan,
is displaced from the camera’s movements onto the group itself, which takes
upon itself the tasks of encircling and fusing what the camera would otherwise
have managed.
But the commune is not simply what encircles and absorbs. At its peak
of distress, after the militia has killed the village’s sheep for a second time in
protest against the socialisation of property, the commune flattens itself into
stratified planes – first the ethical community of women, and behind them, the
proto-political community of men. From this planimetric redistribution of the
organic circle of communal life, there emerges the rushing stream of expropri-
ating men, who raid the militia’s quarters and liberate their property in what is
not to be distinguished from a mob. But this, precisely, is not a totalised group;
it is a disaggregated community defined by ressentiment, and is easily subdued
by the militia’s intrinsic understanding of the logic of totalisation: the panning
cine m ato graphy of the group   169

circle, as in the scene where the guardians-turned-plunderers dance with rifles

raised into a tight circle and conjure back into their midst the charismatic
Alexander to restore the balance of power. From a slightly elevated angle, the
camera mutely regards the fusion of this group and attends helplessly to its
logic, which has progressively eaten away the very fibre and meaning of the
And yet, in the most extraordinary couple of shots he ever mounted,
Angelopoulos finally restores the power of totalisation to the villagers them-
selves, and to the panning camera as their mediator. The death of Alexander,
for me his single greatest sequence, pushes this entire disquisition to its
resounding finale: two shots, the first, a meticulous complex shot that begins
by tracing the beaten Alexander in a panning retreat to the evacuated space
of the village square where he collapses in stasis, and then undertakes one
of Angelopoulos’ signature 360° pans, gradually bringing out the entire
commune to gather in a knot around the fallen general – definitively establish-
ing the genetic link between the circular pan as such, and the circular form of
bodies within the mise en scène. What happens next defies description; it is the
final surmounting of the very logic of this tendency. A cut to a high-angle shot,
which recalls the last scene in Reconstruction, sees the aggregated commune
tighten into a single, pulverising social sphincter, which closes in on the hero
and consumes him without a word.5 The annihilation of the charismatic indi-
vidual by the anonymous group from which it came: the cinematography of
the group can go no further, it has reached its culmination, and as the sun
miraculously emerges from behind the clouds for one instant to reveal an
empty ground, we are left with the lingering questions that such a cinema was
unable to answer: what, after all, of the individual?
This sequence of films began and ended in small, mountain-top villages,
knowable communities without named characters other than the invidious
ones, where alienation had not yet eaten away the ethical substance of national
life. The mode of production here is basically agrarian, traditional and pre-
modern in all the critical ways. Even when this great tetralogy had ventured
gamely into modernity, it avoided the critical question of individual subjec-
tivity by masking its optics in classical formal vestments or the operations of
satire; so that the historical group could be secured formally and politically
against dissolution, but at the great expense, I would suggest, of language
itself, the essence of Spirit, as Hegel called it. Angelopoulos’ groups are
uniquely sustained by a prodigious silence amongst themselves. Electra (Eva
Kotamanidou) herself does not speak, apart from her monologue away from
the group, and so it most often is – members of a group speak only outside
the parameters of their inclusivity, or do so clandestinely and away from our
ears. I have a powerful feeling that Angelopoulos came out of the comple-
tion of Megalexandros with the feeling that he had avoided precisely the most
170  j u l i a n m urphe t

a­ gonising aesthetic problems of modernity, which is presumably why its final

shot is of the young Alexander emerging from the mists of myth, allegory and
the village commune to confront what nothing in the tetralogy had yet pre-
pared us for: a totalising pan, not of the community, or the group, but the vast
sprawling cosmos of modern Athens itself, the sounds of car horns emanating
from its impenetrable web, a social space whose totalisation, or the fusion of
whose groups, can never be possibly managed via a cinematic pan, because
the space itself is unrepresentable apart from the shorthand of this inhuman
panopticism of clotted architectures and unnavigable thoroughfares. When
Alexander goes down into the cities, we need a new cinematic language.
Of course, the isolation in abstract of a single cinematic device from the
dense weave of techniques and tropes that characterise a given cinematic
oeuvre is a perfectly artificial exercise. It ignores the larger formal architec-
tonic that supports any sequence of works and breathes consistency (as well
as variation) into that progression. Worse still, it promotes a formalism so
exaggerated that historical and political time is only allowed in the back door
at exceptional analytical moments, as when a technological development (a
new lens type, faster film stock, innovative widescreen format and so on)
generated elsewhere in the general mode of production, migrates inexorably
into the beating heart of an auteur’s aesthetic mode of production. And yet
the value of such an exercise is made quite clear at those turning points in a
given oeuvre when, for all intents and purposes, the device in question can be
said to lapse from a former prominence, replaced by other techniques that can
now be seen to do the job better, or do a different job entirely. Such is the case
here, and there can be no question that, after Megalexandros, the full-circular
pan suffers an absolute decline in fortunes in Angelopoulos’ cinema, reviv-
ing tentatively here and there, but henceforth without any of the powerful
aesthetic logic of its earlier mode of operation. In what remains I want to offer
a very provisional and cursory explanation of this demotion, which will then
hopefully shed some belated light on that larger architectonic so far kept out
of this chapter’s frame.
In the first place, inasmuch as the next sequence of works chafes against the
national border itself, and turns increasingly to thematics of exile, departure
and transcendental homelessness, the earlier emphasis on bounded and fused
groups ceases to have the figurative purchase it did previously. Of course,
groups do go into exile and return from it, as the triumphant work of restora-
tion The Weeping Meadow so achingly attests; but by and large exile is at best a
small-group or familial experience, and most typically an individual alienation
that opens up zones of indiscernibility within the existential self. Nowhere is
this better depicted than in the curious figure of Marcello Mastroianni’s name-
less persona in The Suspended Step of the Stork around whom the entire film
turns in undecidable suspension, since he is both the runaway Greek politician
cine m ato graphy of the group   171

and the Albanian refugee, at one and the same time. Or alternatively, the two
children who go seeking their mythical father in Germany in Landscape in the
Mist, finding a resurrected Orestes (Stratos Tzortzoglou) as their guardian
angel instead, could hardly be presented apart from their fundamental sexual
duality, and must be understood to exist outside of either an individual or a
group frame, as a pseudo-couple in the strong sense: precisely the optimal
actant for thinking the quest in exile.6 Angelopoulos’ increasing concern for
what falls outside of national frames of belonging – both with the residual (if
battered) utopian and internationalist spirit of a communism that cannot be
circumscribed under a chauvinist flag, as with the late postmodern prolifera-
tion of internment camps, sans papiers, and homo sacer – leaves his paradigmatic
device of the full-circular pan with little to do and nowhere to go. Horizontal
movement, rather than circular, seems better equipped to grasp the existential
gist of this New World Order.
In its place, however, is a new concern for liquid (if not quite gaseous) per-
ception, a sumptuous array of camera movements set in gentle counterpoint
to the various spaces of displacement – train stations, interchanges, police
pursuits, truck-stop cafes, ports, border towers and the ubiquitous rivers that
instantiate the very idea of the Border, even as they give torrential testimony
to the evanescence of all things. It is as if, indeed, the camera movements
now want to partake of the very principle of the river, baptised in that liquid
element to emerge with a novel sinuosity of gesture and undulating grace
of motion. It is not, of course, as if this cinema had hitherto lacked camera
movement;7 not only does the entirety of my argument to date refute that,
but we have only passingly touched on those austere travelling shots that are
the formal complement of the pans here treated. However, what now declares
its hegemony over the mise en scène is a species of movement liberated alike
from procrustean tracks and from the steady y-axis of the typical pan: namely,
arcing crane shots, whose newfound freedom to soar and to dip, as well as
dolly and pan, surely endows the second and third phases of Angelopoulos’
career with a degree of visceral pleasure in camera motion that would have
been thoroughly incompatible with the earlier classicism of his ‘historical’
sequence.8 Nowhere will this extraordinary will to pleasure in the rise and
fall of a crane-borne camera create effects as satisfying as in The Suspended
Step of the Stork, whose very title seems to associate its aesthetic with that
hovering, equivocal gesture of the crane (or stork!) between walking and
flying. But it only remains to add that, of course, there is no question of any
unmediated return of the now superannuated 360° pan in a cinema opened
up like this one to movements as glorious as that in which, in the rail yard,
the Reporter (Gregory Karr) and the Colonel (Ilias Logothetis) discover the
suspended body of the hanged man (from a crane), which the camera then
observes being  lowered into the mass of ululating women, before dollying
172  j u l i a n m urphe t

forward to catch the Reporter greeting the train that will deliver the politi-
cian’s wife (Jeanne Moreau) to this desolate border town, then rising and
returning back to the very point from which the corpse had been suspended,
and looking down upon its encirclement by the community itself; or indeed,
back at the station, the descending crane shot that brings the Reporter to
witness the deportation of the militant collective, gives us the defiance of the
partisan child on the tracks, then loops back to disclose Mastroianni among
the observers. Such gestures are imbued with an aesthetic logic that defies
the embeddedness of any national cinema in a ‘totalisable’ horizon; rather,
they strain at the very limits of a mappable milieu. In the new world that they
are suspended over, the totalising pan is a wilful anachronism, as witness the
elaborate tracking 540° pan that gives us again the travelling players on the
beach, in Landscape in the Mist (46:29–52:40): a perfectly knowing moment of
formal nostalgia.
All of this is in keeping with those larger international currents at work in
the 1980s and 1990s, presided over by the neoliberal consensus, but attain-
ing specific institutional form in the rebranded international film festival as
the premier market for all ‘art cinemas’, in a context where national quotas
and restrictions on Hollywood product were systematically gutted in a slurry
of ‘free-trade’ agreements. To survive on the festival circuit, filmmakers
whose work had hitherto obeyed dictates sprung from a specific conjuncture
or fault-line in national space, found themselves reaching towards an idiom
legible to cinéphile audiences in places as far-flung as Auckland, Oslo, and
Ouagadougou; in practice, this meant a tendentious conformity to the mer-
etricious renaissance of ‘beauty’ as the lingua franca of festival cinema in the
New World Order. So it was that, with even Godard – in Passion (1982) and
subsequent works – trotting out the tatters of a humanistic reverence for the
beautiful, the film world’s international artists as a group finally ‘transcended’
the anti-aesthetic or ‘imperfect’ agendas of the 1970s in the name of a revival
of traditional (and very Western) aesthetics. The perfect inevitability of this
collective decision under the auspices of late capitalism, and the various
recantations of those more Brechtian and avant-gardist tendencies that had
underwritten so many auteurist reputations, set the stage for a situation in
which Chinese ‘art cinema’ of the 1980s came to resemble contemporary
Iranian ‘art cinema’ more than it did the heroic communist cinema of its own
recent past. That is to say that almost all of the serious cinema of this period
can be caught in the act of allegorising its own ‘internationalisation’ under
the dominion of capital, and flying the flag of beauty, in order to relocate
its primary arena of operations, from a nationally specific political intel-
ligentsia, to a disseminated congeries of festival locations comprising a non-
totalisable ‘whole’ whose only aesthetic commonality was a thirst for gorgeous
cine m ato graphy of the group   173

Angelopoulos belongs to this narrative as much as anybody else. His films

from Voyage to Cythera onward are honest enough to make explicit what
others may have disavowed through folksy hokum and the retreat into sheer
aestheticism: they are immanent allegories of ‘art cinema’s’ new transcenden-
tal homelessness, performing their own formal dislocation from a traditional
matrix with the stubborn persistence of a ‘theme’. Such a multinational space
cannot be totalised, of course, and least of all by that anachronistic device of
a 360° pan. Instead, what we find is that trope demoted and repurposed in
a thoroughly altered set of aesthetic and economic circumstances, hanging
on despite its superannuation in overt nods of nostalgia, self-conscious
declensions within domestic spaces, and a covert resistance to the per-
sistent ­interruptions and blockages of a more mobile cinematic language.
The new, sweeping camera movements herald a transnational space-time
saturated by  capital, in which the older horizontal fixity of the pan begins
to look archaic  and c­lassical, tethered to a national geography, searching
for the outward limit of an ethos that nowhere, in the prevailing neoliberal
hegemony today, finds its local habitation or name. The decline of the pan
in Angelopoulos’ cinema is a function of the global dissociation of class rela-
tions in the New World Order, a melancholic acknowledgement that the
older cleavages in national space no longer hold the secret to the dynamics of
history, which now have to be sought, in a perpetual displacement, at the very
fringes of the perceptible.

1. David Bordwell concurs that ‘apolitical’ is an inappropriate epithet for describing this
second phase (2005: 184).
2. It is then particularly telling that, when this now archetypal group is resurrected in
Landscape in the Mist, their most extended presentation (on a beach) consists in the film’s
only 360° pan, a bravura demonstration of how context alters the meaning of a trope, even
with the selfsame content: for this is never how they are presented in The Travelling
Players, their own film.
3. This derivation is acknowledged in an interview with Angelopoulos by Francesco Casetti
([1977] 2001: 27).
4. Though it continues for several more minutes beyond this, the ‘shot’ is in fact interrupted
at this point by a straightforward Rope cut, using the dark back of a man’s suit to mask the
incision: the nods to Hitchcock are several.
5. Angelos Koutsourakis points out in conversation that this scene has clear intertextual
references to Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Pociąg (Night Train, 1959).
6. Don Quixote only inaugurates a long series of essential works in which this link is forged
and forged anew.
7. As Angelopoulos says: ‘I am trying to bring back to the cinema its primal element, that
is, movement in space. In this context, my work is an attempt to return to the real
dimension of the image, the image as the fundamental element. This does not mean that
174  j u l i a n m urphe t

logos is not important. Logos is to be identified within the image, but it has to be composed
in such a way that can be spatially verifiable’ (Angelopoulos in Stathi 1999: 151).
8. Which Jameson can then (mis-)characterise in terms of its well-nigh intolerable ‘stillness of
the camera’ (1997: 82).

The Narrative Imperative in the

Films of Theo Angelopoulos
Caroline Eades

T o examine the presence and significance of literary references in Theo

Angelopoulos’ films, one can start by looking at the influence of antiquity
in his work.1 Since his historical tetralogy – Μέρες του ’36 (Days of ’36, 1972),
Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975) Οι Kυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977), and
Ο Μεγαλέξανδρος (Megalexandros, 1980) – Angelopoulos’ oeuvre has been
imbued with allusions and direct references to classical texts: Greek tragedies
at first, The Odyssey throughout his work, and various passages from Plato and
Ovid more sporadically. But his interest in the poetic function of language also
led him to draw inspiration from modern and contemporary writers known
for their references to ancient stories and characters, from Eliot, Joyce and
Faulkner, to Seferis and Cavafy.2 This constant feature in Angelopoulos’
cinema seems to have gained a particular momentum in his later films: Το
Bλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995) and Μια Aιωνιότητα και μια Uέρα
(Eternity and a Day, 1998), followed by the trilogy on modern Greece – Το
Λιβάδι που Δακρύζει (The Weeping Meadow, 2004), Η Σκόνη του Χρόνου (The
Dust of Time, 2008) and Η Άλλη Θάλασσα (The Other Sea, interrupted by
Angelopoulos’ death in 2012).
In this chapter I will argue that throughout Angelopoulos’ forty-year long
career as a filmmaker, the place and nature of literary references progressively
superseded references to other forms of the ancient Greek artistic heritage and
contributed to establishing a progressive drive towards a ‘narrative impera-
tive’ in his creative process. This imperative in Angelopoulos’ most recent
films consists in subjecting the function and signification of images, mise en
scène, even music, to the advancement of the plot, the characterisation of its
protagonists and the construction of a diegetic world. Angelopoulos’ turn to a
more traditional form of cinema is nonetheless consistent with the inclination
towards controversy and polemics he has demonstrated throughout his train-
ing and career as a filmmaker. After fighting the Hollywood model of narrative
176  c a r ol i n e e ade s

continuity for many years, he seems to have veered away from both a ‘cinema
of discourse’, with an explicit political and ideological stance, and a ‘cinema
of affects’ as defined by recent film scholarship.3 In addition, changes in the
choice of subject and theme, noticeable since Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage to
Cythera, 1984) have led to a re-centring of Angelopoulos’ narratives on the
individual, and more precisely on the situation and the status of the artist as
a storyteller. This is evidenced by the use of narrative devices borrowed from
literature as well as a structural shift from explicit references to Greek tragedy
in his first films to the influence of the Homeric epic and other narrative forms
in his later films.
Many critics focused on the visual elements of Angelopoulos’ aesthetics,
often designated as a ‘cinema of contemplation’, to quote the title of Andrew
Horton’s book (1997a).4 But this consensus should not undermine the fact
that his work is also a ‘cinema of narration’, as Horton acknowledges in his
chapter on Ulysses’ Gaze: ‘the title evokes Homer, and thus a poetic world
of storytelling and a full range of the human imagination [. . .] Ulysses’ Gaze
surely, and richly, solidifies our sense of what I have called in this study the
Faulknerian element, that is, the existence of a fictional universe that is ref-
erenced from work to work in terms of characters, location, actions, themes,
and situations’ (1997a: 182). But this idiosyncratic world has tended to forgo
the dramatic figures and situations of his first films inspired by Greek trag-
edies and readily identified by film scholars such as Maria A. Stassinopoulos
(2007: 25–40), Sylvie Rollet (1993: 51–4), and William Guynn (2006: 154–64),
among others. The main characters – A., Alexandros, Spyros, Eleni – and
historical situations in the films that followed could have led Angelopoulos
to participate in what Robert Burgoyne describes as ‘the re-emergence of the
epic form’ in relation to ‘the cultural, social and political context of the present
period’ (2008: 15). But in order to tell the stories of his strong and committed
protagonists within their historical context, Angelopoulos opted in his later
films for another model of narrative: until the very end, his work remained
radically different from the spectacular, ‘action-packed’, larger-than-life and
Manichean epics spanning from Hollywood classical cinema and Italian neo-
peplum to today’s ‘return of the epic film’ defined by Andrew Elliot as ‘a body
of films loosely based around historical – usually ancient or classical, but also
medieval – periods’ (2014: 7).
Angelopoulos’ reference to the cultural heritage of archaic and Classical
Greece is not limited to literary forms and figures. As for many other graphic
and visual artists before him, Greek sculpture held a special place in the con-
stitution of his own aesthetics. But instead of simply displaying or imitating
Greek statuary, Angelopoulos endeavoured to transpose to cinema what typi-
cally stands out as the characteristics of sculpture as a figurative art: the rep-
resentation of forms in space, the relief of shapes and figures, and the stillness
the narrative imperative  177

of objects and characters caught in the passing of time. At the symbolic level,
Angelopoulos used Greek statuary to stress the irony that rises from the con-
trast between sculpture as a monumental art dedicated to the representation of
glory and beauty in ancient times, and the petty concerns of our contemporary
societies obsessed by utilitarianism, dominance and a fascination with technol-
ogy in spite of its ugly and inhuman corollaries. A helicopter hoists the frag-
ment of a giant ancient sculpture in Τοπίο στην Oμίχλη (Landscape in the Mist,
1988); a barge transports the dismembered statue of Lenin in Ulysses’ Gaze:
and, in Μια Αιωνιότητα και μια Μέρα (Eternity and a Day, 1998), the statuette
of a Greek goddess serves as a lamp leg in a modern apartment.
All these examples do not seem, however, to abide by the precepts of
antique sculpture or Platonician aesthetics. Statues fail to evoke the imposing
silhouette of a divine being or the ideal ‘Form of Beauty’, as Diotima explains
to Socrates in The Symposium (210–211). Located within a network of concep-
tual oppositions, they lose their mimetic as well as their usual symbolic value
to become strictly instrumental: they are reduced to their decorative function
or allude to a ‘referent’ they cannot represent any longer (the past, the domi-
nant political establishment, the political apparatus, the communist utopia).
The most extreme consequence of the specific, yet diminished place of ancient
statues in the film narrative could be its own disappearance from the photo-
graphic image: in Ulysses’ Gaze, A. (Harvey Keitel), a Greek film director in
exile, describes to Kali (Maia Morgenstern), a Macedonian archivist, how he
discovered the head of an ancient statue of Apollo while location scouting.
When he tried to take pictures of his finding with a Polaroid, he only captured
‘blank negatives’, as if ‘his glance was not working’. Objects from the ancient
past are objects of history, in both acceptations of the word: they cannot be
part of our daily environment any longer or find a place in art today. Their
integrity cannot be preserved in a modern world, and it is not our gaze but our
voice, oral expression, verbal language – in short, the means of storytelling –
that can lift them from oblivion. Together with the Manakis’ ‘lost reels’, this
‘lost glance’ refers in Ulysses’ Gaze to the ‘historical death’ of ‘cinema and the
pleasures of mobile vision’, according to Dimitris Eleftheriotis (2010: 150).
I would argue, however, that Angelopoulos confronts this threat with the same
tactics literature used in the same situation at the beginning of the twentieth
century: by ‘poach[ing] technological material properties from those other
arts’ that endangered its legitimacy and survival (Murphet 2009: 5). But, this
time, it is cinema that is threatened, and literary resources that are called to the
rescue by the filmmaker.
The presence of statues in Angelopoulos’ last films therefore contributes
to reinstate the narrator in his storytelling capacity as a first step towards
Angelopoulos’ rethinking of the place of cinema in regards to literature. As
the desperate filmmaker in The Dust of Time cries out to his ex-wife, ‘my
178  c a r ol i n e e ade s

only home is in the stories I tell. In every place else, I feel like a stranger, I
feel lost’. In Ulysses’ Gaze, once it is established that the protagonist cannot
look at the statue of Apollo, he is shown as being able to share the point of
view of a gigantic and dismembered statue of Lenin: both the character and
the statue are travelling on a barge along the Danube and are in position to
look down on the crowd lining up on the riverbanks. Even if the shot of the
people standing along the bank is not explicitly subjective, the character
is clearly shown as sharing the same space and motion as the statue. The
fact that he is not looking down indicates a transfer of the vision to the film
viewer.5 A similar high-angle shot captures the gaze of a statue in The Dust
of Time; in this instance, it is a statue of Stalin whose death has just been
announced to the citizens of Temirtau in Kazakhstan. The camera remains
focused on the population gathered in front of the statue for a last homage
to the Soviet leader, but, in this long shot, there is no character acting as an
intermediary between the gaze of the statue and that of the film viewer. At
the narrative level, this scene seems to constitute a pause in the verbal and
visual account of the unfolding drama: Spyros (Michel Piccoli) and his wife
Eleni (Irène Jacob)  are being reunited  after years of anguished separation.
In fact, the high-angle shot achieves two narrative purposes: it indicates
the cause of the characters’ past misfortune – Stalin’s brutal regime – and
prefigures another episode presented from a high-angle perspective – the
deadly fight between a biker and young Eleni’s friend. As Fredric Jameson
aptly observes, the emphasis on ‘psychological crises’ in later films doesn’t
affect Angelopoulos’ unique visual style so much as it signals the filmmaker’s
‘return to an older framework of the individual subjectivity, the individual
experience, the leading protagonist, the narrative “point of view”’ (1997:
89). In addition to providing a contemplative pause on the mishaps of con-
temporary history, Angelopoulos assigns a narrative function to statues:
he uses them to probe the role of the narrator and the problematic relation
of art and mimesis in the footsteps of another poet, Ovid, and his writings
on Pygmalion’s myth, the power of the gaze and the fascination for statues
(Metamorphoses, Book 10, v. 243–97).6
A further aspect of Angelopoulos’ aesthetics, borrowed from antique art,
contributed to develop the narrative component of his most recent films.
Many abstract oppositions – past and present, the sacred and the utilitar-
ian, daydreaming and reality, love and death – are reflected by dichromatic
patterns that have become a distinctive trait of Angelopoulos’ style since
Landscape in the Mist. As we demonstrated in the case of Ulysses’ Gaze (Eades
and Létoublon 1999: 301–16), Angelopoulos’ use of a two-tone pattern – often
yellow and blue – can be found in many of his films to characterise secondary
characters’ clothing, vehicles, buildings and other elements of mise en scène.
Such dichromatic patterns in film images can be reminiscent of the style of
the narrative imperative  179

Figure 11.1 Eternity and a Day

antique sculptures and paintings, more specifically the black and red figure
techniques of Greek vase painting. In a manner very similar to ancient ceram-
ics, the choice of colours in Angelopoulos’ films is endowed with a structural
and pragmatic function: it serves to accentuate shapes and contours and to
reveal the relationship between represented objects, including secondary
characters or elements of decor. In Angelopoulos’ last films, the apparition of
the colour red brings a notable counterpoint to the recurring yellow and blue
pattern. Red flags brandished by a demonstrator in Eternity and a Day and
the workers’ union leader in The Weeping Meadow, as well as the red banners
hanging in the streets of The Dust of Time carry a strong ideological message
and are, rather conventionally, associated with leftist groups, or labour unions
within the film narratives.
But the colour red in these instances also allows the viewers to transform
their exposure to a symbolic meaning into a progressive understanding of
the various levels of the film discourse: the development of the plot per se,
and eventually a commentary on cinema in general. In The Dust of Time, for
example, the significance of red flags and banners is emphasised by the scar-
city of colours in the Kazakh city under the snow or Berlin in the rain. As the
characters start their journey to another exile (since none of them will return
to Greece), the colour red also undergoes an exile of its own. Its identity seems
to fade as the narrative progresses: the flags at the Austrian border, crossed by
Jacob and Eleni, and at the Canadian border, reached by Eleni and her son,
are red and white, or only ‘half-red’, so to speak. These objects don’t have
any other function than to signify the territorial limits of a nation, but, at the
180  c a r ol i n e e ade s

­ arrative level, their colours seem to reflect the divided selves of the characters
in various regards – personal, political, cultural, geographical and of course
emotional – as they move onward in space and in time. For Robert Burgoyne,
the use of colour in some recent epic films serves ‘to assert a kind of alternative
vision of history, centred on the triumph of emotion and desire’ as a counter-
point to the traditional ‘narrative patterning that dominates these films – the
rise and fall of the hero, the unfolding of a heroic destiny –’ (2014: 96). Here
again, Angelopoulos underscores his distance from both his previous films
and contemporary epics by inflecting the role of colour and its historical value
towards the narrative and the subjective.
Furthermore, the treatment of colours in the last trilogies reveals
Angelopoulos’ intention to place cinema in an artistic tradition that started
long before the photographic image. The inclusion of postcards and sepia
photographs in the films seems to undermine the primacy of colour photog-
raphy which is then considered as just one of many occurrences in a history
of forms that dates back to antiquity. Angelopoulos’ most striking scenes are
deprived of vivid colours: blurry surroundings, foggy landscapes and spec-
tral figures create dream-like images in half-toned grey, yellow and blue to
shroud the cruel reality of traumatic events, such as the killing of an entire
family in Sarajevo in Ulysses’ Gaze, the impossibility of crossing borders in To
Μετέωρο Βήμα του Πελαργού (The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991), or the
last moments of the union leader shot by the army in The Weeping Meadow.7
In these instances, the signifying power of the image is even diminished to
demonstrate a contrario the need for a verbal narrative as the primordial sto-
rytelling medium. By possibly referring to the industrial transition to halftone
technology in the history of visual media, Angelopoulos is not indulging in
nostalgia. Rather, he seems to refute the idea of ‘remediation’, the progressive
idea of the replacement of one media by a more advanced one, in favour of
what Murphet describes as the modernist moment: the coexistence and even
competition of various media at a given time (2009: 40–46). What is even more
significant is the fact that, in Voyage to Cythera, Ulysses’ Gaze, and The Dust of
Time, the character called upon to tell these stories is a filmmaker.
There has been a tendency to analyse Angelopoulos’ most recent films as
a return to a more conventional narrative based on the re-emergence of the
dramatic and the psychological. Angelopoulos himself has often acknowledged
Michelangelo Antonioni’s influence (elaborated in detail by Hamish Ford in
his chapter for this collection) at the stylistic level as attested by the use of long
takes as well as stark contrasts between monochromatic and colourful settings.
But for many film scholars this influence is also noticeable at the narrative
level, especially in his more recent films ‘more concentrated on the individual
[and] delineating personal crises which express, as the emigrant author of The
Suspended Step of the Stork puts it, fin de siècle melancholy’ (Bordwell 1997: 23).
the narrative imperative  181

The opening of Eternity and a Day can provide an example of this change in
terms of narrative content and form. In accordance with his systematic disre-
gard for typical representations of antiquity, Angelopoulos rarely referred to
Greek archaeological sites in his films. Exceptions include the Sounio temple
of Poseidon visited by foreigners in Megalexandros, the aforementioned story
of Apollo’s statue in Ulysses’ Gaze, and the allusion to a sunken city in Eternity
and a Day. In the opening shot of this film, two children speak about the dis-
appearance of an ancient city under the sea in the aftermath of an earthquake.
The evocation of this lost place is verbal and direct, since the children remain
off-screen and the viewers can only hear their voices and see a still shot of
the family house in Thessaloniki. The story can elicit images of Alexandria,
Pompeii or Atlantis in the viewers’ imagination, but the film does not provide
any realistic representation of ancient sites. The verbal and oral aspects of the
scene are emphasised by the fact that it focuses on a story told by children and
structured as a rather conventional mythical narrative: the lost city is given an
anthropomorphic dimension as it is said to rise from the sea upon the call of
the morning star. This scene appears therefore as typical of the later period
of Angelopoulos’ oeuvre, characterised by the use of literary texts and narra-
tions to describe the ‘personal crises’ of protagonists in search of childhood
memories. But if one can read this example as a return to the ‘problematic of
the subject’, it can also be symptomatic of a ‘modernist’ attempt to situate film
alongside literature in the ‘trace history of the competing media institutions
of the moment’ (Murphet 2009: 3). In sum, Angelopoulos’ late turn towards a
more traditional conception of the narrative, influenced by literary references,
can be viewed either as a regression to a prior style of filmmaking or as another
instance of his lifelong rebellious and provocative stance against stereotypes
and clichés. The beginning of his career seemed indeed to have fulfilled,
mutatis mutandis, the 1926 prophecy of British film critic R. E. C. Swann,
quoted by Laura Marcus:

Then came war, the increasing hegemony of the American film industry
and the commercialism of the industry. The way of the future, Swann
suggested, and the potential for originality in film, lay in ‘‘an escape from
the bondage of words, from all literary association’’, an imaginative use
of film space. (Marcus 2007: 258)

But Angelopoulos’ later films prompted a number of critics to notice a sig-

nificant change in his style and to brand him as ‘the last modernist’ (Horton
1997b: 1–4) or a ‘late modernist’ (Jameson 1997: 78). This argument supposes
that in order to understand Angelopoulos’ rapprochement between film and
literature at the turn of the millennium, we acknowledge the specificity of
the relations between cinema and literature at the turn of the century as ‘the
182  c a r ol i n e e ade s

coexistence of cinema and of the ‘cinematic vision’ as it emerged in fictional

and other writings of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century’ (Marcus
2007: 20).8
Such perspective would then justify an approach to Angelopoulos’ later
films as being not only influenced by the works of other filmmakers but also,
as stated earlier, inspired by the writings of other ‘poets’ such as Seferis and
Cavafy. In fact, Angelopoulos often presented himself as a filmmaker yearning
for poetry: ‘The question I am asking myself all the time is: How can I trans-
form personal experiences into poetry?’ (cited in Schulz 2001: 120). And just
like Rilke in The Tenth Elegy, he turned to antiquity to engage with what the
Austrian poet described as ‘a symbolic walk through a landscape that motivates
the poet to explore his relationship to ancient civilisations and past poetic tra-
ditions’ (Ryan 2004: 181). For both artists, the impetus to creativity springs
from contradiction and the tension it produces: they ‘struggled with central
issues of the period: autonomy and engagement, originality and borrowing,
tradition and technology’ (2004: 14). But whereas modernist writers found in
cinema a new vision to address the acceleration, automatisation and deperson-
alisation of modern life, Angelopoulos returned to literature to revisit his art
and confront the challenges of his own times.
It is not only the increasing predominance of literary references as it is the
techniques and the very purpose of literature that pervade Angelopoulos’
later work. Some of his most remarkable images attest to the expressive power
of painting, sculpture and other graphic arts: for example, as we previously
noted (Eades, Létoublon and Rollet 2002: 186), the Prologue of Ulysses’ Gaze
features a blue ship sailing on the horizon that could be a reference to René
Magritte’s painting, The Tempter (1950), and represent ‘the first time in our
lives we see water’ (Magritte 2001: 236). But throughout the rest of this film,
literature is explicitly designated as the true object of the filmmaker’s quest
and as the art of storytelling par excellence. The specific place thus attributed
to literature within a film that pays homage to the pioneers of Greek cinema
could very well echo the attempts of early film critics at establishing a hierar-
chy of arts that would include the new medium. In 1930, for instance, French
playwright, novelist and filmmaker, Marcel Pagnol advocated a special place
for cinema as an advanced form of the dramatic art (1991, 14). In addition, the
direct reference to the famous ancient epic character in the title and in the last
scene of Ulysses’ Gaze brings a modernist slant to the film through the allusion
to other re-writings of The Odyssey, such as James Joyce’s, and the idea of a
necessary return to storytelling that would involve ‘not some ‘‘inward turn’’
to the depths of a putative ‘‘modern subject’’, but on the contrary a raising of
the matter of literature to a surface of touch and conversion with other media’
(Murphet 2009, 4). And indeed Ulysses’ Gaze does not end, as suggested in
the Prologue, with the first image filmed by the pioneers of Greek cinema,
the narrative imperative  183

but with a poem inspired by The Odyssey (Book 19 v. 390, 396, 467, 479; Book
23 v. 291, 296, 300, 343; Book 24 v. 234, 262, 328, 345) and delivered by the
protagonist in tears in front of a blank screen. The film narrative has turned
the main character, a filmmaker, into an adventurer at first, and in fine into a
bard who vows to ‘tell about the journey (. . .) the whole human adventure, the
story that never ends’.
The re-centring of Angelopoulos’ narratives on the situation and status of
the artist as a storyteller is evidenced at first by explicit mentions of literary
texts and the presence of verbal and poetic expression in his later films, but
also by the emergence of a ‘narrative imperative’ in his creative process. Such
‘poaching’ on the other art of storytelling implies the increasing use of devices
that are not specific to literature but designed by early filmmakers to achieve
similar effects as when they are used in literary narratives. In that sense,
Angelopoulos’ drive bears many resemblances to D. W. Griffith’s ‘narrator
system’, as Tom Gunning calls it (1991: 25–6) and David Trotter defines it:
the development of Griffith’s ‘own idiosyncratic but widely influential version
of a cinema of narrative integration’ by means of such stylistic figures as alter-
nating editing, repetition, intertitles, verbal quotations and commentaries
(2007: 51-9). In his last film, The Dust of Time, Angelopoulos mobilised the
same film rhetoric resources to emphasise the presence of a narrative voice and
reach a similar goal: to tell a story in film with as much efficiency and complex-
ity as a literary text. In doing so, Angelopoulos seems to have achieved his
reconciliation with the traditional model described by Bordwell as the classical
Hollywood narrative (1985, 157–8): based on continuity and unity, it includes
‘a dual plotline structure which promotes narrative parallels and causal link-
ages, (. . .) a goal-oriented protagonist struggling to overcome overt obstacles,
(. . .) a narrative closure that contains the narrative by finishing it off’ (Berliner
2013: 197).
At the very end of the film, young Eleni (Tiziana Pfiffner) and her grand-
father (Sviatoslav Yshakov) run hand in hand, in the snow, away from the
Brandenburg Gate and towards the camera. This shot follows an earlier scene
with a similar long take of Eleni running in the snow towards the camera with
Spyros right behind her and the Karaganda steel mill complex in the back-
ground. The Brandenburg Gate was part of the Berlin Wall, and the Kazakh
steel plant was built under the aegis of the Soviet Industrial Development
Plans. Through their association with the socialist regime, both have now
become traces of an oppressive past and witnesses to two events that brought
about new political entities in the late twentieth century: the reunification of
Germany and the reconstitution of the Russian Federation. The repetition
and differentiation of these two scenes, both essential for the story of the pro-
tagonist’s family, thus point towards a grand narrative, the history of Eastern
Europe, which has been an explicit topic of Angelopoulos’ films since Ulysses’
184  c a r ol i n e e ade s

Gaze. Buildings, factories, monuments are remnants of this past but they also
have their own history: they tell the story of individuals and nations as much
as they themselves experienced unexpected changes and misuses, sometimes
quite different from the initial purpose of their construction.
Moreover, these two shots are significant inasmuch as they are presented
from the same subjective point of view emphasised by the movement of the
characters and the composition of the frame. This point of view is at the same
time that of the filmmaker ‘dreaming’ the film-to-be in Cinecittà, and that of
Angelopoulos making the actual film. The superimposition of the narrators’
gazes not only reinforces their presence and function, it also includes the film
viewers in the storytelling process. They are thus able to imagine the other
side of the camera, the potential reverse-shot, the diegetic off-space: the first
of these two shots recalls the beginning of the film when Eleni and Spyros
ran to catch a tramway which is not actually shown this time. In other terms,
Angelopoulos presents here what Jean-Pierre Oudart calls ‘the ideal chain of
a sutured discourse’: both shots are indeed ‘articulated into figures which it
is no longer appropriate to call shot/reverse shot but which mark the need –
so that the chain can function – for an articulation of the space such that the
same portion of space be represented at least twice, in the filmic field and in
the imaginary field’ (1977: 39). What is particular in the second scene is that
the ‘unseen’ shot remains truly imaginary (it is replaced by the end titles of the
film) but can be reintegrated in the narration as the protagonist’s gaze as well
as Angelopoulos’. According to Kaja Silverman, narrative represents an ‘indis-
pensable part of the system of suture. It transforms cinematic space into dra-
matic place, thereby providing the viewer not just with a vantage but a subject
position’ (1983: 214). Not only is subjectivity highlighted at the very end of
the film through rather conventional narrative techniques based on repetition
and editing, it is also reinforced by the presence of two narrators of their own
father’s story.9 The suspension of the reverse shot could be considered as more
typical of Angelopoulos’ idiosyncratic style, but it ultimately points towards
the absent figure of the film narrator in the Brandenburg shot: the ‘poet’ telling
his personal story with history in the background.
Film historians too have singled out parallel editing as a feature of Griffith’s
‘narrator system’ that has since become a fixture of conventional narrative
cinema.10 The opening of The Dust of Time is characterised by two paral-
lel segments of shots that ultimately converge to emphasise the presence of
the narrator, its embodiment in the narrative and a subjective point of view.
The opening sequence of the film alternates between the protagonist’s walk
through Cinecittà and Spyros’ train journey from Berlin to Moscow in 1953.
Two different sets of characters, times, locations and elements of mise en
scène (colour, soundtrack and frame composition) allow to distinguish both
scenes clearly. Although the voice of the narrator mentions a possible return
the narrative imperative  185

to the past in the opening shot, there is no clue such as a flashback or an inte-
rior monologue to suggest a chronological link between the two series. To use
Christian Metz’s classification, this sequence is composed of what appears
to be ‘achronological’ or ‘parallel syntagmas’ until the last shots introduce a
relation of consecutiveness/simultaneity between the two series through the
gaze of the protagonist.11 He is now in a projection booth looking at a film-
strip, probably rushes of the film he is in the process of shooting in Cinecittà.
Although the contents of these rushes are not shown, one could infer from the
previous part of the sequence that they are actually the second series of shots,
Spyros’ journey, since its elaborate mise en scène contrasts with the docu-
mentary style of the Cinecittà series. The beginning of The Dust of Time thus
raises issues of temporality through editing and dialogue, and this is typical of
Angelopoulos’ work. What is more unusual is the fact that the initial ambiguity
established by the use of parallel editing without any chronological, dramatic
or axiological connection between the series, is immediately solved by the
visual and narrative focus on the filmmaker as a storyteller (reminiscent of the
very end of Ulysses’ Gaze). A possible explanation of the fact that the reverse
shot on the ‘gazer’ remains unseen is provided by Angelopoulos himself when
he acknowledges: ‘I am under the impression that we try to be the Subject of
history when we are in fact the Object of History’ (Ciment 2013: 92).
And indeed, the next scene, a documentary featuring a military parade
on Red Square presided over by Stalin, is presented as a sequel to both the
protagonist’s film and Angelopoulos’ own narrative. The sequence now gains
a political dimension while keeping and even reinforcing its narrative func-
tion, since the documentary is framed by a series of successive and imbricate
gazes: first the filmmaker’s gaze, then the viewers’, and finally Spyros’, all
of them explicitly and carefully orchestrated by Angelopoulos himself. This
string of points of view constitutes the backbone of the narration of a personal
story embedded in the master narrative of history. If, as Trotter argues, ‘early
cinema had begun to figure for the novelist the double logic of immediacy
and hypermediacy relentlessly at work in modern experience’ (2007: 19), con-
versely, narrative devices (storytelling, narrators, subjective points of view)
commonly used in literature play a significant role in Angelopoulos’ last film
to address the tension between the documentary and the subjective in cinema.
Angelopoulos thus seems intent on demonstrating what Gaudreault calls
‘filmic literariness’ or ‘the ability of film language to produce different énoncés
at a higher level of abstraction than mere monstration’ (2009: 162). For
Gaudreault, monstration is ‘a way to describe and identify this mode of com-
municating a story, which consists in showing characters who act out rather
than tell the vicissitudes to which they are subjected’ (2009, 69) whereas nar-
ration or ‘filmic literariness is located at various levels of filmmaking activity,
but is at work principally on two levels: in the intertitles and in editing’ (2009:
186  c a r ol i n e e ade s

162). Previous examples from The Dust of Time have demonstrated the signifi-
cant role of editing, but in this film the prominent use of verbal language does
not simply rely on intertitles: Angelopoulos also resorts to the narrator’s voice,
verbal account of letters and poems read aloud to introduce and depict char-
acters whose visual presence is often partial or distorted. Spyros is only seen
from behind in the opening sequence. Besides the fact that her hair has turned
white, there is not much change to Eleni’s face or demeanour in the scenes
when she is eighty compared to the scenes that portray her at a younger age.
Viewers are left to find clues in the dialogue and the scene’s environment to
identify the film’s characters and their roles. Ulysses’ Gaze is even more radical
in this regard since the same actress, Maia Morgenstern, plays all female char-
acters. Angelopoulos’ ‘filmic literariness’ consists of altering the usual function
of places in his narratives in a similar manner: a market is transformed into
a movie theatre in Ulysses’ Gaze, a building under construction becomes a
mortuary chapel in Eternity and a Day, a wagon is converted into a fugitive’s
home in The Suspended Step of the Stork, and a theatre is turned into a refugees’
camp in The Weeping Meadow. This kind of displacement points towards the
storyteller – the intradiegetic narrator as well as the author of the film – and
frees the film from realistic or mimetic constraints by subjugating spatial
representations to a ‘higher level of abstraction’, the narrative i­mperative, the
constraints of the narration.
To achieve this goal, the importance of the verbal component becomes
even more apparent in The Dust of Time where Angelopoulos seems to share
‘the modernist fascination with ideographic and hieroglyphic languages, per-
ceived to lie, or to conjoin, word and image’ (Marcus 2007: 9). The walls of
Termirtau Cultural Centre display inscriptions in Russian Cyrillic alphabet
and there are graffiti all over the Berlin squat. Since both types of writing look
like obscure hieroglyphs to the average non-Russian viewer, Angelopoulos
might be alluding here to the contradiction between the obvious function of
language – ­communication – and the obstacles raised by cultural and social
norms. The need for a conventional form of narration is thus justified to over-
come the shortcomings of any language and mobilise the resources of all lan-
guages (whether verbal or filmic) to improve communication between people.
In short, all narrative categories (characters, time, point of view, space) have
been revisited by Angelopoulos in his last films to emphasise the shift towards
a narrator’s system and to address modernist issues such as the ‘revision of
ways of understanding (. . .) the status of language, time and consciousness’
(Shail 2012: 196). He did not shy away from challenging his former practice
as a filmmaker in order to illustrate the ability of cinema to integrate verbal
language and poetic expression, and acknowledge cinema’s ongoing competi-
tion with literature in this regard. This change of perspective can also account
for further diversification in Angelopoulos’ choice of narrative genres and
the narrative imperative  187

structures: late films are characterised by the insertion of tales, fables, legends
and poems in the main plot. These short stories are often associated with semi-
fantastic characters, mostly children like the Albanian boy (Achileas Skevis)
who appears and disappears at will under the eyes of Alexander (Bruno Ganz),
or A.’s young guide to the Sarajevo film archives. Such embedded narratives
and unusual characters can be reminiscent of Oriental tales since they are
presented as a dream or a fable inserted in the primary narrative, sometimes
for almost the total duration of the film.12 Angelopoulos said of his protago-
nist in Voyage to Cythera: ‘the whole film really takes place inside his head’
(cited in Horton 1997b: 109). The same could apply to other characters such
as Alexander embarking on an imaginary journey while sleeping in his car in
Eternity and a Day, A.’s dreaming about his quest for lost reels in Ulysses’ Gaze
during the projection of his own film, and, as seen previously in The Dust of
Time, the filmmaker preparing the next day’s shooting of his film at Cinecittà.
Angelopoulos’ attempt at reinstating the protagonist as a storyteller and his
own film as ‘a poem including history’, to use Ezra Pound’s definition of the
epic ([1934] 1968, 86), can be reminiscent of the modernist period as a moment
of intense ‘exchange between various art forms at the time’ (Shail 2012: 4).
Literature remains, however, for Angelopoulos at least, the art with which
cinema entertains a specific relation that ‘can best be understood as a shared
preoccupation’ and is ‘constituted by parallel histories’ (Trotter 2007: 3). Not
only, as previously seen, do his films repeatedly attest to the transmission of
myth to cinema through literary texts and narrative forms rather than other
artistic practices, but they also extend these references to diverse literatures.
Allusions to The Odyssey or Ovid’s Metamorphoses in late films confirm his
allegiance to oral tradition as a fluid, trans-secular, transnational, and popular
form of composition and transmission based on storytelling, verbal language
and poetic expression.13 Similarly, the Eastern frontier becomes the location
of choice for his characters leaving the heart of Greece to reach the Balkans or
the shores of the Black Sea.14 In short, the diasporic status of his intradiegetic
narrators combined with a displacement of the film plots in Eastern Europe
(including northern Greece, Germany, and the former Soviet Union) contrib-
uted to include other literatures than classical texts from antiquity and later.
In 1997, Fredric Jameson seemed at first rather critical of the turn
Angelopoulos had taken since 1986: he defined it as ‘a formal regression [inas-
much as it returns] to a framework organised around an individual protagonist,
an individual hero or narrator, and it is a regression which thereby annuls the
innovations and the formal conquests that Angelopoulos’ earlier films had
made by way of the construction of their unique collective narratives’ (1997:
90). But even before he revisited this position in a more recent text (published
in this volume), Jameson optimistically concluded his analysis by acknowledg-
ing that these formal and structural changes had not affected Angelopoulos’
188  c a r ol i n e e ade s

fundamental commitment to political and social issues. And indeed, the most
recent films seem to respond to what Jameson described as ‘the dissolution of
an autonomous Greek story, the gradual opening of Greece (as of most other
national situations) to dependency on the invisible force field of the world
market itself’ (1997: 91). For Jameson, the last innovations in Angelopoulos’
style therefore ‘posit the possibility of some new narrative form of regional
mapping, over against the world system’ (1997: 94). One could argue that
Angelopoulos’ return to conventional narrative forms in his late films intended
to address the situation brought about by new geopolitical configurations, but
resulted in placing him in a tradition of storytelling that dates back to antiquity
and has reflected similar situations of oppression and domination at the per-
sonal and the collective level throughout centuries.
In Angelopoulos’ oeuvre, the interweaving of personal and familial memo-
ries with the recent history of Greek communities at first, and European
diasporas ultimately, reveals not so much the intention to base fictional nar-
ratives on ‘true’ stories as it underscores the interplay of memory and history
as a fundamental topic. With resources specific to his own art, Angelopoulos
endeavoured to take up the work of the ‘historical novelist’ which, accord-
ing to Georg Lukàcs, consists of ‘penetrating facts in order to elicit their
inner connections and then to find a story and characters which can express
this inner connection better than what is immediately discoverable’ ([1924]
1983: 76). The filmmaker’s growing inclination to use the resources of literary
narratives and practices has thus provided a constructive alternative to Pierre
Nora’s ominous prediction on the future of history and literature: ‘memory
has been promoted to the centre of history: such is the spectacular bereave-
ment of literature’ (1989: 24). In fact, one could consider that Angelopoulos’
cinema participated in the revival of literature by reinforcing the narrative
imperative within his films, and addressing the ‘anxiety about the death of
classical cinema returning in the form of its failure: that of messages’, which
is, for Badiou, located ‘at the heart of modernity’ (2013: 59). Angelopoulos’
oeuvre presents a successful counterpoint to old forms of literary cinema and
historical literature, and offers a new legitimacy to memory as the ‘centre of
history’ within the spectacular survival of cinema as the art of the narrative.
Such perspective would then justify an approach to Angelopoulos’ later films
as being not so much under the influence of Antonioni as on a parallel course
to Wim Wenders’ trajectory. James Quandt already observed that ‘three of
Angelopoulos’ films – Voyage to Cythera, The Beekeeper and Landscape in the
Mist – form a loose road trilogy that bears more than a few similarities to Wim
Wenders’s road trilogy: Alice in the Cities, The Wrong Movement and Kings of
the Road ’ (1990: 25). According to Martin Brady and Joanne Leal, during his
collaboration with writer Peter Handke, Wim Wenders ‘increasingly gained
confidence in his own powers as a storyteller and at the same time became
the narrative imperative  189

interested in narrative cinema’ (2011: 241). The Wrong Move (1975) and Wings
of Desire (1987) bear the mark of the German director’s evolution inasmuch as
they ‘literarise what is a self-conscious poetic allegory of the artist-filmmaker
as redemptive storyteller.’ (2011: 32). It is therefore possible to develop
Quandt’s comparison between Angelopoulos and Wenders on the basis of a
common perspective on the role of literature within and parallel to cinema.
Angelopoulos’ work doesn’t raise the question of the transformation of a liter-
ary text into film since he never engaged in adaptation per se, but Vincenzo
Bonaccorsi, among others, rightfully proposed that the third wing of the angel
in The Dust of Time be interpreted as a reference to Wings of Desire (2013: 12).
The mysterious and poetic clue could then serve as an allegory, ‘a dialecti-
cal image of the artist’s entrapment in the flow of memory’, or the ‘desperate
cry of a poetess’ (whether Anna Achmatova, Marina Cvetaeva or any other
victim of Stalinism). The Dust of Time would achieve the perfect symbiosis
between Wenders’ literary vocation and Angelopoulos’ constant engagement
with history: ‘Walter Benjamin’s figure of the angel of history [that] haunts
films like Theo Angelopoulos’ Eternity and a Day’, re-emerged in The Dust of
Time but, instead of ‘acting as a counterpoint to the Proustian intuition of the
redemptive power of art’ as Martine Beugnet proposes (2004: 237), it confirms
and reinforces the power of cinema to encompass, rival, challenge and energise
literature as the Form of History.

  1. See for example Michel Ciment and Hélène Tierchant (1989: 47–61), Yvette Biro (1995:
67–71), Françoise Létoublon (2007: 79–88), and Irini Stathi (2007: 89–97).
  2. In an interview with Andrew Horton (1997b: 107), Angelopoulos acknowledges that he
was more interested in poetry than cinema during his youth.
  3. Anti-narrative perspectives have been developed in recent studies focusing on the
emotions and affects produced by the film apparatus (see Murray Smith [1995], Laura
Marks [1999] and Eve Sedgwick [2003] for example) as well as critical texts revisiting
narratology in the light of cognitive science and philosophy. See Noël Carroll (1996),
David Bordwell (2007) and Arthur Shimamura (2013), among others.
  4. For Andrew Horton, Angelopoulos in Ulysses’ Gaze ‘also evokes Plato (. . .) in the
quotation which appears at the beginning of the film, and thus he calls on a Hellenic
tradition of contemplation and philosophical inquiry’ (1997a: 181). David Bordwell
describes Angelopoulos’ style as a ‘suspension of dramatic progression which allows both
detached contemplation and a sense of dry, understated emotion’ (1997: 18). Jameson
praises Angelopoulos’ films for being ‘very much in motion’ and thus solving the problem
posed by movement ‘for any theory or description of ontology, which one tends rather to
associate with contemplation’ (1997: 85).
  5. For a detailed analysis of the sequence, see Dimitris Eleftheriotis (2010: 148–9).
  6. See Andrew Feldherr (2010: 146) and Patricia Salzman-Mitchell (2005: 68–75) for Ovid’s
poetic treatment of the narrative voice and the role of the gaze in Pygmalion’s tale.
190  c a r ol i n e e ade s

  7. This particular feature of Angelopoulos’ films could account for their self-referential
nature inasmuch as they seem to call for a psychoanalytical reading based on the
association between dream states and the cinematic apparatus through similar
mechanisms: displacement, condensation, considerations of representability, translation
of abstract thoughts in images, and the presence of a narrative as secondary revision (see
Christian Metz [1977] 1986: 83 note 17).
  8. In his foreword to David Trotter’s book on Cinema and Modernism, Colin MacCabe
observes that André Bazin indirectly ‘characterised the relations between the twentieth-
century literature and cinema not as direct influence or borrowing but as a “certain
aesthetic convergence”’ (2007: xi).
  9. Angelopoulos’ father was arrested and imprisoned by the Communist partisans during
the Greek Civil War, but he was eventually set free.
10. Trotter mentions the works of Joyce Jesionowski (1987), Scott Simmon (1993), Paolo
Cherchi Usai (1999–2008) and Iris Barry ([1940] 2002), in addition to Tom Gunning’s
book on D. W. Griffith (1991).
11. In Film Language: A Semiotics of Cinema, Christian Metz identifies ‘two main types of
nonchronological syntagma. One of them is well known by film aestheticians and is called
‘parallel montage sequence’ (. . .) Definition: montage brings together and interweaves
two or more alternating ‘motifs’, but no precise relationship (whether temporal or spatial)
is assigned to them – at least on the level of denotation. This kind of montage has a direct
symbolic value’ ([1968] 1991: 125) by opposition to ‘narrative syntagmas – that is to say,
syntagmas in which the temporal relationship between the objects seen in the images
contains elements of consecutiveness and not only of simultaneity’ (1991: 128).
12. This particular narrative structure (a series of short stories embedded in a main frame)
had already become popular in Europe in the fourteenth century with the publication of
Boccacio’s Decameron in Italy and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales in England.
13. For references to Milman Parry and Albert Lord’s work on Homeric epics and Serbo-
Croatian oral tradition in Ulysses’ Gaze, see Eades and Létoublon (1999: 301–16).
14. The Weeping Meadow is not an exception in this regard: Eleni was expecting to receive
Alexis’ letters from ‘the West’ since he left for America, but they are in fact coming from
the Far East where Alexis has been sent to fight in the Battle of the Pacific.

Syncope and Fractal Liminality:

Theo Angelopoulos’ Voyage to
Cythera and the Question of
Dany Nobus and Nektaria Pouli

I ntertwined and iterative as Angelopoulos’ films may be, Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα
(Voyage to Cythera, 1984) occupies a special place in the director’s oeuvre.
Speaking to the French film critic Michel Ciment shortly after its release,
Angelopoulos conceded that Voyage to Cythera was his ‘least Greek’ and his
‘least deep-rooted’ film, insofar as it was intended to express a ‘general ill-
being’ (cited in Ciment 1985: 26). Anyone familiar with Greece’s tumultuous
political history during the twentieth century will find this statement surpris-
ing, given the film’s central concern (or so it would seem) with the impossible
homecoming of an exiled communist Αντάρτης (partisan) after the general
amnesty of 1982. Yet on various occasions, Angelopoulos has indicated that
he only added the socio-political backdrop to the film in order to distance
himself from it, moving away from a representation of the collective history
of the Greek people towards a consideration of individual lives. As such, the
film proposes to exchange depictions of the social forces animating communi-
ties during and over particular historical periods for the cinematic analysis of
particular subjects, specific identities and individual constructions.
Although some scholars have continued to situate Voyage to Cythera within
an unbroken cycle of collective socio-political histories, it is more commonly
accepted that the film constitutes a creative hinge in Angelopoulos’ career –
the moment of what could be called an ‘anthropocentric turn’ (Grodent [1985]
2001: 49). After Voyage to Cythera, Angelopoulos’ films became much more
personal and individualistic, more focused on intimate subjective dramas than
on collective historical tragedies. This re-calibration of creative effort applied
as much to the characters in his films as it did to himself, as the director of the
films’ characters. Voyage to Cythera is the first of Angelopoulos’ films in which
the protagonist is a film director, although the viewer may be involuntarily
focused on Old Man Spyros (Manos Katrakis)1, which somehow suggests that
when Angelopoulos places the human being in the centre, it is for this human
192  d a n y n o bu s and ne ktaria pouli

being to become decentred, estranged, marginalised, alienated. In addition,

Voyage to Cythera is the first film in which Angelopoulos named two of his
main characters, notably the elderly couple, after his own parents – Spyros and
Katerina – and two other characters (the film director’s absent brother Nikos,
and his ‘film-sister’ Voula) after his own brother and sister. More poignantly,
Angelopoulos chose the actress Dora Volanaki to play the role of Katerina,
because of her extraordinary resemblance to his own mother, even going so
far as to dress her in his mother’s clothes. And whenever the film director in
Voyage to Cythera speaks, it is Angelopoulos’ own voice we hear (see Ciment
1985: 30; Horton 1997a: 18).
On account of this ‘anthropocentric turn’, Angelopoulos’ post Voyage to
Cythera films could no doubt be seen as more self-centred and solipsistic, thus
appealing only to a small audience of like-minded aficionados. Yet in a 1993
interview with the American film-scholar Andrew Horton, the ever mercurial
director highlighted an interesting paradox:

I feel the deeper one goes into one’s particular place – Greece for me –
the more universal it will become for others. What I don’t like are those
films that try to please everyone with a little bit of everything but which
wind up being nothing in particular . . . [W]e call such films ‘Euro-
pudding’! They have no one strong taste’. (cited in Horton 1997a: 204)

The least that can be said about the films Angelopoulos made after Voyage to
Cythera is indeed that they leave behind a strong taste, that their taste is highly
distinctive and that more often than not it is extraordinarily bitter.2
In this chapter, we will employ Voyage to Cythera as a starting point for
the elaboration of two interrelated concepts and two interlocking mental
­functions  – syncope and fractal liminality. Broadly drawing on a psycho-
analytic reading of Angelopoulos’ ‘film-text’, yet avoiding the classic Freudian
methodology of assuming the existence of a latent subtext behind the manifest
content of a work of art, we will argue that Voyage to Cythera condenses within
its intricate filmic texture Angelopoulos’ key paradigm of the ‘boundary phe-
nomenon’. In our analysis, we will show that this paradigm separates between
different strands of human socio-political and mental experience, without
therefore constituting a clearly identifiable frontier. In the first section of the
text, we will demonstrate that Angelopoulos’ borders can be more accurately
represented as ‘fractal liminalities’– endlessly self-duplicating, transitional
lines of separation between parts of an organic entity, or between stages of
an ongoing journey, which cannot be located and drawn with any degree
of certainty. We will show that these liminalities are not restricted to social
constellations, but also appear within the psychic sphere, and indeed pervade
Angelopoulos’ own search for the definitive film. Voyage to Cythera can be
s ynco pe and f ractal limin ality  193

designated, here, as a liminality in itself, insofar as it stands at the crossroads

between two distinct periods in Angelopoulos’ works, whereby we have to bear
in mind that the film is already the re-working of an anterior ‘primal script’,
which may very well have its roots in Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970).
In the second section of the chapter, we will argue that Angelopoulos’ ‘fractal
liminalities’ coincide with the affective quality of ‘syncope’ – a socio-political
and mental state of suspension, which is literally ‘neither here nor there’, and
which represents a state of rhythmic vacillation coinciding with the experi-
ence of ‘being out of step’. We will also argue, however, that Angelopoulos
is not campaigning for the abolition of liminalities (and the associated state
of syncope), but rather for a more fluctuating, less rigid, more intrinsically
transformative type of boundary, a littoral rather than a strict frontier. The
shifting liminality prevents the syncope from becoming a persistent state of
passive hesitation, and allows it to become a new source of creative power,
which facilitates the embarkation on an authentic life-journey. As we believe
Angelopoulos himself shows in his long artistic voyage, it is par excellence the
cinematic imagination which contains the revolutionary power to shift the
boundaries between fantasy and reality, and to establish the creative syncope
that would allow for an innovative constellation of social and subjective sensi-
In a 1985 interview with the Belgian journalist Michel Grodent,
Angelopoulos stated: ‘I always say that my films are my universities. I learned
a lot from my films. They are my personal luggage and my psychoanalytic ses-
sions’ (cited in Grodent [1985] 2001: 48). So what is there to be learned from
Voyage to Cythera? What could Angelopoulos have gained from this particular
psychoanalytic session – the film with which he attempted to put collective
history to rest, which ushered in his ‘anthropocentric turn’, and which (much
like Reconstruction previously) encapsulated in utero the core motifs of all his
subsequent films?3
The first thing to note is that Voyage to Cythera is effectively a multi-­
layered, self-duplicating palimpsest. As Angelopoulos disclosed to Grodent:
‘The origin of the film is an old poem I wrote once; I thought I would plant it
somewhere in the film, but finally I didn’t’ (cited in Grodent [1985] 2001: 44).4
For unknown reasons, the poem did not make it into the film, but was overwrit-
ten with an eponymous script, yet parts of this ‘primal script’ were also deleted
from the film. In the ‘primal script’, Alexander wakes up to noises coming
from the street, goes outside and sees how a naked man is about to jump from
an upstairs window, whilst waving his arms like a huge seabird and reciting
mysterious words. After a brief interruption, when Alexander imagines fol-
lowing an attractive woman through the streets, he walks up a ladder towards
the naked man, only to discover that he is looking at himself. He tries to speak
to the man, but the latter jumps to his death, and at that point Alexander hears
194  d a n y n o bu s and ne ktaria pouli

a familiar female voice calling out to a child. Questioned by Grodent about

this deletion, Angelopoulos pointed out that he did shoot the scene, but that
he decided to leave it out because he felt that ‘it toppled the delicate balance
between the two levels of fiction’ in the film, namely his own film and the one
prepared by Alexander, adding that he did not want the director’s story to
obfuscate the story of Old Man Spyros, and that the ‘point of the scene’, which
is ‘dominated by this search for the right equilibrium and true inspiration’ was
also repeated elsewhere (ibid. 40). However, this is by no means the only place
in the film’s ‘primal script’ where it differs substantially from the film scenario.
For example, the former includes a scene in which Alexander wakes up in a
strange house and discovers, to his shock and surprise, pictures of himself and
the woman with whom he has become infatuated, as if he has already been
leading a second life in an altered state of consciousness, but more significantly
it also includes the first stanza of the poem ‘Voyage to Cythera’ (Fotopoulos,
1991: 65–68). Furthermore, between the ‘primal script’ and the final film
screenplay there are likely to have existed a large number of additional itera-
tions, each one part of Angelopoulos’ ongoing search for the definitive film. As
Angelopoulos’ cherished composer Eleni Karaindrou affirmed in an interview
with the Belgian film critic Gorik de Henau, the Greek director was in the habit
of re-writing his scenarios ‘at least two hundred times’, only to end up chang-
ing things again on the set and during the editing process (de Henau 2013: 37).5
To add another layer to this seemingly endless process of reconstruction, it
should be mentioned that the film shown at Cannes in 1985 may have become
the ‘standard’ version of Voyage to Cythera, but that it was not the only version
Angelopoulos cut. Apart from the ‘original film’, Angelopoulos made a shorter
version of 120 minutes for German cinemas and a longer ‘television version’
of 149 minutes for the German public-service broadcaster Zweites Deutsches
Fernsehen (ZDF) (Nagel 1992: 223). And as if all of this was still not enough,
Angelopoulos suggested to Karaindrou that she compose a ‘hasapiko-dance’
for the film, which resulted in a song called ‘Voyage to Cythera’ – sung by
Yorgos Dalaras when Alexander, Voula and Panagiotis drink coffee at a
roadside cantina –whose main theme is repeated throughout the film in at
least four different musical idioms (jazz, rock, classical, popular Greek).6 One
poem, a ‘primal script’ containing a fragment of the poem, three versions of
a film without the poem, a film and a song with the same title, the same notes
repeated with different instruments and performed in alternative musical
styles, a song and a poem with the same title but different words – it is hard
to imagine a more complex composite picture of superimposed, intersecting
variations on a theme, in what is already a highly hybrid art form, combining
poetry, literature, film and music. At the risk of pushing the reader over the
edge, we should mention that ‘A Voyage to Cythera’ is also the title of a poem
by Charles Baudelaire and the common title of an early eighteenth-century
s ynco pe and f ractal limin ality  195

painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau, which exists in two versions, and that

Angelopoulos was familiar with both these works (cited in Ciment 1985: 27).
What interests us in this vertiginous constellation of interlocking words,
images, voices and sounds, is less the infinite intertextuality and the limit-
less self-referentiality of Angelopoulos’ film(s), and more the lines and points
where the multifarious components that make up the constellation are being
given the chance to connect and are simultaneously put at risk of becoming
detached. Although Angelopoulos’ films are distinctively Greek, and draw on
historical socio-political events, particularly during his early years, it seems
to us that beyond the national tragedies and culture-bound dilemmas that his
films depict, they raise more fundamental, possibly universal questions about
the function and status of borders and boundaries, limits, edges and frontiers
for the definition of our ‘general ill-being’. Much as Angelopoulos makes it
extremely difficult for the viewer (and sometimes extraordinarily painful for
the scholar) to distinguish between fantasy and reality, between dream life
and wakefulness, between one character and another, between one film and
another, between wives and lovers, between himself and his protagonists,
between air and water, between fact and fiction, and between truth and falsity,
there is a common denominator to all these blurs, namely the (im)possibility
of distinction as such.
Throughout his career, yet especially after making Voyage to Cythera,
Angelopoulos became obsessed with ‘lines of separation’, demarcations that
can represent both a coupling or coming together of distinct entities, and a
disjunction between different parts of one and the same entity. Το Μετέωρο
Βήμα του Πελαργού (The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991), Το Bλέμμα του
Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995) and Μια Αιωνιότητα και μια Μέρα (Eternity
and a Day, 1998) are generally designated as Angelopoulos’ ‘trilogy of
borders’, yet already in Reconstruction, he allocates a key role to the trope of the
border, as the constitutive semantic of departures and arrivals, as what governs
the dynamics of exile and homecoming, but also as what presides over life and
death. When, in Reconstruction, the husband crosses again the threshold of
his home (metaphorically as well as literally) he returns to his former life, but
he also walks straight into his assassination. Moreover, Angelopoulos’ border
is not just the geographical representation of national frontiers, an external
physical boundary which has been erected to mark the separation between
countries and cultures, politics and values, and which conditions the existence
of exiles and refugees, but also (and more importantly) the social representa-
tion of intracultural divisions and interpersonal disputes, and (most important
of all) the psychic representation of intrapersonal, subjective conflicts. To
Angelopoulos, borders do not only exist within a certain spatial arrange-
ment, where they would be represented by fences, checkpoints, watchtowers,
passport controls and customs officials, but also as part of a temporal order,
196  d a n y n o bu s and ne ktaria pouli

where their significance is felt as the inevitable passing of time. This spatio-
temporal conjunction, which constitutes a border in its own right, is portrayed
magnificently in the last day of the poet Alexander (Bruno Ganz) in Eternity
and a Day, insofar as every hour, every minute and every second of the day he
spends travelling around (and to and from the geographical frontier between
Greece and Albania) represents the crossing of a crucial psychic and biological
limit, which brings him closer to death. It is also captured in Ulysses’ Gaze,
when the film director’s voyage across the Balkans in search of some historical
film reels coincides with a mental journey backwards in time, all the way to a
significant encounter in his own childhood, from which he then travels for-
wards again, speeding through a period of five years in the space of a couple of
minutes. A similar conjunction underpins the way in which Alexander creates
and reconstructs Old Man Spyros in Voyage to Cythera, with the proviso that,
here, it is the disjunction rather than the conflation of space and time that is
being articulated: after having lived more than thirty years on the other side of
the Greek border, Spyros crosses the border of his homeland again, but only
to find himself an exile in his own country, because he has not crossed the tem-
poral border that would have allowed him to ‘keep up’ with the times. Given
the wide-ranging connotations and the multidimensionality of the border phe-
nomenon in Angelopoulos’ works, we shall refer to it with the anthropological
notion of ‘liminality’, which has the advantage of encapsulating the threshold
status of certain objects and events, as well as the transitional, inchoate, ‘limbo’
quality of the associated experience.
Liminality pervades Voyage to Cythera as a constant reminder of the fragile
equilibrium between fantasy and reality, but also as an intermittent punc-
tuation of the flux of human experience. As a viewer, we are never entirely
sure whether Alexander, the film director, is acting as Old Man Spyros’
son within the film he is attempting to make, or acting as ‘himself’, in the film
Angelopoulos has made.7 It is clear that the film director occasionally leaves his
own film in order to rejoin his familiar ‘reality’, but it is not always clear when
the transition is being made. We know the border is there, but we can rarely
situate it with certainty and precision. In the character of Old Man Spyros,
the problematic representation of liminality is compounded by the fact that
Alexander’s unexpected embodied encounter with the lavender seller in the
café, which sparks a powerful moment of recognition in his mind, may either
signal the identification of his own long lost father, or his sudden discovery
of the perfect Spyros film-character. We are led to believe that he is looking
for someone to play the role of an old man who says ‘Εγώ είμαι’ (‘It’s me’),
when he absent-mindedly walks into an audition, but when he first sees the
lavender seller (reflected in a mirror), the man does not say anything. ‘It’s
me’, we hear Spyros say the very first time he speaks, but the problem is that
we cannot be sure that it really is him, and when Alexander and Voula see
s ynco pe and f ractal limin ality  197

him standing in front of them, with his suitcase and his violin, they are not
quite sure either. When the police ask Alexander ‘Are you quite sure he’s
your father?’, Alexander does not say anything, and so the police are con-
vinced Spyros must be his father. When a journalist asks Alexander ‘What’s
your connection with him?’, Alexander remains silent, stands up and walks
away. But even if it really is him, who would he actually be? Spyros the com-
munist fighter who was exiled during the Greek Civil War and who returns
to his family and his native country after more than thirty years? Spyros the
lavender seller who accidentally ends up playing the communist fighter who
was exiled during the Greek Civil War in Alexander’s film? Spyros the actor
who first plays a lavender seller, and ends up playing the communist fighter?
Angelopoulos plays on the liminality, here, between different identities,
and the statement ‘It’s me’ is as much of an affirmation as it is a question and
a demand for confirmation: ‘Who am I?’, ‘Please confirm that I am the person
I am claiming to be’. These are also the statements and questions that are
being formulated at geographical borders, where crossings are only allowed if
people can demonstrate who they are, if they can present solid proof of iden-
tity, and if it has been confirmed that they are indeed who they claim to be.
Of course, the drama of Spyros in Voyage to Cythera is that the authorities in
his ‘home country’ regard him as being stateless, and therefore have no other
option than to expel him into international waters, because he himself has
never abandoned his own identity as a communist fighter. Spyros is identified
as a troublemaker, because unfortunately he is still the person he has always
been. The Greek authorities impose a new non-identity upon him, precisely
because his former identity has not changed. Of course, Spyros is both ‘him’

Figure 12.1 Voyage to Cythera

198  d a n y n o bu s and ne ktaria pouli

and ‘not him’. When he says ‘Εγώ είμαι’ – although the words are likely to
have been written by Alexander’s scriptwriter – he is simultaneously the man
his family have been waiting for, and a completely different character. He is
still Spyros the communist fighter, who has remained truthful to his political
ideals, but he is also no longer the same man who was exiled thirty odd years
ago. To Katerina, he is at the same time her beloved husband, and a man who
has betrayed her on account of getting married and fathering three children
abroad. To Panagiotis, he is simultaneously an old friend who still knows the
‘outlaw code’, and someone whose revolutionary spirit no longer has the politi-
cal edge of yore. To Voula and Alexander, Spyros is at the same time their long
lost father, and a diminutive shadow of his former self.
In Voyage to Cythera, Angelopoulos represents liminality as ‘fractal’, in a
persistent mise-en-abyme, the most fundamental expression of which is to be
found in the psychic economies of his characters, his viewers and himself.8
Angelopoulos does not invite his viewer to identify with one of his charac-
ters, or at least he leaves the viewer’s options open, but precisely on account
of these fluctuating, shifting identifications the viewer surreptitiously enters
a world in which appearances dominate and nothing really is what it seems.
The more the viewer tries to establish the border between fantasy and reality,
the more he or she is forced to accept that, although the border must exist
somewhere, its concrete representation as a line of separation is endlessly
receding. Alexander always seems to operate on the threshold of a dream, or
on the verge of an imaginary journey, but when he moves to the other side of
consciousness and starts to live in this ‘parallel reality’, new thresholds con-
tinue to appear, and on occasion it may seem as if he is about to enter a dream
within the dream, ad infinitum. Much like our consciousness does not register
the moment when we fall asleep and start to experience the endless possi-
bilities of the oneiric cinematography, Angelopoulos’ characters in Voyage to
Cythera cannot consciously acknowledge the moment when they start becom-
ing part of a film, and the viewer too is unable to ascertain when exactly the
film has started and people have been recuperated within it as actors playing
a part. Yet Angelopoulos goes a step further and demonstrates that when our
consciousness registers the moment when the film is over we should not inter-
pret this punctuation as an end, but rather as a new beginning. The Voyage
to Cythera – the poem, the script, the film, the film within the film, the song,
Spyros and Katerina’s journey of love and death – stops, but it does not end,
and it is pointless to try to conceive of a definitive end to the journey, because
the latter could never be anything but a new threshold. In Τοπίο στην Ομίχλη
(Landscape in the Mist, 1988) the young boy Alexander (Michalis Zeke) at one
point asks his sister Voula (Tania Palaiologou) about the meaning of the word
‘border’. Voula does not answer. In The Suspended Step of the Stork, the man
who has been identified as the disappeared politician (Marcello Mastroianni) –
s ynco pe and f ractal limin ality  199

but is it really him? – seems to know what the word ‘border’ means, but ends
up wondering ‘How many borders do we need to cross before we get home?’
The question is rhetorical.
One could no doubt regard Angelopoulos’ obsession with borders, espe-
cially after his ‘anthropocentric turn’, as a refraction of his own personal
critique of political ideologies of segregation and repressive fanaticisms of
national identity. In a thoughtful exploration of the theme of border cross-
ings in Angelopoulos’ oeuvre, Wendy Everett has interpreted the director’s
portrayal of various types of border – external and internal, social and psychic,
political and cultural – as an implicit condemnation of the absurdity of fron-
tiers and lines of separation, which always appear as ‘negative phenomena’,
even when (as in Landscape in the Mist) they present themselves with the
promise of freedom and the hope of a new, better life. (Everett 2004: 72).9
What Everett refers to as the ‘stasis and negativity’ of Angelopoulos’ borders
could in itself be interpreted, here, in at least two different ways. Firstly, each
and every border epitomises conflictual separation, insofar as it drives a wedge
between two or more parts of the same entity that organically belong together.
Secondly, although the border elicits a desire to ‘cross the line’ and to over-
come the separation, the satisfaction of this desire is a strictly asymptotical
function, because each and every crossing opens up a new set of borders in the
space of fractal liminality, like a mathematical ‘infinite series’. Angelopoulos’
exiles and refugees find themselves in a similar position to Zeno’s Achilles
when he is desperately trying to catch up with the tortoise. Every time they
cross a hurdle in their race home, another hurdle needs to be overcome and
so the race is never finished and the destination never reached. The problem
is not so much that ‘home’ is infinitely retracting, but that the way towards
‘home’ presents itself as an infinite series of borders to be crossed.
Valuable as this outlook may be, we wish to adopt a slightly different per-
spective, which does not detract from Angelopoulos’ political engagement,
but which places his fractal liminality within the context of a broader set of
reflections on the redeeming power of fantasy, the imagination and indeed
cinema itself. If the figure of fractal liminality in Voyage to Cythera may easily
escape the viewer’s attention, it is not so much because it is cleverly concealed,
but rather because it is ‘hidden in full view’ – like the purloined letter in
Edgar Allan Poe’s eponymous story.10 However, there is another detail in the
film which belongs more strictly to Freud’s cherished ‘rubbish-heap’ of our
­representational world, and which is in a sense the affective counterpart of the
film’s fractal liminality.11
Towards the end of Voyage to Cythera, someone opens the front door of
the cafeteria and claps his hands twice (one, two . . .), urging the musicians
to go outside. Off-camera, the microphones are being tested: ‘One, two . . .
Testing. One, two . . . Testing’. The harbour commander looks through his
200  d a n y n o bu s and ne ktaria pouli

binoculars from behind the window of the cafeteria and says: ‘You can no
longer see him [Old Man Spyros on the raft]. The motorboat with the techni-
cians is coming back. I can see its headlights’. Alexander can be seen pacing
around the cafeteria in silence, as if wondering about his next step. Then he
echoes the sound of the microphones being tested outside and says: ‘Ένα δύο,
ένα δύο. . .Θεε μου, χάνω το ρυθμό . . . Ένα δύο, ένα δύο . . . Τρία . . . Νύχτα’
(‘One, two . . . One, two . . . My God, I’m losing the rhythm . . . One, two
. . . Three . . . Night). The scene cuts to outside the cafeteria, where darkness
has fallen. A voice can be heard counting: ‘One, two, three, four, five . . .’
At the count of five, the musicians’ stage is completely illuminated.12 The
entire sequence only lasts a couple of minutes and is easily overlooked, yet
the repeated numbers and the process of counting capture a crucial element
of Angelopoulos’ film, which runs through it like a delicate gossamer thread.
Spyros has been away for thirty-two years. The villagers have not set foot in
their old town for fifteen years. In the cemetery, Spyros sings of forty red
apples. Antonis reminds him that he has been condemned to death four times.
Spyros has three other children in Russia. To Katerina, Spyros says he has
been banished for the third time. Three times Katerina repeats that she wants
to go with Spyros. Whereas all these figures may seem trivial and irrelevant,
the numbers and the counting represent a type of cadence, whereby people
are organising their lives and their individual life histories around a set of
numerical scansions. When at the beginning of the film, Alexander leaves his
house and walks along the pavement towards his car, he can be seen hopping
from one stone to another, before resuming his normal step. Later on in the
film, Alexander stops on a zebra crossing in the middle of the road and taps
with his finger, as if playing the notes of a song on a keyboard. After listen-
ing to a voice on his answering machine stating the various stops taken by the
daily boat to Cythera, Alexander hops around his flat in the same way he had
been hopping on the pavement, before crossing the threshold to another part
of the flat. In these scenes, Alexander is neither dancing, nor performing an
involuntary obsessive-compulsive ritual, but rather trying to find his rhythm,
much like he is trying to find his film (and his life). At the end of Voyage to
Cythera the musicians’ testing of the microphones reminds him of this fervent
search for cadence, with the proviso that he is also becoming aware that he is
‘losing it’, that he can’t keep up with the pace and the tempo, in short that he
is at risk of being ‘out of step’.
Alexander is not the only character in Voyage to Cythera who is trying to
find his rhythm, who is somehow incapable of adapting to a regular pattern,
and who can be seen stumbling through life crudely and unsteadily. Old Man
Spyros refused to conform to the political cadence of the Greek government
armies, lost his battle and was forced into exile, but upon his return to his
homeland he is still following old patterns of thought, and is therefore once
s ynco pe and f ractal limin ality  201

again out of step with the world. When Spyros realises, after the scene in
the cemetery, that the ‘forty red apples’ are an illusion, he produces the ulti-
mate counterpoint of the ‘rotten, withered apple’, first pronounced in Greek
(σάπιο μήλο) when he is given the key to his old house, and later on repeated
in Russian (гнилой яблоко) when he stands outside the house with Katerina.
The bunch of apples has been reduced to one, and the one that is left is likely
to spoil all the others. Voula berates Spyros for ‘never giving other people
a thought’, for ruining her mother’s life, and she criticises him for coming
back, but she herself does not know how she should participate in this difficult
homecoming, if at all. ‘I don’t intend to spend my life running after ghosts.
One victim in the family is quite enough,’ she says to Alexander. ‘Nobody
forced you to come,’ Alexander replies. ‘That’s why I’m angry,’ Voula says,
‘Angry at myself.’ Much like Alexander, Voula is trying to find her rhythm,
but she feels that she is constantly at risk of being out of step – if not with the
external world, then definitely with herself. In a sense, Katerina is unlike the
other characters, because she deliberately chooses another, ‘counter-cadence’
in insisting that she wants to go with Spyros on his last voyage. In her case, it
is a self-imposed exile, but also a symbol of her unfailing commitment to her
husband, which allows her to find peace with herself.13 Not being able to find
the rhythm, feeling that they are out of step with the world around them and
with themselves, the main characters in Voyage to Cythera operate in a state
of suspension or, better still, in an almost permanent condition of syncope,
which in this case refers equally to their living outside a self-transparent, lucid
consciousness and to their constantly ‘missing the beat’.
In Voyage to Cythera, the physical and mental state of syncope is never
dissociated from the experience of fractal liminality, yet the most captivating
representation of their convergence appears at the beginning of The Suspended
Step of the Stork, which is both the epilogue to Voyage to Cythera and the first
instalment of Angelopoulos’ trilogy of borders. Alexander (Gregory Carr)
follows a Greek army colonel (Ilias Logothetis) towards the border. During
an inspection of the troops, a soldier states: ‘It’s not the border I’m afraid of,
but the wrong move that could prove fatal.’ Alexander and the colonel walk
towards the middle of a bridge across the river. ‘Do you know what borders
are?’, he asks Alexander. No response. They stop before a line that is drawn
across the bridge. ‘This blue line is where Greece ends,’ he says. ‘If I take one
more step, I’m elsewhere or I die.’ From the other side of the border an armed
guard approaches. The colonel lifts his right leg and adopts the suspended step
of the stork. They walk back. In this extraordinary scene, it is the presence of
the border – a tiny colourful line drawn across a man-made overpass – that
allows the captain to be suspended, neither here nor there, with one foot on
Greek soil and the other pointing towards an ‘elsewhere’, which also comes
with the threat of death. It is a difficult balancing act, and one that is full of
202  d a n y n o bu s and ne ktaria pouli

emotional tension. Unlike the soldier, the colonel does not seem to be afraid of
making the wrong move, but proceeds to performing the state of anxiety itself
in a breathtaking moment of suspended animation.
It is tempting to argue, here, that in the portrayal of suspended steps
and syncopated states of minds, Angelopoulos again exposes the dangers of
borders, and uses his films as a means to promote a more integrated, less
mutilated life. However, it seems to us that in all his explicit denunciations of
the artificiality and randomness of borders, Angelopoulos does not ­campaign
for their abolition. Rather than an evil, traumatising phenomenon, ­liminality
appears in Angelopoulos’ works as a conditio sine qua non for ­maintaining
the most essential quality of human life – the possibility of a voyage. ‘The
first thing God created was the journey’, we hear in Ulysses’ Gaze, but
Angelopoulos also appears to be saying that in order to make a genuine,
­life-affirming journey, we require the presence of borders. Without liminality,
there is no crossing, and without the experience of crossing, the journey of life
becomes meaningless.
Likewise, the syncope experienced by Angelopoulos’ characters in Voyage
to Cythera is not an intrinsically negative phenomenon, but rather a mental
state of inchoate tension, which is pregnant with the promise of new oppor-
tunities. If Alexander, Spyros and Voula experience the syncope as painful, if
they remain trapped within a state of persistent vacillation, it is not because
they are suffering from the overwhelming presence of fractal liminality, but
rather because their internal and external liminality has become fixated, petri-
fied, sclerotic and impermeable. Spyros ends up in international waters – in
a liquid landscape without borders, where the sea and the air melt seamlessly
into each other – because he is incapable of crossing the threshold to a changed
world. His personal drama, which the film neither glorifies nor condemns, is
that he remains too truthful to what he believes to be his cardinal values. If
the villagers have sold their soul to capitalism, then Spyros is effectively being
condemned to death when he categorically refuses to sell and quite literally
uproots the new boundaries. The film does not suggest that Spyros should
have saved his own life by adapting to the new socio-political circumstances,
but instead it questions the value of Spyros’ uncompromising attitude towards
his own convictions. In addition, the character of Spyros is a reflection – quite
literally, insofar as he appears for the first time in a mirror – of Alexander’s
own traumatic syncope, with the caveat that the borders he seems unable to
cross are not those associated with ideological principles, but rather those
­governing the creative process of filmmaking per se.
What Angelopoulos is advocating in his representation of the spatio-­
temporal confluence of syncope and fractal liminality is for borders to become
more dynamic, less stable, more adjustable, less secure. Were a border to
be properly recognised in its artificiality, as a moveable line of separation,
s ynco pe and f ractal limin ality  203

the resulting condition of syncope would not be reduced to an immobilising

mental twilight zone, but would effectively embody the creative power of
change. What appears, therefore, in Angelopoulos’ works is neither a reproba-
tion of liminality, nor a rejection of syncope, but rather an argument for the
installation of the border as a littoral – a space where the meeting point between
two separate entities is always in flux, much like the way in which the constant
ebb and flow of the seawater makes it impossible to establish where the land
ends and where the ocean begins. Angelopoulos’ work connects, here, with
Lacan’s concept of the letter (and literature) as a littoral, whereby writing does
not represent an established border between Innenwelt and Umwelt, between
the internal world and its external environment, but epitomises a moving
shoreline between inside and outside (Lacan [1971] 2013: 329). Whereas lan-
guage and writing are crucially important to Angelopoulos too, as yet another
instance of borders that simultaneously separate and connect, in Voyage to
Cythera (and many subsequent films) it is primarily the cinematic imagination
that is being presented as the most important tool for shifting liminality. It is
not by accident that Alexander’s exasperating mal-à-l’aise coincides with his
unrealised attempt at making a film. Although the film-within-the-film can be
regarded as one protracted fantasy, in a sense Alexander suffers from a lack of
imagination, as a result of which the fractal liminality becomes traumatic and
the syncope turns into a state of distant, disengaged apathy. For Angelopoulos,
the cinematic imagination itself constitutes an inexhaustible source of creative
change, the most important tool for borders to be transformed into littorals,
and for our syncopated space-time coordinates to become the framework for
an authentic life-journey.

  1. It is important to note that the choice of Manos Katrakis for the role of Spyros also has
extra-textual resonances. Katrakis was a member of EAM/ELAS during the war. After
the end of the war, he refused to sign a declaration of repentance and, along with other
resistant fighters and Communists, he was exiled to the concentration camp in
  2. Although it should be noted that when reviewing the world premiere of Η Σκόνη του
Χρόνου (The Dust of Time, 2008) at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, Ronald Bergan wrote
that the film ‘seemed to have all the makings of a Europudding’. See Bergan (2008).
  3. For a detailed synopsis of the film, we can refer the reader to Andrew Horton’s seminal
monograph on Angelopoulos Horton (1997a: 129–37). However, the reader should be
aware that this synopsis does not mention a number of significant details, such as Voula
having sex with an anonymous sailor at the end of the film, and also contains quite a few
inaccuracies. During the opening credits of the film, the galaxy is not just ‘swirling in the
heavens’, but projected on the dome of a planetarium, making it an artificial rather than a
‘real galaxy’. In the first scene of the film, the young boy is not chased by German
204  d a n y n o bu s and ne ktaria pouli

soldiers, but by just one German soldier, notably the one he has been taunting. When
Alexander and Voula await the arrival of Old Man Spyros, Voula does not ask her brother
‘After thirty-two years, why are you still running after a shadow?’, but formulates a much
more rhetorical question, in the first person plural: ‘Why should we keep running after a
shadow?’ (Γιατί θα πρέπει να λαχανιάζουμε κοινηγώντας μια σκιά). When Old Man
Spyros is taken home, he does not meet his wife Katerina inside the house; she is waiting
for him outside. When the villagers move in on Spyros, they are indeed on foot and in
cars, but not on motorcycles. In fact, many of them are on donkeys. When Spyros is taken
to the old family home, he does not repeat the ballad of ‘Forty Red Apples’ that his friend
Panagiotis has sung to him in the cemetery, but rather says ‘σάπιο μήλο’ (‘rotten apple’ or
‘withered apple’). When the villagers are called forward ‘in alphabetical order’ to sign the
contract, this does not mimic the casting call in the studio at the beginning of the film,
because in the studio scene the actors are repeating ‘Εγώ είμαι’ (‘It’s me’), that is, what
Old Man Spyros will be saying later on. Instead, the villagers say ‘Παρών’ (‘present’),
which is a line that is being rehearsed off-camera outside the coffee place where
Alexander meets his lover. When Spyros refuses to sign the sale agreement, it is not
Panagiotis who confronts him, but the local café-owner Antonis. When Spyros, Katerina,
Alexander and Voula are back at the house, it is not Voula, but Katerina who slices the
bread. Outside the house, it is not Panagiotis, but Antonis who shouts to Spyros ‘You’re
dead!’ (‘Είσαι νεκρός’). When Spyros refuses to leave, it is again not Panagiotis, but
Antonis who speaks to him about the Greek civil war. When Alexander, Voula and
Panagiotis drink coffee at a roadside cantina, it is not Panagiotis but Voula who says that
Spyros has ‘brought all his troubles upon himself by not signing papers’. When, in the
last sequence, Alexander is counting ‘One, two . . .’, he is not echoing the police testing
their walkie-talkies, but the musicians outside testing their microphones. Horton claims
elsewhere in his book that the song ‘Forty Red Apples’ is about ‘drying up in old age’, but
it is actually a melancholy love song (ibid. 47). In the same section, Horton indicates that
when Spyros is being placed on a raft he starts singing ‘Forty Red Apples’ again, yet no
such thing actually takes place. Apart from Horton’s synopsis of the film, there is another,
slightly shorter one by the German broadcaster and journalist Josef Nagel, yet this one
too contains a number of errors, the most significant one being the misidentification of
Alexander’s lover and ‘film-sister’ Voula (Mary Chronopoulou) as his wife (Despina
Geroulanou), both in the scene where Alexander is having sex with Voula in the theatre
and in the scene where Voula is having sex with the anonymous sailor. See Nagel (1992:
  4. In the original French text of the interview, Angelopoulos actually states that he intended
to use the poem as the epigraph to the film (‘j’aurais voulu le placer en exergue’), whereby
it would have captured the film’s central theme. See Grodent (1985: 55). As it happens,
when Angelopoulos started shooting Voyage to Cythera, the poem was not all that ‘old’,
given that it had been composed during the summer of 1982. In a typically
Angelopoulosian twist, the poem made its appearance in The Suspended Step of the Stork,
where it features as the words which the disappeared politician (Marcello Mastroianni)
had allegedly left behind on the answerphone of his wife (Jeanne Moreau). After part of
the words (the first three stanzas of the poem) have been played on a tape to the
investigative journalist (Gregory Karr) – and we hear them being spoken by
Angelopoulos himself – the latter subsequently uses all the words (and thus
Angelopoulos’ full poem) in an attempt to establish the true identity of the mysterious
character in the border town. For the full original text of the poem entitled ‘Voyage to
Cythera’ and a French translation, see Sylvie Rollet (2003: 347). An alternative French
s ynco pe and f ractal limin ality  205

translation of the poem, without its title, appears on the first page of the special issue of
Revue belge du Cinéma, no. 11 (1985), which is entirely devoted to Angelopoulos, and the
three stanzas played to the journalist by the politician’s wife in The Suspended Step of the
Stork are also included in French translation in Rollet (2007: 149), although here they are
printed in quotation marks, unattributed and without a title.
  5. On Angelopoulos constantly changing the script of Voyage to Cythera, in search of his
own film, see Ciment (1985: 30).
  6. For the lyrics of the song and the musical score, see Rollet (2003: 348, 352). An
alternative French translation of the song can be found in Revue belge du Cinéma, no.
11(1985), 61.
  7. The reader will no doubt be amused to hear that Giulio Brogi, the actor who plays
Alexander in Voyage to Cythera, also starred in the Taviani brothers’ 1972 San Michele
aveva un gallo (St Michael had a rooster), where he played Giulio Manieri, the leader of a
group of anarchists who after ten years’ imprisonment is allowed to return home, only to
find that the revolutionary spirit has changed and that he is no longer at home with his
own people.
  8. Some years ago, the English film-scholar Wendy Everett introduced the interesting term
‘fractal film’, yet without any reference to Angelopoulos and using ‘fractal theory’ – the
mathematical theory of infinite self-similarity elaborated by Benoît Mandelbrot – almost
as a synonym for chaos theory. The absence of Angelopoulos in Everett’s paper is all the
more remarkable since she herself had previously written on Angelopoulos’ films. See
Everett (2004: 55–80) and Everett (2005: 159–71).
  9. For a more nuanced reading of Angelopoulos’ representation of boundaries and divisions
(and the trains, rails, ships, waterways and bridges that allow people to cross them) in
Ulysses’ Gaze, see Anne Rutherford (2002: 63–84).
10. See Poe ([1844] 1988), 319–33.
11. In his 1914 paper on Michelangelo’s marble statue of Moses in the church of San Pietro
in Vincoli, Freud argued that the ‘general impression’ and the ‘main features of a picture’
matter less to the psychoanalyst than the ‘minor details’, the ‘despised or unnoticed
features’, and the ‘rubbish-heap’ of one’s observations. See Freud ([1914b] 1955, 222).
12. Speaking to Grodent about the scene, Angelopoulos disclosed that the voice coming
through the loudspeakers was actually his own, and that on this occasion he also lent his
voice to Alexander when he can be heard repeating the lines with his Italian accent . . .
See Grodent ([1985] 2001: 51).
13. Both in his interview with Grodent and in a 1995 interview with Horton, Angelopoulos
indicated that he considered Katerina to be the strongest character in the film. See
Grodent ([1985] 2001: 48). See also Horton (1997b: 108).

Landscape in the Mist:

Thinking Beyond the Perimeter
Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

A ngelopoulos’ Τοπίο στην Ομίχλη (Landscape in the Mist, 1988) meditates

on some of the key themes from his larger oeuvre: the repetitions in
Greek history, leaving Greece (and staying put), mobility, the courage of
children and the fragility of humankind, and God. The key protagonists in the
film are two runaway children, the eleven-year-old Voula (Tania Palaiologou),
and the five-year-old Alexander (Michalis Zeke), and a young adult Orestes
(Stratos Tzortzoglou). Voula bears the name of Angelopoulos’ late sister,1
producing an emotional proximity and equivalence with the filmmaker that
supports an argument I wish to make in this paper, namely that Voula is both
protagonist and a critical agent within the thinking body of the film. Voula’s
screen presence (through the performance of Palaiologou) critiques the film’s
trajectory even as she presents it. I will suggest, for example, that the rape
sequence which is crucial to Angelopoulos’ narrative of maturing in a hard
world is only understood by the actress and Orestes, but not by the filmmaker
himself. So, when a male critic writes of Voula, now an abused child, as ‘das
zur Frau wurde’ (now a woman) (Schütte 1992: 37), he supports the bizarre
but not unusual notion that rape is part of sexual maturation, rather than a
violent repression of the self which may in fact inhibit sexual maturation and
development in the victim.
Alexander is a recurring name in Angelopoulos’ post-1984 work, such as
in Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage to Cythera, 1984), in Το Μετέωρο Βήμα του
Πελαργού (The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991), and in Μια Αιωνιότητα
και μια Μέρα (Eternity and a Day, 1998). What we may draw from this is
perhaps that the Greek boy and the Greek man are not always distinct enti-
ties, that in fact the boy is already showing the wisdom of age, whilst the
aged are already returning to the insights of childhood. Orestes, is of course
himself, the ever-heroic, ever-desired soldier/brother who featured both as
adult partisan hero and as silent child in the filmmaker’s earlier film-essay on
thi nking be yo nd the perimeter fen ce  207

history and p ­ erformance: Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975). He is also a

cinematic agent who circles age and time in Angelopoulos’ oeuvre. In an early
and particular response to Landscape in the Mist, he has also been described as
an ‘angel’ (Murphy, 1990: 38). That response correctly recognises the spir-
itual journey that informs the film, but is also perhaps indicative of the effect
of Wenders’ Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire, 1987) There two male
angels look after the young, and the lost, but also those with a certain stubborn
vision, trapeze artists yes, but also those who can find ways of flying (literally
or metaphorically) across the landscapes of modernity.
The film is set in peri-urban industrial dead space, in small town centres,
in Thessaloniki, and on the road; but the landscape of the title gestures to
an occluded destination. This hidden ‘misty’ landscape is introduced to the
protagonists, and us, on a small piece of discarded film stock. Hardly legible,
its image is only realised in the final frames of the film, where it emerges –
through the mist – as a lone tree. The tree, I would suggest, is the end point
of a process of sacrifice and redemption. The children are sacrificed to redeem
an idea of Greece and a belief in paternity. With this chapter I want to suggest
that the film’s progress towards sacrifice is a pensive collaboration between
child-protagonists and filmmaker, thinking their way towards a Stygian border
beyond which lies the landscape in the mist. They leave Greece only to arrive
at its heart and soul. The return to a magical centre is in keeping with the fairy
tale structure of the narrative. As I will elaborate in much of the discussion
below, the children are on a quest, they seek one magical answer to all their
problems, they receive help from an angel, and they transcend mortality. The
adult world is dangerous to them, possibly fatally so. Nevertheless it has no
capacity to progress without their energy and their will.

The film is the final part of a trilogy. The first part Voyage to Cythera draws
on the silence of History, the second part The Beekeeper on the silence of
Love, and the third part Landscape in the Mist considers the silence of God.
Angelopoulos presents a semi-mystical and highly religious account of the
journey of the two children from Greece towards Germany, seeking their
Father. They do not know that Germany has no border with Greece, but
then, one might say that Heaven has no border with Earth. In any case,
the film elides that geographical and indeed metaphysical truth. It is more
important that Germany, the Father and the Tree of Life are sought through
belief and the strength of the child’s need for home. The Father is both an
imagined absent parent and a childish dream of God. He manifests as a voice
­whispering in the children’s heads and through their dreams about their
208  s t e pha nie he m e lryk d o nald

quest ­northwards. He is not silent entirely, but – if we return to the Wenders’

conceit – whispers through his angels.
As the film opens, the children stand undecided on a station platform,
apparently in the grip of the stagnation of Angelopoulos’ Greece, unable to
step on a train – for which after all they have no tickets and no adult permis-
sion to travel. But it turns out that the film is not about their indecision but
about their capacity to move, and hence to remain alert and to think about who
they are and where they are going, in stark opposition to the adult incapacity
to do either. Angelopoulos poses an adult world that is reactive and venal.
Adults are shown to be unthinking where the children, and the film itself,
think. Yet, when the children do set out, the geography of the trip is vague.
The actual possibility of the children ever leaving Greece is slim not only
because the border they are looking for does not exist, but practically too they
have nothing they might normally need. They do not have tickets, passports
or cash. They have no address, they have no allies in the adult world. Orestes
is something else, part cinematic, part angel but not an adult in Angelopoulos’
sense of those contaminated by the past. The children’s determination to
move north against such odds thus provides the narrative drama and energy
for the film.
The Angelopoulos expert, Vassilis Rafailidis, has said of the film that:
‘Landscape in the Mist is a poetic biblical parable on the myth of Genesis, or,
to put it more clearly, on the myth of the re-genesis of the world through
cinema, the only true illusionist’ (Rafailidis 2003: 82). That sense of cinema is
certainly central to the poetic magic that holds the film in thrall to its young
protagonists, in turn holding tight to a strip of film that convinces Alexander at
least that they are in the realm of the Creator. Their journey will create a tree
and the tree will create a myth of redemption. The religious force of the film is
specifically triggered by the search for the Father, and is emphasised through
descents into hell and visions of glory. But the Father is the Creator, and the
Film, that which is created within and outwith.
In one sequence, it becomes apparent that Voula has formed an emotional
attachment to Orestes. Diegetically this is not surprising. He has appeared
along the road just as they are at their most weary, helping them travel once
they are thrown off the train. Days later, he takes the children to a nightclub
in a cellar and leaves them to wait for him on the stairs. Voula grows anxious
and wanders through the club, looking for him. She eventually discovers that
it is a gay club and when she finds him, she sees that her erstwhile saviour is
flirting with a young man. The club sequence is shot at child’s eye height. It
is dark, confusing and clearly a place exclusively for adults. For Angelopoulos
it is a descent into hell, perhaps rather crudely so. But the scene and the
implied moral criticism are paradoxically redeemed, because for Voula this
is worse than hell: it is the place where she realises the pain of love. She can
thi nking be yo nd the perimeter fen ce  209

Figure 13.1 Landscape in the Mist

only ­experience this epiphany by seeing that Orestes may be looking for love
himself, and that she is excluded. How can love be found in hell?
At the same moment Voula realises that, in the frustration of desire and
now almost adult herself, she is vulnerable to despair in a way that she was not
when she first boarded the train north. This is the beginning of her awakening
into the hell of adult desire. (The hellish nature of adult desire is turned into
something much more sinister and violent by a roadside rape but that – as I
have suggested – short circuits her journey to maturity rather than accelerating
it.) There are also shared visions. Orestes is on his own journey, he is at the
age of conscription but despite the urgent need to report for duty, he delays
his journey to support the children. One morning Voula looks for him and sees
he is not in his bed. Frightened that he has left (in this moment she becomes
a small vivid Electra) she walks outside where they stand together, gazing as
a great hand from an ancient statue is lifted from the sea and borne skyward
above the city by a helicopter. Schütte sees this moment as an illustration of
the loss of authority in Greece ‘daß der Hand der Zeigenfinger abgebrochen
ist: eine zweifellos drastische Metepher für die orientierungslose Situation, in
der alle autoritativen Gesten ihre Macht verloren haben’ (‘the hand’s index
finger has broken off, a telling metaphor for a trackless situation in which all
gestures of authority have lost their validity’ [1992: 36]). If that is the case,
then perhaps we understand why God must talk through the whispers of
angels and through the knowing kindness of those who exist only in myth and
in the filmmaker’s own oeuvre?
In other moments, too, the children see what others cannot. When they
leave home they bid farewell to the madman, ‘Seagull’ (Ilias Logothetis),
210  s t e pha nie he m e lryk d o nald

imprisoned in what seems to be half-migrant camp, half-asylum at the edge

of the town. He stands atop a scrubby hillside and calls to them, his arms
flapping, over a perimeter fence. For the children, he is clearly more than
a lost soul, but a voice that encourages them towards flights that he cannot
make but which they might on his behalf. He is a wingless Messiah. And of
course there is the final shot of the children rushing to a tree in the mist and
embracing it. But the scene follows a river crossing that strongly suggests a
representation of their deaths. At this point the film reveals a disturbing bib-
lical trajectory. The tree of life in the Garden of Eden was the site of Eve’s
corruption by Satan: ‘But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou
shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die’
(Genesis 2:17).
Angelopoulos reclaims Voula’s childishness by making the tree of life a par-
adoxical proof of salvation: ‘Blessed [are] they that do his commandments, that
they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into
the city’ (Revelations 22:14). This is the point at which the film ends and the
children are left, pinpricks in the mist, hugging the tree and naming it as the
Father. It is the culminating shot of a very beautiful film. It is also the moment
at which one might have to turn one’s back on the whole enterprise. If we take
on the biblical narrative of female descent and salvation, then Voula has been
used in a way that makes the film distastefully patriarchal. Some see the film
however as an ‘optimistic and dynamic’ treatment of a childish belief in the
future (Kolovos 1990: 174), or as a hopeful embrace of the magical proper-
ties of cinema. This renders the analytical position more complex. Both those
readings are likely, and seductive. Nonetheless, there is a patriarchal turn in
the film’s approach to optimism. The abused girl is not the best way to achieve
cinematic rebirth or to explore the optimism of migration.
I would accept that all of the above are valid and that the combination of the
film’s pensive beauty, the presence of its protagonists and the religious inten-
tion of the filmmaker are powerfully coherent even in their apparent contra-
dictions. I suggest that Angelopoulos has offered his own internal salvation as
a filmmaker through certain earlier sequences that, possibly, provoke a viewing
that acknowledges the aspects of religious reference within Angelopoulos’
vision, but at the same time allows that another cinematic and narrative force
is at work. It is indeed the agents of the salvation (for cinema, for Greece) the
children – both performers and performances – who are enabled to help the
film think beyond even its own impossible borders. This can be only a sug-
gestive argument, for it is theoretically presumptuous to state that the film
thinks against its maker. Nonetheless it is the only way in which the film’s
power makes sense to this viewer, who is not convinced that the children, and
especially Voula, are in fact contained by Angelopoulos’ religious and political
perimeter fence.
thi nking be yo nd the perimeter fen ce  211

The children’s quest is a fairy tale in structure, but it is misguided insofar as
the Father they have set out to find is most probably not in Germany, but is
simply a man (or two men) who passed through their Mother’s life, leaving
children but nothing else. The Father is a ghost who whispers about the
future, and who comes to rest in the image of a tree. He is a spirit that leaps
wherever the children lead him, and in turn allows the children to imagine a
journey into utopia. He is both hunter and hunted, both bait and rod. Yet,
unlike the returned partisan in Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977) the utopic
gaze that Angelopoulos attributes to this Father is indeed turned away from
the angel of history and towards something that is not so easily defined, in
the mist.
The Mother is barely seen in the film and is given scarce credit for her role
in the children’s lives nor sympathy for her likely grief at their departure.
Simply, we see that she has no narrative that will sustain them other than the
myth of paternity which is both peculiarly Greek and yet insubstantial. It is a
ghost that whispers and follows its children away. So, in a decade when Greek
labour migration northwards was at last slowing after the rush away from the
Junta and Civil War (Karafolas 1998: 358–60), the Mother invents a story
about Germany, which the children hear as a prompt. Their quest to find a
Father is both less and more than what it seems, a pilgrimage from the knee
of their Mother’s fantasy to the borders of their imaginations, couched in the
conspiratorial agency of a quixotic body of a film. Durham Peters, in Hamid
Naficy’s collection on homeland, has noted that various concepts of mobility
‘exile, diaspora and nomadism’ raise different spectres of pain, loss, or oppor-
tunity. He explicitly links this to the biblical wanderings after the expulsion
from Eden, and the ultimate loss of Paradise. Exile suggests a third party or
circumstance enforcing the departure, whilst diaspora retains the notion of a
fixed centre from which one is distanced, even if that centre is imaginary or
inaccessible (Peters 1998: 20). In Naficy’s own more political reading, nomad-
ism is singularly free of dreams of home (2001: 219). The children’s mobility
encompasses both the biblical quest to regain Paradise, and Naficy’s sense
that they are – perhaps in this like the Travelling Players themselves although
free of their burden of history – without a way home. Theirs is a spiritual and
familial migration, part exile and part quest.
The children are on a quest ‘of their own’, but they are also subject to
Angelopoulos’ religious understanding of how children encounter adulthood;
so they are at once courageous travellers, lonely child-migrants and refugees,
and vulnerable spiritual ciphers in an adult tale of innocence lost. The chil-
dren’s presence produces a thinking subject in the fabric of the film, and thus
creates the fabric of the film as a thinking body. It is both a naïve, even parodic
212  s t e pha nie he m e lryk d o nald

version of the sombre journeys of adults in Angelopoulos’ other road movies

(so many of them are just that), but also a transcendental shift in power, from
adult to child and from filmmaker to stubborn protagonists and to the film
in itself. Kathleen Murphy comments, ‘. . . This children’s crusade aims to
reconsecrate not some literal holy- or father-land, but that breeding-ground
of potent dreams, the tabula rasa of the movie screen – screen having replaced
stage as the polis’ most accessible theater’ (1990: 38).
The image of children travelling alone usually signifies national disaster,
whether it is in post-war Europe, in contemporary Syria, or on the borderlands
of the American south. Voula and Alexander’s journey north is an anguished
eulogy to post-war Greece, a hard world swathed in disappointment, weighed
down by a past that seems to have no purchase on the future and little to offer
the present – both states exemplified by these deracinated child migrants. The
adult world that they encounter on the road is disjointed, disoriented, occa-
sionally abrupt and sometimes violent. People are staggering in a kind of col-
lective accelerated dementia. It is a world in drift. The children watch a horse
die on a snowy street. Voula strokes the dying horse’s head, Alexander sobs
out his grief at the animal’s distress and loss. In the background, a bride rushes
out from a wedding party crying. She is taken back into the building and a few
moments later the entire party emerges drunkenly singing and weaving out of
frame. None has noticed the children or the dead animal in the snow.
They are then like other children worldwide travelling alone, sans papiers,
attempting an overland, transnational migration. They are refugees. If we
hold up the religious lens to the children’s vagrancy, they take so many parts.
Adam and Eve returning to Paradise redeemed, the poor trekking across a
wide wilderness towards their own, personal border, even as the rich look for
the eye of a needle, but also children as children, suffered to ‘come unto me’.
As such they are peculiarly subject to both kindness and abuse, doled out by
the systems through which they travel and by the individuals they meet along
the way. In sum, even as their quest carries the weight of Greek despair and
Angelopoulos’ belief in impossible redemption through cinema itself if not
through a vague narrative of maturation, the children will notwithstanding
be treated like other refugees; extraterritorial, outside the presumed safety
of national belonging or geopolitical privilege, vulnerable to exceptional
cruelty. For children this extraterritoriality is accentuated by the decoupling
from a family unit or group, prematurely released from the official state of
­innocence, which has both constrained and endangered them, but which
serves them even more poorly when they reject its embrace. The sense that
even the filmmaker believes innocence is something to be lost and found,
renders both children – and especially Voula – at the edges of bare life, but
also, in this film for this particular journey, sacrificial. There is a contradic-
tion here; surely there always must be when the creator seeks more than a
thi nking be yo nd the perimeter fen ce  213

conclusion but wants to explore redemption. That which was lost is found,
that which was dead is alive again (Luke, 15). A fairy tale is also a modern
parable of childhood betrayed.

The philosopher Joanne Faulkner has summed up the problem of innocence
thus: ‘innocence suggests a state of defencelessness rather than security, and
it is as such that it is valued’ . . . ‘the figure of the innocent child delimits an
existence at the extreme of vulnerability, rather than one that is invulnerable
to everyday risk’ (2013: 127). Childish innocence is an appropriative fantasy, a
screen on which adults project their memories and ideals, behind which chil-
dren move in silhouette unseen and unheard. The analyst Adam Phillips tells
us to be optimistic as well as careful. Yes, the traumatic shades of childhood
are where the internal life is built and fortified. But there are many shades of
childhood and not all are traumatic. To look for it insistently is to misplace the
remarkable wonder of some childhoods.

Perhaps something akin to what was once called negative theology might
be useful here, so that one could say – everything that doesn’t return is
what is essential from childhood. We may then have no need to go on – at
least in quite the same way – plundering our lives and our children, for
childhood. (2002: 155)

But Phillips’ argument also supports Faulkner’s concern at appropriation.

Children are rendered always vulnerable to harm by the world’s strategy of
keeping them ‘innocent’. That is the point. Castañeda’s book on figurations of
childhood (2002) has similarly argued against the invocation of child subjec-
tivity, in the work of thinkers such as Foucault, Deleuze and even Butler, to
explain, prefigure and reform the philosopher-adult. Castañeda observes that:
‘working from one’s own adult subjectivity to make claims about the child is
fundamentally compromised by the fact that the child has been so consistently
constituted as the adult’s pre-subjective other’ (2002: 152). Where children’s
subjectivity has been discussed, it is often from the perspective of the needs
and fantasies of the adult subject. This is the case to some degree in Landscape
in the Mist, but not wholly so. As we shall see, the children can step out of the
drifts of adult desire and walk away through the snow. The thinking child
subject is then perfectly in step with the thinking film.
When Voula and Alexander jump on the northbound train, when they
refuse the forced return to their mother, they are outside the structures of pro-
tection, and simultaneously suspected of being guilty, not innocent enough.
214  s t e pha nie he m e lryk d o nald

Their innocence is then dangerous. This double bind is the trick that catches
the child refugee most cruelly. Refugees are mobile. They see too much, they
have earned tragic perspective through their exile as well as a sense of scale
and borderless return through their nomadism. They have an end in sight that
transcends or at least challenges local determinations of normality and pos-
The children pass through Greece like travelling players, like migrants, like
soldiers wandering across a battlefield of strange encounters and casual danger,
like children travelling alone. Here adults are almost always disappointing.
The Players fail to act. When they are on screen, we are witnessing the closing
credits, not a play in five parts. They have retreated to the beach. A man in a café
gives a five-year-old boy work to do in exchange for a bite of food. Rebuffed by
a young waitress (Nadia Mourouzi) at a truck-stop, a driver (Vassilis Kolovos)
rapes Voula in the back of his truck to sate and pass on his humiliation. Soldiers
on a border, maybe imaginary or maybe not, shoot at children in a boat.

I have claimed that the children take the film beyond the quest, and into the
status of a thinking subject, or a compound thinking subject-ness – children,
performances, film. The name of the girl, Voula, admits that the filmmaker
wants to honour the dead (his sister). The honour shimmers around the
intense vivacity of his lead actress (Tania Paliaologou). Her performance
maintains but also transcends the religious and political structure of the film’s
interests. Indeed, she does something quite remarkable, embodying the film-
maker’s passion for the long shot in a performance that is at once sustained,
persistent and grounded in the cinematic intensity and intelligence that must
operate at the centre of a pensive film.
Jacques Rancière writes of the pensive image, commenting that ‘someone
who is pensive is “full of thoughts”, but this does not mean that she is think-
ing them’ (2009: 107). He also extends Hegel’s claim for the active passivity
of the gods of Olympus to a wider comment on a new aesthetics of ‘immobile
motion’, echoing the ‘radical indifference of the sea’s waves’. Rancière is inter-
ested in the role of the image in radical and mainstream politics. Nevertheless,
I would like to start with his observations to help me think through the status
of the agents of pensivity that I observe here: the children themselves. The
children think throughout the film. Their consistent pensivity lends them an
air of seclusion from the world they traverse, and from the emotional reach of
the audience. This again produces the aura of fairy tale reality, in which the
magical solution is closest to the real. They think first about their Father – we
hear them on voice-over and we watch their purposeful forward motion and
thi nking be yo nd the perimeter fen ce  215

their resistance to those who would take them off their path. But their move-
ment in the film is also a form of positive thinking. The beauty of the film
is dependent on the clarity that without these children moving through the
film space, without the sheer will underpinning their performances, without
Voula’s bright courage and Alexander’s gentle certainty: without the crucial
elements the film’s beauty would be absent. The landscape is in the mist, but
the set pieces of cinema are sharply in focus. Everything is visible through the
children’s presence of mind; a bride’s inexplicable grief and a dying horse,
each picked out like single snowflakes on a child’s bedroom window.
The historian Hanneke Grootenboer describes the quality of the pensive
image, as ‘an interiority different from their meaning or narrative through
which these images become thoughtful’ (2011: 17). Rancière concludes that
the pensive image does not signify a ‘surplus of plenitude’, but enacts a break
in narrative that at once halts and extends the possibilities of action. The child
and the film perform a chiasmic relation of being and thinking.
The film’s ally in this pas de deux of being its own Creator, whilst disguis-
ing its motives, at least to the adults and to the bearers of history (the subject
of the pastiche), is weather. The film is looking through the mist, but its main
call on the weather, is snow. The snow is a kind of three dimensional visual
joke that remains with us long after it has stopped falling: a film of snow, snow
falling as if on a faulty image, the people as snowmen, snowed under. In the
centrepiece sequence, snow forces a stillness that is as profound as the silence
of snow is dense. This sequence starts in a police station, where the children
have been taken (and from where they would have been returned to their
Mother). But snow falls. The policemen and women are entranced. Only an
old lady in widow’s-weeds is unmoved, but then we realise that she is herself
blown in from Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970) an earlier Angelopoulos
film about spousal murder and adulterous desire (significantly the murdered
spouse is a returned migrant from Germany). She is already snowed in, and
cannot escape the frozen narrative of return and despair into which she was
cast eighteen years before.
As the children realise that something magical is occurring they slip
outside where all adults stand rooted, their faces uplifted in wonder. The
snow enchants and stills them, whilst the child world breaks out, celebrat-
ing the playfulness of snowflakes, and resuming the quest. There is if you
like a conspiracy between film and child, telling them that because they are
there, so magic is possible, and so the film can indeed be filmic and let them
Angelopoulos has said of the sequence: ‘The scene with the snow . . . The
snow reflects the kids’ desire to go away. The desire is so strong that the imagi-
nary father, or an imaginary sign, produces a miracle: makes people frozen and
kids invisible’ (cited in Godas 2012). About the scene with the horse:
216  s t e pha nie he m e lryk d o nald

The entire trip is a trip in the experience. The kids take the taste of life.
Their trip is a trip of initiation. That is what the French call with the
specific term ‘voyage de initiation’. This is the meaning of the scene in
which the boy works to win two sandwiches and by the way he perceives
the meaning of work and gain. This is the meaning of the scene with the
horse; the kids have their first touch with death. On the same line, there
is a series of events that make the two kids feel the taste of life . . . The
same happens in the scene of the rape; Voula perceives the hardness of
the world. (cited in Godas 2012)

Angelopoulos’ account is provocatively straightforward. The film is a coming

of age film, wherein adults reveal their weaknesses and the world makes clear
the price of survival (one works for food). I have already said that the children
experience this early initiation into cruelty in part because of their status as
travellers, dangerous innocents, child migrants. But perhaps he undersells
the revelations in the film’s phenomenological substance. The film does not
merely instruct its protagonists. Rather, it discovers itself by thinking with
the children, and on their behalf. The cinematic image is neither diegesis nor
personal cinematic history. It is Greece itself allowing itself to be thought of
differently, to favour childhood over managed innocence, to understand the
character of its history. So, it delivers a pastiche of chance, an unseasonable
weather event, to allow the children to escape, yes, but also to emphasise that
the children are pensive subjects where adults are defaming objects. As the
feminist literary historian Naomi Schor comments, ‘To be thoughtful does not
signify merely to be contemplative, lost, as it were, in one’s thoughts. It also
signifies preoccupation and fullness of care’ (2001: 241). ‘The sober Celeste, so
gentle and calm, as equable as reason itself, habitually reflective and thought-
ful’ (2001: 240). The snow scene is a Balzacian pause. In Balzac the moment of
pensivity is a signal that the text is at once at ease and at full alert.
The pensivity in Landscape in the Mist emerges from moments of stillness
wherein only children and Orestes, the child of actors himself, remain fully
mobile and fully alert to the wonder and tragedy of the world around them:
a good, madman trying to fly, snow falling, a horse dying, an absent Father
whispering in their dreams. It is they who put the film at ease, who persuade
through their own gravity that playfulness is appropriate, that the film may
take on its own magical propensity. The adult men and women move or stop
without thought or without care, with small motivations and a truncated sense
of the possible. When they do look, at snow falling out of season, they are held
fast, not alert but temporarily thwarted. They are not the thinking body of the
film, but the objects of its pity.
The adults in Angelopoulos’ first great meditation are the Travelling
Players. They return here, as Orestes’ family and as seers of Greece’s many
thi nking be yo nd the perimeter fen ce  217

lost pasts. Standing on a desolate beach, having been wandering for years
before these children took to the road, the now aged Travelling Players hang
up their costumes for sale and recite the historical low points of the twentieth
century. They have lost their engagement with historical thought and political
confrontation. With the exception of Orestes and Seagull then, all adults move
as a silenced collective, a chorus staring back up at the beach, out to sea, or at
snow falling. The bride’s brief escape is an aberration, suddenly aware that she
is about to stop living in thought – that marriage is the threshold to collective
unthinking. Adult actions and inactions alike appear motivated by a capitula-
tion to fate. The once articulate Travelling Players, who still turn resolutely
to camera to assert the detailed trajectories of national disaster are themselves
caught in eddies of repetition and return.
Andrew Horton describes Angelopoulos’ work as a cinema of contempla-
tion (1997). Horton means something else but contemplation might also refer
to the admiration of God. Here, with that spiritual contemplation at work,
the object of contemplation is really Greece and the mode of contemplation
is the tension between mobility and stasis. Travelling players, refugees, con-
scripts and returning soldiers cross back and forth between the hinterland and
the sea, between the past and the present. Greece has had its gods in plenty,
but they are hardly to be seen in these twentieth-century visions. Simply, now
and then, fragments of these imperfect lords rise like shards of conscience from
the sea. In a film where Angelopoulos is trying to accommodate an Orthodox
vision of redemption, the protagonists see the past rising as a pointing finger
that soars over the suddenly tiny city below.
Is this film really contemplative then, or something more active, more alert?
When Meir Wigoder quotes Barthes and Benjamin on the pensive image he
quickly avers: ‘Now, we know that he does not mean that the object itself is
capable of thinking, just as we know that when Walter Benjamin spoke of
the optical unconscious of the photograph no one believed he meant that the
object literally stored such hidden thought’ (2012: 270). Well, maybe not. But
this film is phenomenological. It knows whose side it’s on.
Leo Charney makes the connection between drift, modernity and mobility.
He reminds us that the body of the film is ‘hazy’, ‘insubstantial’, like a mist,
perhaps, or like drifting snow.

In the empty moment, what you call identity ceases to be continuous,

linear, apparent. It’s hazy and insubstantial, a jumbled, fragmented
surface. It skips around from one time to another, from one place
to another. It refuses to respect the need to keep one moment consist-
ent and continuous with the ones that precede or follow it. It’s a film.
(1998: 64)
218  s t e pha nie he m e lryk d o nald

This film makes an unruly and disrespectful epiphanic appearance as snow.

The children’s urgent need forces a rapturous emptiness in which adults are
quiet and children run free. The film enraptures itself within its own stab at
hexeity2. The film-as-now creates an empty moment, a time of drift, in which
the film can push forward its own improbable tale of children escaping the
national malaise of disappointment. Their alert mobility is essential to stave off
one of modernity’s more persistent jokes about time. They are travelling along
routes of migrant labour to a border that doesn’t exist in search of a migrant
who has probably already returned, if he ever went away. And, the old lady has
already warned them that the migrant is not welcome at home. He will have
been replaced and only his children will wait for his return. But at least the film
is on their side, it even leaves a scrap, a strip, of itself, like a director’s shadow,
for Orestes to find and for Alexander to hold. The snow lays a coating on the
film, the tree is so faint they can barely distinguish it, and the children step
across and through the snow, knowing they are part of its contribution to their
story, just as the film has been enthralled to its own rapturous world.

1. Voula is also the name of the ‘sister of the film-maker’ in Voyage to Cythera.
2. The term ‘hexeity’ derives from Medieval Latin, and refers to the quality that makes
something absolutely unique.

An ‘Untimely’ History
Sylvie Rollet
Translated by Precious Brown

A n essential (albeit controversial) point should immediately be made clear:

the work of Angelopoulos is not ‘modernist’ in the sense that Anglo-
Saxon critics have given to this term to qualify, in art history, a time past, but
still belonging to modernity.1 From end to end, Angelopoulos’ work is, in fact,
traversed by history. Yet modernity is defined precisely by our awareness of
unsurpassable historicity. In the words of Jacques Rancière, we have entered
into the ‘age of history’. He adds that it is also the ‘age of cinema’, as this late art
possesses a singular power of ‘historicity and historicising’ (Rancière 1998: 60).
The films of Angelopoulos implement this power. The filmmaker’s
gaze upon Greece allows him to embrace the upheaval that altered the face
of Europe throughout the twentieth century. His first full-length film,
Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970), which is set in a deserted mountain
village abandoned by able-bodied men in search of a livelihood beyond its
borders, is dedicated to the disappearance of age-old rural societies, one of
the first examples of this upheaval. A succession of authoritarian regimes
and foreign occupation are part of Greece’s violent history. Ο Θίασος (The
Travelling Players, 1975) describes the years that link General Metaxas’ 1936
takeover to that of Marshal Papagos in 1952 as well as the German occupa-
tion and the crushing of communist resistance by royalist forces aided by
the American and British armies. As Το Λιβάδι που Δακρύζει (The Weeping
Meadow, 2004) shows, in pitting ‘brother against brother’, the Greek Civil
War (1947–1949) left the country long divided. It remained impossible for
the fearful propertied classes in Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977) to accept
the return of those communist guerrillas who were exiled in 1949, whereas a
socialist government did come to power in 1981. Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage
to Cythera, 1984) stages an amnesiac country where the new gods of the
market economy exclude any reminder of the struggles and the revolutionary
ideals of the past.
220  s y l v i e ro lle t

That film thus marks a turning point in Angelopoulos’ work. Ten years
earlier, the horizon of The Travelling Players (filmed in 1974 during Greece’s
last military junta) was still that of a world free of oppression. Onwards
from Voyage to Cythera, Utopias no longer had currency, nor did people
seem united by any collective dream. It is this observation which prompts
the  ­voluntary exile of the deputy played by Mastroianni in Το Μετέωρο
Βήμα του Πελαργού (The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991). He decides to
become one of the refugees (of all backgrounds) who, in the late twentieth
century, are the only possible face of Deleuze’s ‘missing people’ (Deleuze
1985). The motif of exile, be it economic or political, is certainly present
in Angelopoulos’ first films. However, in Voyage to Cythera, the figure of
the stateless person becomes central. ‘The Refugee’, whom Arendt uses as
a paradigm of the twentieth century (Arendt 1978) is a tie that binds all the
tragedies of a Europe marked by massive displacement of populations. Before
being banished from his country as a result of his political affiliation, the old
guerrilla in Voyage to Cythera experienced a first exile from Asia Minor (like
the father in The Travelling Players). The collapse of the Ottoman Empire
in fact ended with the expulsion of over one million Greeks in 1922 and
later caused wars in the Balkans which bloodied Yugoslavia at the end of the
Notwithstanding, from Το Bλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995)
to Η  Σκόνη του Χρόνου (The Dust of Time, 2008), the characters are less
exiles than returning ‘revenants’.2 Between ‘here’ and ‘elsewhere’, the ter-
ritorial border becomes a temporal threshold. In the first films, ‘elsewhere’
was ­impenetrable to the eye. In the last films, the multiple temporalities
­communicate as the dead mingle with the living. From one period to another,
the ‘experience of the aporia’3 has changed. ‘In one case, the non-passage
resembles an impermeability [. . .] In another case, the non-passage, the
impasse or the aporia stems from the fact that there is no limit’ (Derrida [1993]
(1996): 20). The proper representation of historical events and their historici-
sation becomes impossible – in spite of the distancing effect staged in the early
epic frescoes. Struggling with the traumas of a repressed past ‘that does not
pass’, the narrative loses its logical and chronological articulations and seems
unable to give any meaning or coherence to history. Henceforth, the historical
stage is treated as a psychic scene. The ‘liberal democratic consensus’ rests
upon the repression of conflict, so the mourning of combat and revolutionary
dreams are forbidden. What is repressed can only return in a spectral form.
Angelopoulos’ final film, The Dust of Time, takes Voyage to Cythera’s filmic
structure apart (twenty-five years after its making) by staging a filmmaker’s
waking dream. The filmmaker hallucinates the return of his mother and
father who disappeared in the turmoil of an exile that led them separately
to Russia and to America. The repetition of this narrative structure, where
an ‘un timely’ history  221

the imaginary scene largely prevails over ‘reality’, gives the impression that
the plot (whose centre or core disappears) itself bears the mark of exile. The
recurrence of this off-centred form as well as the obsessive return of collec-
tive memory’s same wounds make haunting the only possible rapport with
The untimeliness of what ‘returns’ through the images, the sounds and the
narrative elaborates what could be called a ‘poetics of return’. The break with
a representation of time that is linear and chronologically organised according
to the historicist paradigm translates into a number of symptoms such as the
‘deregulation’ of the narration, which takes the form of setback, of anachro-
nism or of temporal strata. Jacques Derrida’s comment on the es spukt (the ‘it
haunts’ or ‘it spooks’) in Freud’s The Uncanny (1919) is a suitable definition
of this generalised spectrality. Indeed, Derrida links ‘the impersonality or the
quasi-anonymity of an operation [spuken] without act, without real subject or
object, and the production of a figure, that of the revenant [der Spuk]’ (Derrida
2006: 166). The appearance, in contemporary fiction, of the ghosts of the past is
attributable to a paradoxical visibility, as it exceeds the opposition of the visible
and the invisible (Derrida [1996] (2002): 129). In order to make ‘the ambiguity
of reality’ (Ciment 1982: 12) visible, Angelopoulos’ work attains that which
materially and ontologically defines the cinematic image as a ‘double’. What’s
more, this gift of ‘double vision’ is that of the spectator who is subjected to the
appearance of ghosts and becomes the subject of the c­ onstruction of an image
of history.

In this context, it is appropriate to question one of the distinctive traits of
Angelopoulos’ films: within the contemporary frame of fiction, here and there,
more or less explicitly, figures and motifs from ancient myths appear.4 The
historicist model is based on the idea of a rectilinear and orientated time and
on the possible circumscription of the past as an object of study strictly sepa-
rated from the present (de Certeau 1987). By contrast, the ghosts of Orestes,
Odysseus, Dionysus or Orpheus (see Létoublon 2000; Eades and Letoublon
1999; Eades and Letoublon 1999; Rollet 2005), whom Angelopoulos’ films
house, allow the filmmaker to make buried voices heard in today’s images –
voices that speak neither in the past tense, nor of past times, but for the
present. While the many references can seem an agglomeration of disparate
elements, ultimately, only a few mythological figures emerge throughout
the ­filmography in a sort of personal mythology. Two corpuses can be dis-
tinguished. One is centred around the Atreidae, from Reconstruction to The
Travelling Players; the other is centred around The Odyssey, which serves
222  s y l v i e ro lle t

explicitly as a foundation for Voyage to Cythera and Ulysses’ Gaze. The shift
from tragic subtext to Homeric epic is not insignificant – it bears witness to a
rupture in Angelopoulos’ historical thought.
The Brechtian treatment of The Travelling Players is apparent in the film’s
use of the Oresteia. It is not a question, for Angelopoulos, of giving credit to
the common perception of the Greek Civil War as a ‘family tragedy’5 such as
that of the torn family of Atreus. In contrast to the belief in the unhistorical
permanence of tragic conflict (upon which the dominant ideology is based),
this cultural heritage6 must be kept at bay and treated as what Freud calls the
‘family romance of neurotics’ (Freud 1909). Just as the narrative structure of
the ‘family romance’ constitutes the subject in a Freudian perspective, myths
probably allow for the constitution of the Greek people as a collective subject.
However, they also obscure the real history of contemporary struggles against
oppression and exploitation. The members of the troupe replay on their
own scale, of course, the murders and betrayals in the Atreides. Thus, the
assassination of the mother (Aliki Georgouli) and her fascist lover (Vangelis
Kazan) by the communist son, Orestes (Petros Zarkadis), makes the tragic
conflict suddenly reappear like a shadow double of historical reality.7 Whether
they choose the side of resistance, that of fascism or of collaboration with the
American occupation, the actors remain on the losing side of history. The
critical distance that the film maintains in relation to the tragic model aims to
repeat ‘an already fixed form’ in order to ‘get rid of it’ (Ciment 1975: 6) – like
the memory process involved in the analytic treatment.
Voyage to Cythera, which inaugurates the ‘Odyssean cycle,’ operates in a
very different manner. The impossible return of Spyros, the old communist
(Manos Katrakis), to a Greece desiring to forget the past in a frenzy of con-
sumption alludes to the return of Odysseus. However, this old man is not the
glorious hero of The Odyssey but his spectral double – the foreign beggar in
his own country. Between the film and the Homeric text, relationships are
less citation or loan than displacement, which excludes any interpretation as
a ‘translation’. Indeed, the signifier is not cancelled out by the signified (as
symbols do); allegory imposes an indefinitely maintained gap between them.
In other words, the Homeric poem is neither the model nor the origin of the
narrative; rather, it inhabits the film through a secret presence that is only
­perceptible through its brief flickerings.8
The encounter between Voyage to Cythera and The Odyssey is primarily
due to a kind of confusion between individual history and political history
that is at hand in the Homeric poem as well as in the film. In both cases, the
collective history is thought of in terms of line of descent and transmission. In
Angelopoulos’ film, the fracture occurs between the generation of Civil War
fighters and that of their descendants. The convergences between the film
and the epic make the filmmaker’s subversion of the structure of Homeric
an ‘un timely’ history  223

narrative (see Rollet 2003) all the more sensitive: Ulysses’ return is seen from
the point of view of Telemachus, and Voyage to Cythera decides the ‘genera-
tion of contenders’ victory. A short circuit is created between fiction and its
archaic ‘model’. The apparition of the ‘it haunts’, which obliges a memorial
elaboration on the part of the spectator thus acquires heuristic value.
In The Odyssey the restoration of the linear continuity of time proceeds from
the evocation of the hero’s memories. It is substituted in Voyage to Cythera,
by an imaginary film dreamed by the filmmaker-son (Giulio Brogi). During
the 1980s, Greece, like the majority of Western neoliberal societies, was domi-
nated by consumerist amnesia, and the return of the father who was exiled at
the end of the Civil War was but an illusion. Hence, the film, unlike the epic,
cannot end with the restoration of the hero. The return of the old man is at
once what is taking place – within the space that the ‘dreamed film’ offers –
and that which does not take place – in the ‘real’ framework of the fiction. The
time of return and of non-return are embedded into one another. Constantly
deferred, always to come – or even cancelled at the very moment it happens –
this ‘return’ appears to be the figure par excellence of a properly spectral time;
that is, of anachronism and of utopia.
One finds an analogous cyclical time based on restoration and incompletion
in Ulysses’ Gaze whose hero is A., a filmmaker (Harvey Keitel). His homeland
no longer exists. Born in the Greek community of Constanta, Romania, exiled
to Florina (in Macedonia) and then to the United States, to where could he
possibly ‘return’? He begins a long journey in search of three lost reels filmed
by the Manakis brothers at the dawn of the century. His adventure across
Albania, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Bosnia, brings him to Sarajevo. His
path, however, does not only follow the ‘first cinematic gaze’ of the Manakis
brothers; it leads inextricably toward the origin of the never-ending wars of
the twentieth century. Early filmmakers nonetheless believed they possessed
a universal language – the silent language of images – which seemed to make
the horizon of a perpetual peace accessible. The working women the Manakis
brothers filmed were, in fact, neither Greek nor Bulgarian, but Balkan. The
images of spinners of times past at the beginning of Ulysses’ Gaze suggest the
direction the voyage will take and ties the cinema with the vital thread woven
by the Fates.
The hero’s adventure is a journey back in time. During each segment of
his journey, he falls asleep and then awakens at a different era. During one
such era, Plovdiv was still called Philippoulolis, and the Aegean Sea could be
accessed via the Evros River; during another, in Constanta, Greek, Armenian
and Jewish families lived side by side. He falls asleep only to be reborn, gliding
across water which abolishes time and borders. From the Black Sea to the
Aegean, from the Danube to the Drina, the Balkan peoples drink this unique
and manifold water. The new Orpheus descends into the underworld guided
224  s y l v i e ro lle t

by a multifaceted Eurydice (played by a single actress, Maia Morgenstern).

His beloved is at once an unknown woman, who strolls the nocturnal streets of
Florina without seeing the hero, an archivist at the Skopje Cinémathèque, and
a Serbian peasant widow.
Successively recalling all of the female faces of the Homeric poem –
Penelope, Calypso and Nausicaa – this modern Charon is Death with a
womanly face (see  Vernant  1989;  Kahn  and  Loraux  1981). The untimely
emergence of The Odyssey’s ‘typical scenes’ (Parry 1928) makes the legendary
world the reverse side of history that positivist ideology cannot consider. The
image acquires a gift of ‘double vision’ that allows it to rediscover the under-
ground language circulating in myths and legends – the language of affect –
that historical rationality would like to eradicate (de Certeau 1987: 124). In
returning to contemporary fiction in the form of myth, the ‘unconscious’ of
time repressed by scientific historiography destroys the homogeneity of the
The anachronism that digs beneath the fiction, as in an apparition, a plural-
ity of times, appears, in this way, to be the major figure of an era plagued by
haunting. As the result of a narrative construction that offers no explanation
for the change from one period to another, the anachronism is also inscribed
within the duration of the shot. In the opening sequence of Ulysses’ Gaze,
before our eyes and in A.’s gaze, Manakis again passes away, at the moment
that he looks upon the great blue sail boat that could be the Phaeacians’ ship
bringing Ulysses back to Ithaca. These embedded gazes and times constitute
the characteristic trait of a generalised spectrality. The Balkan crossing is but
a long nekyia, and the entire film something like a consultation of the dead.9
Indeed, if A. – like Ulysses – literally becomes ‘Nobody’, it is less in order to
escape the cyclopean eye of the watchtower at the border than it is to become
himself an all-seeing gaze. He has neither a name nor a past, so he can endorse
all identities, relive all the stories and become the body of all the memories of
the Balkan peoples.
In Sarajevo, where the history of twentieth-century Europe begins and
ends, the hero’s journey comes to a close. The Cinémathèque’s curator, Ivo
Levi (Erland Josephson), has managed to reconstitute the chemical formula
which will allow him to develop the three recovered film reels. However, the
spectator sees nothing of these lost images – only patches of light palpitating
on a blank screen. The film ends with the pained gaze of A. whilst, in a final
monologue, this modern Ulysses announces his future return to Ithaca.10 As
the spectator awaits the impending reverse shot that will fulfil his or her desire
to see, in focusing on A.’s suspended gaze, the film maintains the spectator on
this shore where the unseen obstacle becomes a powerful lever for imagination.
Is it precisely this ‘lost, imprisoned gaze’ (Ciment 1995: 27) that Angelopoulos
wishes to liberate?
an ‘un timely’ history  225

Angelopoulos has often been criticised for the gruelling slowness of his films.
The duration of shots extends well beyond the spectator’s needs for infor-
mation, and it is only with much regret that they link to the following shot.
However, the conversion of our gaze depends on this experience of duration.
The represented scene then ceases to be a shield and opens up to the sudden
appearance of what Benjamin calls a ‘dialectical image’, the foundational
event of a non-positivist thinking of history. Indeed, he writes that ‘while the
relation of the present to the past is purely temporal, the relation of the what-
has-been to the now is dialectical: not temporal in nature, but figural [bildlich]’
(Benjamin 1999: 463). The coalescence that solders, here and now, the image
of the past and that of the present does not establish a communication between
two times (a picture in the past and in the present) – nor does it create a link
between a current image and a virtual one – but unites the two sides of a same
image taken totally in the present.
Rejecting both the idea of a rectilinear and orientated time and that of a
possible circumscription of the past (ideas that guide the historicist model),
Angelopoulos’ films implement a historical thought that is intimately linked,
as it is for Benjamin, to a theory of remembrance. The images’ ‘work’ engages
the spectator in the process of anamnesis, and makes ‘vision’ an event – in that
the filmmaker’s work recalls that which never had the form of presence. The
spectator who is, as Derrida says, in the gaze of this ‘wholly other’ (Derrida
2002) is confronted with an ‘injunction’ that exceeds him or her. Therefore,
the entire aesthetic experience, in the Kantian sense of the term, is subverted.
The thought process initiated by the films is in itself a political act.
To illuminate the experience (that is literally to say, the ‘crossing’) in which
the filmmaker takes us, the vast maritime stretch, hardly limited to the horizon
by a confused shoreline in the opening sequence of The Suspended Step of the
Stork seems capital. A ballet of helicopters appears above an obscure, form-
less and indistinct spot in the centre of the frame as well as around it; military
patrol boats trace a series of frantic circles. A slow optical travelling shot tight-
ens the frame revealing a strangely localised viewpoint to which no identity
may be attributed. It is indeed a viewpoint, but whose? That of the faceless ‘I’
who speaks in voice-over? And is the black mass the dead refugees who were
refused asylum? A sense of the ‘uncanny’ comes from this enigmatic perspec-
tive and the fragmentary information. ‘Something’ that cannot be figured, and
yet insists, slips into this disorder. It is an off-centring force of representa-
tion, a purely perceptual event that the spectator is unable to name in spite
of its effect on him or her. The presence that is covertly at work in the image
impedes the image from disappearing into what it makes visible and forces it to
reveal the disfiguring power of the ‘imageless’ (Agamben 1998: 76).
226  s y l v i e ro lle t

The power of this ‘unfigurable’ (which gives the shot its ‘rhythm’, in the
archaic sense of the term)12 is measured by its perseverance in the filmmaker’s
work. The expulsion of Spyros, the old guerrilla in Voyage to Cythera is taken
up in an almost identical fashion in the opening sequence of The Suspended Step
of the Stork. The old man is abandoned on a barge outside Greek territorial
waters and is surveyed at length by military authorities – even though neither
the fragile figure of the old man nor the shapeless mass of drowned refugees
constitute any serious threat to the established order. The similarity in the
trajectory of the forces of order which lines the borders of the frame, and the
overemphasis of the movement of circumscription, reveal a compulsive char-
acter. The staging evokes the psychic mechanisms of censorship in the psy-
choanalytic sense of the term. The treatment of space attests to the imaginary
quality of the scene. Here, the sea is no longer frame, nor landscape. Treated
as a uniform surface – without relief, without depth, without limits – it returns
to its original nature as pure liquid. Reaching the status of mental space, it is
the only ‘territory’ where the imaginary and invisible frontier of repression can
trace itself, as this frontier is at once erased, absorbed, ‘forgotten’.
The ‘unfigurable’ must, here, be content, but a number of scenes clearly
express an inverse and transgressive desire to meet ghosts. This dynamic
unites two almost identical scenes. In Voyage to Cythera, the filmmaker sees
a beggar suddenly appear in the mirror of a café and ‘recognises’ the father
he has been searching for. In The Suspended Step of the Stork, upon returning
from his first news report at the border, the journalist (Gregory Karr) discov-
ers that, by chance, he had video-recorded a deputy (Marcello Mastroianni)
who everyone thought had disappeared. These two ‘encounters’ with spec-
tres are placed under the dual sign of fusion and separation. In Voyage to
Cythera, the fusion comes from the fact that, in the frame, the ‘real’ image
of the filmmaker-son becomes blurred, whereas his reflection remains clear.
In this way, he finds himself united with the old beggar in the mirror. In The
Suspended Step of the Stork, the movement of the journalist and the camera
produces an impression of nearness. Karr’s silhouette seems to join that of
Mastroianni inside the erased borders of the projection screen. The fusion
of the two images, however, remains impossible. In The Suspended Step of the
Stork, the gaze of the ‘missing’ politician is turned obstinately towards the
off-screen space and cannot meet that of the journalist. In Voyage to Cythera,
the tension of the filmmaker-son’s gaze, as the spectator awaits the reverse
shot, maintains, in the same manner, the fracture between the two worlds. In
the mirror or on the screen, the phantom is ‘here’ – although it belongs to an
The image’s ‘problematic’ status (in the etymological sense of πρόβλημα
which implies projection and protection) merits attention: while the ‘video
frame within a frame’ separates the on-screen space and off-screen spaces,
an ‘un timely’ history  227

two modalities of presence meet within the filmic frame. Faced with the
empty theatre of the present of modernity – the supposed only ‘reality’ – for
Angelopoulos, cinema seems to be the only territory where the spectres of the
past may be hosted. These ghosts insist and demand to find a place in this
world, in our world, which they inhabit in the mode of ‘haunting’.
This does not, however, make the cinema an instrument of mourning.
To the contrary, the obsessive return to the same themes and the constant
repetition of a small number of malleable figures gives Angelopoulos’ films
the obsessive character of tragic πένθος ἄλαστον, the untiring memory of
an ‘unforgettable grief’ that cannot take place. As a stage subject to common
judgement, ancient tragedy attempted to oppose this ‘negative will, that makes
the past into an eternal present’ (Loraux 2002 : 162) with the critical distance
that representation allows. Jean-Pierre Vernant and Pierre Vidal-Naquet have
shown that the ancient theatre also functions as a political arena. In this sense,
Angelopoulos’ cinema could well be, ‘ante- or anti-political’, to use Nicole
Loraux’s terms – the default space of the failure of politics. His cinema stages
what cannot be represented in the city and can only return as a ghost. It is not
a place of litigation, but of wrong (Lyotard 1988), the interdiction of grief. The
very notion of representation in his films becomes unfitting, as the ghosts of
history are less represented than insidiously ‘present’ in such a way that it is
impossible to tell if they are dead or living. Their ability to ‘appear’ is indeed
only matched by the negative and faceless force that aims to erase them. This
force can only manifest itself in what it makes disappear: the succession of
generations that regulates the order of time, the separation of the dead and the
living, the legacy of a common language.
Through borderline incestuous relationships – between ‘mother’ and son,
in Ο Μεγαλέξανδρος (Megalexandros, 1980), between brother and ‘sister’ in
Voyage to Cythera, between father and ‘daughter’ in The Weeping Meadow –,
and in the endless quest for the father (Voyage to Cythera and Τοπίο στην
Ομίχλη [Landscape in the Mist, 1988]), disturbances in the line of descent are
one of the constants in Angelopoulos’ plots. These disturbances are even more
noticeable on the scale of his complete filmography. From one film to the next,
characters have the same names but occupy different places. For instance, in
The Weeping Meadow, Spyros is the young girl’s adoptive father who narrowly
missed the opportunity to marry her and, in The Dust of Time, he is the same
Eleni’s lover. The inability to differentiate between the dead and the living
concerns both bodies and territories. As for the characters’ bodies, they are
generally reduced to silhouettes with blurred contours. The stiffness of their
gestures and the slowness of their movements further add to the impression
that instead of living beings, these are survivors in a process of petrifaction.
Similarly, the foggy landscapes, the mountainous horizons and obstructed
seascapes render the fiction’s topography uncertain. Floating, impossible to
228  s y l v i e ro lle t

Figure 14.1 The Suspended Step of the Stork

situate, the places of action are a between-two-worlds that is characteristic of

limbo – an ‘elsewhere’ that stretches beyond the known world.
At the beginning of The Suspended Step of the Stork, the colonel who leads
a regiment of border guards, his foot raised above the fragile blue line that
crosses the bridge linking Greece to the other shore, explains the motif of
the entire film for the journalist: ‘If I take one step, I am elsewhere . . . or I
am dead’. Otherwise stated, to be ‘elsewhere’ is to be dead. This is revealed
in the first shot which shows refugees who are stuck in a no-man’s land. The
slow tracking shot across the wagons leaves the spectator hesitant. For a few
seconds, the viewer thinks the train is moving, but the only movement is that
of the camera. The train is stopped. This immobility is reinforced by the rigid
posture of refugees who stand in the doorways of the stopped cars. These
‘foreigners’ who have risked their lives to cross the border that separated them
from a chimerical promised land find themselves stripped not only of their
past but of any future. They remain there, suspended, outside of time. The
counter-world of exiles appears as an uninhabitable threshold, closed and
­infinite, without any point of exit because it leads nowhere.
The temporality of the entire film is that of ‘frozen’ time – indefinitely
transient, pure and unchanged duration. The day sequences are bathed in
shadowless grey light. The absence of luminous variations further reinforces
the impression of a uniform duration produced by a narrative in which each
sequence closes in on itself. Nothing happens. No event seems to have any
repercussion on other events. Accordingly, the characters’ gestures and move-
ments are slowed as if to fight the approaching petrification. Like a nightmare,
an ‘un timely’ history  229

the congealment of time expressed in the stiffening of bodies never ceases to

return in Angelopoulos’ following films. In Μια Αιωνιότητα και μια Μέρα
(Eternity and a Day, 1998), an image emerges before the poet, Alexander, who
is attempting to bring an Albanian child across the border: the black silhou-
ettes of bodies – stiffened as if by electric shock – hanging from the fence that
marks the limit of the known world. In Ulysses’ Gaze, once across the Albanian
border, the hero discovers a landscape of people wandering in the snow with
immobilised steps as if under the effect of some strange force.
The transformation of the wanderer into a ghost is achieved through the
loss of names. In Ulysses’ Gaze (as in, Η Άλλη Θάλασσα [The Other Sea], whose
filming was interrupted by Angelopoulos’ sudden death), this loss translates as
the reduction of the characters’ names to a single initial. However, the process
leading to the dissolution of identity began long before. From one film to the
next, a sort of generalised homonymy is put into place: ‘Alexander’, first and
foremost, but also ‘Eleni’, ‘Voula’ or ‘Spyros’ indifferently designate charac-
ters of different ages and roles. A second parallel movement, the disappearance
of language itself – the Greek language – seems to be set in motion in Voyage
to Cythera. Although the father in The Travelling Players, a refugee from Asia
Minor, could still tell the story of his exile to the camera, in Voyage to Cythera,
the old man who returns, can only stammer two Russian words to describe
the aroma of his childhood home: ‘rotten apple’. This loss of the language is
evident in Ulysses’ Gaze. Since the Greek filmmaker is exiled in the United
States, he only has English at his disposal. In Angelopoulos’ last film, The Dust
of Time, the process of erasure seems to come to an end. The lost language of
the homeland seems to be hollow – an absence that no one cares about. All of
the characters are Greeks who were exiled in Russia, then in America, and who
now only speak English. Henceforth, tragedy is only spoken in the ‘victors’
monolingualism’ (Nichanian 2007: 217–18). English becomes the language of
Angelopoulos explains that his first memories as a spectator date back to
the Civil War. The filmmaker’s father was kidnapped by communist guer-
rillas, and his family had no news of him until the end of the war. Michael
Curtiz’s Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) was playing at the open-air cinema
next to the family’s home. Of this first memory of the cinema, Angelopoulos
retained only one scene. When the hero is to be executed, he disappears off-
screen, but his shadow remains in the frame as the echo of the hero’s cry, ‘I
don’t want to die!’ resonates. ‘Cinema entered my life,’ writes Angelopoulos,
‘as a shadow projected on a wall and a cry’ (cited in Ciment 1995: 61). If
this memory is the origin of his vocation to cinema, it is probably because
this scene which depicts a process of disappearance confers a palpable form
to precisely what the images do not show; that is, the disappearance of the
father. The missing image in Curtiz’s film was substituted by a spectral image,
230  s y l v i e ro lle t

gnawed at by the absence of the condemned man who was already at the gates
of death. However, the extraordinary force of this scene comes from the fact
that it activates a suspension of time. The hero is already no longer part of
this world at the moment his shadow and voice haunt the frame. Instead of
real death (death that results in a pure and simple disappearance), the cinema
seems capable of delaying the definitive erasure and sheltering, if not the
image of death, at least that of its ‘double’. Cinema becomes the language of
the interdiction of grief.
Nonetheless, The Dust of Time seems to indicate that this same language
is on the verge of disappearing. At first, the film seems strangely to return to
the codes of classical cinema with its international cast of characters (Willem
Dafoe, Bruno Ganz, Michel Piccoli, Irène Jacob), close-up shots and English-
language dialogue. Yet this borrowed classicism is systematically contradicted
by the discontinuity of the narrative as well as the inexplicit allusions to the
catastrophes of twentieth-century history (the Greek Civil War, the Gulag, the
Holocaust and so on). Above all, it is literally impossible for the ‘poster face’
actors to ‘act’. The film seems to ‘speak’ the classical language of cinema as
if it were a dead language. Faced with the failure of politics and the defeat of
the tragic form, cinema can only oppose the interdiction of grief with ‘bearing
witness’. However, this term is to be understood in the sense that Agamben
uses it: ‘We may say that to bear witness is to place oneself in one’s own lan-
guage in the position of those who have lost it, to establish oneself in a living
language as if it were dead’ (1999: 161).

  1. See Bordwell (1997a: 11–26) and Jameson (1997: 78–95).
  2. In French a ‘revenant’ is a ‘ghost’. The term plays on the double meaning of the verb
revenir whose literal meaning is ‘to return’ or ‘to come back’ but which can also mean ‘to
  3. Jacques Derrida’s expression is an oxymoron that plays upon the antinomy between
a-poros (pathless) and ex-perience (crossing).
  4. Some motifs are also drawn from Greek, pagan and Christian legends. Megalexandros
associates, in this way, the heroic legend of the conqueror, the myth of Dionysus’ eternal
rebirth and the Christian figure of Saint George. While they are superimposed, the figures
and themes borrowed from various narratives do not exactly become unrecognisable –
they employ a different process of recognition. The cited myths thus come to represent
something else, or even to express something unspoken that quotation forces them to
  5. This idea is present in the Greek language itself, which refers to the Civil War as a ‘war
within lineage’ (εμφύλιος πόλεμος).
  6. It is, says the filmmaker, the ‘cultural baggage that every Greek has carried since birth’
(Ciment 1975: 4).
an ‘un timely’ history  231

  7. With the exception of the son, Orestes, none of the characters have names. Therefore, we
must designate them by the tragic figures to which they refer: Agamemnon, Electra,
Clytemnestra, etc.
  8. When Odysseus returns to Ithaca disguised as a beggar, only his dog, Argos, recognises
him. Similarly, the old resistance fighter is recognised by his own dog when he returns to
his village . . . thirty years after leaving.
  9. In Book XI of The Odyssey, rather than being underground, the nekyia is described as a
‘window’ or passageway between the world of the living and the realm of the dead.
10. While Angelopoulos’ text does use the terms of Odysseus and Penelope’s reunion found
in The Odyssey, it transposes them in the future.
11. ‘In memory of the nameless is dedicated historical construction’ (Benjamin, Maurice-
Monnoyer 1991: 356). According to Hesiod, the mass of nonumnai, the ‘nameless’ is that
of the unburied dead, refused from the world of the living and the memory of men.
Returned to original chaos, left to wander endlessly at the gates of Hades without being
able to cross its threshold, they are definitely doomed to inhumanity.
12. The term ‘rhythm’, as Émile Benveniste shows, derives etymologically from the verb ῤεῖν
(to flow) and designates (as opposed to other terms such as σχῆμα, μορφἠ, είδος) a form
that has no definitive consistency, but a fluid and modifiable one. See Émile Benveniste
([1966] 1971: 327-35).
  In this sense, according to Louis Marin it is ‘a flow that neither name nor figure could
stop in order to produce its concept or provide its theme’ (2001: 266).


Angelopoulos and the Time-image

Richard Rushton

T heo Angelopoulos began his film career as a sombre political modernist.

His early films offer biting critiques of Greece’s past and present, yet
always with the distant hope that Greece’s future could be prosperous, and that
the faults of its recent past could be remedied by a potentially glorious future.
The earlier films do have melancholic endings, but in their melancholy the
endings are signals or appeals for change: they are attempts to transform mel-
ancholy into hope. This outlook soon began to change, and the seeds of a more
deep-seated pessimism were sown in Ο Μεγαλέξανδρος (Megalexandros, 1980).
Any sense of a worthwhile future that could be built by acknowledging the past
came to an end with Ταξίδι στα Κύθηρα (Voyage to Cythera, 1984). There, the
past is left behind, but it also seems that nothing more can be learned from it:
the past is laid to rest. Here, the past is laid to rest in a way that no longer makes
the past the foundation of the future. At the same time, however, because the
past is no longer a condition of the future, the future is itself freed from the
shackles of the past. With a future that is freed from the shackles of the past, a
new kind of optimism finds its way into Angelopoulos’ films.
A clear sense of the transformation in the way the past is envisaged can be
gained by way of Angelopoulos’ contrasting use of a nomadic acting troupe,
first of all in Ο Θίασος (The Travelling Players, 1975), then by way of their
reincarnation in Τοπίο Στην Ομίχλη (Landscape in the Mist, 1988). As Andrew
Horton has noted, in the former film, even though a sense of tragedy marks
most of the film’s events, there is nevertheless a sense of ‘muted triumph’,
especially in the troupe’s decision near the end of the film to start up again and
continue to perform. Here, then, the dead can be remembered and honoured,
and the future can be invented by virtue of their memory (Horton 1997: 124).
By contrast, when the players ‘return’ in Landscape in the Mist they are ‘used
up’ and irrelevant: culture and history no longer matter (Horton 1997: 158).
Voyage to Cythera is itself a film that is all about banishing the past, something
236  r i c h a r d rus hto n

that Angelopoulos has himself made clear: it is a film that ‘exorcises the past’
in order that Greece will no longer be bound to that past (cited in Grodent
[1985] 2001: 41). It is a film about banishing all of the dreams – especially those
dreams of the Left – that had turned to ruin and which, for Angelopoulos,
are no longer relevant for contemporary Greece. Angelopoulos claims that
the filmmaker-son (Giulio Brogi) of Voyage to Cythera ‘uses the imaginary
journey of the film he makes to free himself from the past’ (cited in Grodent
[1985] 2001: 47). Ο Μελισσοκόμος (The Beekeeper, 1986) also shows us a man,
Spyros (Marcello Mastroianni), tormented by the past, even if we, the viewers
of the film, are never shown or told the precise nature of that torment. His
only responses to that past are despair, resignation, chaos and death. Hope,
along with the past as much as the future, has abandoned him. (The character
of Spyros and his crisis in The Beekeeper was, according to Andrew Horton, a
response to the 1979 suicide of Nikos Poulantzas, though no explicit reference
to this is provided by the film (cited in Kolovos 1990: 172).)
Commentators such as David Bordwell and Fredric Jameson have, from
different theoretical perspectives, accounted for this change of direction in
Angelopoulos’ films. Bordwell notes the shift from a first political phase to
one that is more inspired by an existential humanism (Bordwell 2005: 145).
Angelopoulos himself backs up such claims, declaring that after Marxism and
Brechtian methods had had their day, he turned to something grounded in
humanism and existentialism: ‘Art is once again anthropocentric,’ he declared
(cited in Grodent [1985] 2001: 49).
For Jameson, this change is a clear regression, both formally and politically:

Formal regression is . . . to be found and documented in the return of all

these later works to a framework organised around an individual protago-
nist, an individual hero or narrator, and it is a regression which thereby
annuls the innovations and formal conquests that Angelopoulos’ earlier
films had made by way of the construction of their unique collective
­narratives. (Jameson 1997: 89)

Alongside their repudiation of a collective protagonist, the later films also fall
into a mode that Jameson describes as ‘representational narrative’ (Jameson
1997: 90).1
Angelopoulos himself talked about how the aspirations of the Left in
Greece came to an end some time during the late 1970s, almost as though the
only people who had kept the leftist dream alive were the colonels themselves
who had presided over the military rule of Greece between 1967 and 1975.
Once they were overthrown, the Left lost both its momentum and its dreams,
and the leftist cause was betrayed and abandoned even by those who had
invested the most in it. Megalexandros shows us this: Alexander is a liberator
ange lo po ulo s and the time-image  237

turned tyrant. The only plausible course to take was that of a turn to the self.
Again Angelopoulos is very clear on such issues:

The battle is always the battle of the self, the self against everything that
is unusual, unjust and incalculable. The individual must always fight
against everything in this life, because there is the illusion that there is
a meaning, a goal. But there is no meaning, no usefulness. The battle is
life itself. I no longer deal with politics, with generalizations. I no longer
understand them. (cited in Bachmann [1997] 2001: 111)

And yet, even as he embraced the notion of a self that battles against every-
thing, Angelopoulos also refused to abandon the perspective of collective
memory. Ultimately this might be the chief tension of his works: how can the
‘battle of the self’ be reconciled with ‘collective memory’?

My own work is based on what we call collective memory, more than

collective individual memory, on collective historical memory, mixing
time in the same space, changing time not through a flashback that corre-
sponds to a person but to a collective memory, and this was accomplished
without a cut. (cited in O’Grady [1990] 2001: 71)

On the one hand, in the later films, Angelopoulos appeals to the sanctity of
a self that is abandoned to itself in the world, while on the other hand he
also wants to retain a belief in the destiny of the kind of collective vision that
forms the focus of the earlier films: that is, of the ways that memory can be
marshalled collectively in order to construct a new kind of future. And we can
note in Angelopoulos’ claim above – his explicit reference is to Landscape in the
Mist – the effect of a ‘collective memory that unfolds in the space and time of
a single shot’, his most enduring stylistic trademark, and one that is as relevant
for the early films as much as the later ones.
In what follows I account for Angelopoulos’ transition from ‘politics’
to ‘humanism’ by way of Gilles Deleuze’s conception of the time-image.
Deleuze’s categories allow the distinctions between the early films and the
later ones to be clearly identified, for Deleuze offers subtle differentiations
between notions of the past, time and memory. The key distinction is between
what Deleuze calls a recollection-image, and that which he terms pure recol-
lection. While the early films (from Αναπαράσταση (Reconstruction, 1970) to
Megalexandros) are constructed by way of recollection-images, the later films
offer what Deleuze calls pure recollection. These two ways of approaching
recollection offer contrasting conceptions of the past and of time, and thus
offer markedly different ways of conceiving of history.
238  r i c h a r d rus hto n


What can we do with the past? Such might be the central concern asked by the
films of Angelopoulos. And the common sense answer is: we can learn from it.
Certainly this is the approach Angelopoulos takes in his early films, the moral
of which might be that injustice prevails when the truth of the past is covered
over, hidden. Reconstruction is an elegy for those who abandoned Greece; in
other words, it is an appeal to the people of Greece to face the wounds of the
past, to ‘come clean’ about them, not to abandon them. When the wife and her
lover in Reconstruction refuse to take the blame for the murder of the husband
but instead insist that it was the other who was responsible – the wife accuses
the lover while the lover accuses the wife – we might take this as Angelopoulos’
way of insisting that we must all take the blame for the sins of the past. The
Travelling Players, more than any other of the films, is an attempt to get
‘inside’ history, to lay it bare with enormous weight, to portray the past as a
shadow that colours all of the present.
Yet it is in Οι Κυνηγοί (The Hunters, 1977) that the pattern of these early
films is most pronounced. There, a figure from the past – the living-dead
body of a civil war partisan – becomes ‘unhidden’: that which should have
remained dead, buried and forgotten, suddenly returns to haunt the living.
Angelos Koutsourakis has deftly explained the Brechtian and Marxian inspi-
rations for Angelopoulos’ strategies here, for The Hunters ‘aspires to reveal
the prioritization of historical/political forces over actions of the individuals’
(Koutsourakis 2012: 175). The cinematic techniques employed – especially
the transitions between different periods of history that occur within the same
shot, a hallmark of Angelopoulos’ style – are designed to mark the influence of
the past upon the present, to convince the viewer that what is happening in the
present cannot be separated from what has happened in the past. If the past
is forgotten or covered up, then its weight will become a burden so that the
present – and the future – will be thrown off course. And such is the scale of
Angelopoulos’ lessons from Brecht: the destiny of the present and the future
will only be realised if the truth of the past is confronted, when the past is
‘unhidden’. If Greece can face up to this hidden past, only then will it begin to
thrive, and rediscover itself as a proud nation.
Such strategies are perhaps not as innovative as they might seem, for
Angelopoulos is offering something akin to a collective ‘return of the
repressed’, a return brilliantly embodied in the uncovered corpse that
refuses to die. This return of the repressed has a very specific aim, which
Koutsourakis points out: ‘to foreground the collective guilt on the part of
the Greek bourgeoisie’ (2012: 176). On this count, then, the truth of the past
has very specific lessons to teach: if the sins of the past are covered over and
buried – as they are at the end of The Hunters – then those sins will continue
ange lo po ulo s and the time-image  239

to return in ways that will wreak havoc upon the present. For the most part it
is the oppression of communist and leftist forces that surfaces again and again
in the films of this period. During this period, the political establishment in
Greece would not even acknowledge that there had been a Civil War; rather,
the Civil War period was dismissed as an insurrection led by disreputable
radicals (and thus referred to as the ‘Bandit War’). The point, of course, is
that if the sins of the past were openly confronted and recognised, then the
present and the future would be entirely different. And that is nothing less
than the point of The Hunters (and Angelopoulos’ other films of this period):
to try to persuade Greece to examine its past, to face up to the truths it has
buried, above all to recognise the brutal oppression of leftist and democratic
sympathisers during the twentieth century, and thus to embark on a new
Greek future, especially now (in 1977) having awoken from the dark years of
military rule.
Thus, the major directive of these films is for Greece to go back into the
past, and there is no doubt these films tend to be expressions of what Deleuze
calls the time-image (Deleuze 1989). As is well known, Deleuze makes a dis-
tinction between the movement-image and the time-image in cinema, where
first of all the movement-image sees perception related to action, so that the
actions of a hero in a movement-image film are responses to what the hero
has seen. By contrast, films of the time-image feature a relationship between
perception and memory: what the hero sees is no longer related to action;
rather, it sends the hero back to the past, into memory. Using Deleuze, Sohi
and Khojastehpour have noted this aspect of Angelopoulos’ films (though
their focus is on Το Βλέμμα του Οδυσσέα [Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995] and Το Λιβάδι
που Δακρύζει [The Weeping Meadow, 2005]), stating that Angelopoulos ‘fuses
the past in the present as if the past were a part of the present’ (Sohi and
Khojastehpour 2010: 63). They then go on to claim that Angelopoulos ‘does
not film recollections of the past. He wants the past to live in the present’ (2010:
64). It is the relationships between the past and the present, between memory
and recollection, that go to the heart of Angelopoulos’ oeuvre. Discerning
precisely what is meant by ‘making the past a part of the present’ or ‘making
the past live in the present’, as Sohi and Khojastepour note, is central to
Angelopoulos’ concerns. As I have already claimed, there is a distinction
between the earlier films, which are based on recollection-images, and the
later films, which feature pure recollection. But of what, precisely, does this
­distinction consist?
First of all, in the early films, the past emerges as a function of the present.
That is, from the perspective of the present, we are taken back into the past,
but only insofar as that past is related to the present. Thus, in The Hunters, the
dead body of the partisan emerges from the past as a function of the present:
it declares to the present that the truth of the past must be uncovered and
240  r i c h a r d rus hto n

known in order for the present to also be fully known; to ‘hide’ the past will
mean that the present is also hidden from itself. Or in The Travelling Players,
each layer of history can only be understood from the perspective of the
present; that is, one layer is always related to another, from 1922 to 1944, or
from there to 1949 and 1952. Likewise, the impossible search for the ‘truth’
of the past in Reconstruction is a function of the present: it is because the truth
of the past has been renounced that Greece in the present has lost its way;
that is why its small villages are deserted, why so many workers have fled to
Germany, and so on.
These relations between the past and the present are nevertheless remark-
able in Angelopoulos’ early films. Deleuze makes somewhat complex claims
for these kinds of formations, whose characteristic forms are the uses of flash-
backs in the films of Joseph Mankiewicz (All About Eve [1950], The Barefoot
Contessa [1954], A Letter to Three Wives [1949]). In those films, the past and
memory are not pre-constituted. Rather, the past and memory are only formed
as consequences of the present. What Deleuze then claims is that these films
show us the birth of memory. Everything about the past and memory thus
becomes a function of the present. But it also becomes a function of the future,
so that the passage from the past, through the present and into the future is
charted. In short: from the present moment, a character is taken back to the
past in order to discover how the present ‘came to be’. But this going back into
the past is also then stored up so as to be used as a reference for the future.
Thus, for Mankiewicz, it is in the present that we make a memory, but only
in order that we will be able to make use of it in the future (see Deleuze 1989:
50–5). The past is a function both of the present and of a future to come.
Thus, in All About Eve, Eve Harrington (Ann Baxter) will use her knowledge
of Margo (Bette Davis) and Karen (Celeste Holm) to try to swindle their hus-
bands away from them and to further her own career, while Addison DeWitt
(George Sanders) will also use the background knowledge he has garnered in
turn against Eve. Here, characters learn and know the secrets of the past that
they can use as weapons in the future. This too is the function of the past in
Angelopoulos’ early films: we are taken back to the past in order to discover
how the present ‘came to be’. This knowledge of the past can then be stored
up for future use.
These are all examples of what Deleuze calls a recollection-image. By
contrast, pure recollection, Deleuze contends, emerges when the recollec-
tion-image fails. When one cannot recollect, when recollection fails, there
emerges  pure recollection. In other words, for pure recollection, one is con-
fronted by something, but cannot discern what it is. One can only ask: what
is that? First, such a pure recollection emerges in Landscape in the Mist: the
giant sculpted hand that is drawn from the water by a helicopter. In front of
this image one can only ask: what is that? Angelopoulos himself admits it: ‘I
ange lo po ulo s and the time-image  241

couldn’t really tell you the significance of the stone hand pulled out of the
Thessaloniki harbor’ (cited in, Strauss, Toubiana [1988] 2001: 63).2 If in The
Hunters the living-dead body is soon recognisable as a definable ‘thing’ from
the past, or if the layers of past in The Travelling Players are for the most part
signalled by banners or symbols which reveal their historical significance,
then the stone hand of Landscape offers no such marker of historicity. Rather,
we, as much as the film’s characters who stare in astonishment at this spec-
tacle, are merely amazed and confused. The result is none other than pure
recollection: to look back, to try to make connections, to delve into one’s
The force of this move in Angelopoulos’ films reaches its apogee in Ulysses’
Gaze, a film composed around the search for three missing reels of film, the
so-called ‘first ever Balkan film’. The reels themselves are almost impossible
to develop, as though they are shards of the past that will forever be shielded
from the gaze of humankind. And so, fittingly, at the very end of Ulysses’
Gaze, when the character called A. (Harvey Keitel) at last sees the developed
reels, Angelopoulos does not let the film’s viewers see them. For us, these film
reels remain unseen and unknown, and the past remains open only to what we
might imagine it to be. In short, for this aspect of pure recollection, the past
is opened up. The past is not specified or determined: it remains open. Not
only is the past opened up, but the present and the future are also prised open:
what is happening in the Balkans and Sarajevo (a senseless war) does not need
to happen and does not need to have happened; a different past can give rise to
a different present and a different future. Such is Angelopoulos’ plea, and A.’s
plea too in Ulysses’ Gaze.
A second kind of pure recollection occurs by way of another of Angelopoulos’
most iconic images: the gigantic, broken apart sculpture of Lenin which
passes along the Danube on a barge in Ulysses’ Gaze. The gesture takes its
place in a long line of ‘farewells to the past’ for Angelopoulos (farewells that
began most emphatically with Voyage to Cythera). What is most pronounced
in this instance is that the figure of Lenin, so recognisable from the past, is
now ‘out of time’. Lenin – along with communism and the dreams of social-
ism – can no longer be connected with the present: an icon from the past that
is instantly recognisable has now lost its sense of purpose or relevance. This
‘loss of a connection to history’ should in no way be seen as negative. On the
contrary, Angelopoulos’ whole point is that Greece – especially those Greeks
associated with the Left – needs to rid itself of this history, to say farewell to
the past. Only if one learns to forget can a new future then be invented. And
the way to do this is to find new pasts: this is precisely what is at stake for
Deleuze’s conception of pure recollection, and those stakes are taken up by
Angelopoulos in his later films. For a new future to emerge, a new past must
be discovered.
242  r i c h a r d rus hto n

These, therefore, are the two theses that guide Angelopoulos’ later films:
firstly, to declare that the past remains open, that it has not been determined for
all time; and secondly, therefore, that the past can be rediscovered and reinvented.
Yvette Biro has noted this in her commentary on Voyage to Cythera. In that
film, according to Biro, there is an intertwining of objective historical moments
with personal memories. ‘On one side,’ she writes, ‘the action unfolds accord-
ing to a clear and easy-to-follow chronology; however, this chronology does
not prevent another movement. This one is vertical, representing the subjec-
tive time of imagination or, rather, the atemporality of the imaginary’ (Biro
1997: 74–5). Thus, in Voyage to Cythera Angelopoulos makes a crucial break:
it is no longer objective history that is the key to the future. Rather, what now
intervenes into and cuts across objective history is personal memory. In all of
the films that follow it will be personal memory rather than objective history
that occupies the centre of Angelopoulos’ films: the ‘battle of the self’ is now
his main concern.
This transformation also changes Angelopoulos’ approach to the past.
Biro continues by noting the ways that Angelopoulos’ approach to the past
changes with Voyage to Cythera: ‘Here, the historicity of time, the fusion of
past and present cease’ (Biro 1997: 75). Where now can we place the past in
Angelopoulos’ films? Has the fusion of past and present ceased? If that
is the case, what can be made of Sohi and Khojastehpour’s assertion that
Angelopoulos ‘fuses the past in the present as if the past were a part of the
present’ (Sohi and Khojastehpour 2010: 63)? We can only understand these
claims if that past, as Biro contends, is virtual-subjective-imaginary and not
actual-objective-real. Such is the logic of Angelopoulos’ ‘turn to the self’. And
that is the overall message of Angelopoulos’ films after Megalexandros: collec-
tive history or collective memory only gains its significance if that history is fil-
tered through the experience of subjective memory. What else can be the point
of The Weeping Meadow? There, the collective, objective history of Greece
from 1919 until the end of the Civil War is refracted through the memory of
a single soul: Eleni (Alexandra Aidini). And Weeping Meadow is perhaps the
most overtly focalised of all of the later films, for all those films are organised
by way of the dialectic between ‘objective history’ and ‘personal memory’.
Angelopoulos states:

My feeling . . . is that the past is an integral part of the present. The
past is not forgotten, it affects everything we do in the present. Every
moment of our lives consists of the past and the present, the real and
the imaginary, all of them blending together into one. (cited in Fainaru
[1996] 2001: 98)
ange lo po ulo s and the time-image  243

Figure 15.1 The Weeping Meadow

The key point here is to work out precisely what Angelopoulos means by the
past and the present, the real and the imaginary, and the fact that these ele-
ments all blend together. One direction in which to take such claims is in the
direction of what Deleuze calls the time-image, for the time-image consists
quite precisely in the blending together of past and present, real and imagi-
nary. For Deleuze, all films create circuits between the actual and the virtual,
where the actual is generally equated with the ‘real’ and the virtual with the
‘imaginary’. Additionally, what Deleuze calls ‘the actual’ functions – generally
speaking – in the present with – again, generally speaking – the virtual operat-
ing in the past by way of memory. The difference between movement-images
and time-images is located here: where the movement-image makes clear
distinctions between past and present, virtual and actual, in contrast, the time-
image makes relations between past and present, actual and virtual, real and
imaginary, indiscernible. The result is that one can no longer be sure where the
past ends and the present begins, nor can one be certain what is real and what
is imaginary, or what is actual or virtual (see Rushton 2012: 87–91).
For both regimes of images the past is ‘in’ the present, but for the move-
ment-image, the past is relatively fixed so that its operations on the present
are also fixed. The formula of the movement-image is thus: the present is like
this because the past was like that. One of the aims of films of the movement-
image is to ensure that clear distinctions are forged between the virtual and the
actual: in order for the ‘truth’ of history to be laid bare, any false or imaginary
histories must be banished, they must be shown to be false. As a result, all will
become actual: the virtual will be shown to have been imaginary, while the real
will be affirmed as actual.
244  r i c h a r d rus hto n

This is precisely the operation performed by The Hunters: the members of

the hunting party are determined to deny the truth of history and to perpetuate
a ‘false’, imaginary history: the collusions of the Civil War, the oppression of
the Left, Greece’s compromises and concessions to foreign powers. They are
thus content to bury the living-dead body of the partisan. And Angelopoulos’
point is clear: the hunters are clinging to a false history; their view of history is
entirely imaginary, virtual. Angelopoulos’ task in The Hunters is to reveal to us
that Greece has been clinging to an imaginary history, a virtual heritage which
has enabled the ruling classes, epitomised by the hunters themselves, to wield
power on the basis of false claims; that is, the ruling classes have come to power
on the basis of keeping the truth of history hidden, so that instead a false,
imaginary history has taken its place. Angelopoulos’ early films utterly resist
this hiddenness of the past so that the truth of history can instead be brought
out into the open, like the undead partisan who emerges from his hidden state
to be exposed in the open air. In this way, Angelopoulos’ desire is for the true
history of twentieth-century Greece to be made, in Deleuze’s terms, actual:
the early films insist that a clear distinction is made between Greece’s imagi-
nary-virtual histories (the distorted ‘official’ histories fostered by the corrup-
tions of the Greek state) and real-actual histories (the truth of the oppression
of the Left, foreign collusion and so on). When these virtual lies are exposed
as imaginary and false, then true history can arise to take its place. To uncover
the truth of the past, to dispose of virtual or imaginary histories in order to
posit the one true history: such is the task of Angelopoulos’ early films. The
next step would be to replace that imaginary past to ensure that the past is no
longer imaginary or virtual but rather to affirm that it is real and actual, that
the atrocities of the Civil War and the oppression of the Left did take place and
that such truths of the past can explain the problems and shortcomings of the
present. But Angelopoulos finds, by the time he makes Megalexandros, that he
cannot do this, that merely uncovering the ‘imaginary’ nature of the past is not
enough. Rather, new pasts need to be discovered.
The later films take a very different approach to the past. In these films the
past becomes malleable, pliable, open to the imaginary and the virtual; the past
and the present ‘blend together’. But this is only possible because any sense
of a collective, objective-actual past is dismantled. In the later films it is the
subjective-virtual memories of Angelopoulos’ protagonists that open up the
past and in which the past (or multiple pasts) can be discovered.
For these films, then, the idea is to find a past that is worth having. What
is at stake is what Nietzsche would call a ‘revaluation of values’, a destruc-
tion of the kinds of ‘universal history’ put in place by the classical films of
the movement-image (see Deleuze 1985: 148–50 and Deleuze 1983: 80–1)3.
Angelopoulos plays this out across his works: the later films try to bring
about a revaluation of values by approaching history differently. No longer
ange lo po ulo s and the time-image  245

is there the possibility of uncovering a universal history – a universal history

so cherished by the Left in Greece as elsewhere. Rather, an entirely different
approach to history is advocated. It is an approach that Deleuze calls ‘a new
mode of story’ (1989: 150). For this new mode of story, fiction (what used to be
known as story) is no longer opposed to the true, which is to say that a false or
virtual history (histoire) can no longer be opposed to a true and actual history.
Rather, what emerges in the time-image is what Deleuze calls the ‘story-
telling’ function: ‘What is opposed to fiction is not the real; . . . it is the story-
telling function . . . in so far as it gives the false the power which makes it into
a memory, a legend, a monster’ (1989: 150). Deleuze continues (his ­reference
is to the ­documentaries of Pierre Perrault):

What cinema must grasp is not the identity of a character, whether real or
fictional, through his subjective and objective aspects. It is the becoming
real of the character himself when he begins to ‘make fiction’, when he
enters into ‘the flagrant offence of making up legends’ and so contrib-
utes to the invention of his people. The character is inseparable from a
before and an after, but he reunites these in the passage from one state
to another. He himself becomes another, when he begins to tell stories
without ever being fictional. (1989: 150)


‘What words could we use to make a new collective dream come true?’ In Το
Μετέωρο Βήμα του Πελαργού (The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991) this is
the concluding line of the disappeared politician’s (Marcello Mastroianni) sen-
sational bestselling book, Despair at the End of the Century, written in the early
1980s, when the collective dream of communism or socialism appeared already
to be at an end. Each of the later films seems to have a similar motto (we shall
approach them one at a time), and the above statement could certainly stand as
one motto for the later films. The older collective dreams of communism and
socialism have passed, so the challenge of the present is to find a new collec-
tive dream. This might entail an entirely new birth of the human, an erasure
of humanity’s past forms: as the ex-wife (Jeanne Moreau) of the disappeared
politician says, ‘I could see he was becoming another man’.
So too for the refugees in the border town: because they are ‘without
papers’, it is impossible definitively to say who is who: they can become new
people. For the Greek officials who refuse to allow the refugees to cross the
border in Greece, this lack of identity is a problem, a deficiency that renders
such asylum seekers less than human. However, the perspective Angelopoulos
brings to the plight of the refugees is to make them more than human: rather
246  r i c h a r d rus hto n

than being the detritus of the present, they are instead the people of the future,
the people to come, the ‘invention of a people’, as Deleuze says, the birthplace
of a new sense of the human. To do this, of course, the histories of these
people are erased and new histories or new pasts take their place. That is the
ex-politician’s challenge to objective history: to refuse it, to make a new past,
one in which he has a different family, a daughter who gets married and so on.
To open up a new past is to also open up a new future, so that at the end of
The Suspended Step, there are a range of possible futures: did the ex-politician
cross the river? Did he leave the town on a bus? Did he leave the camp with
a group of workers? Or did he merely walk across the border? All of these are
possibilities of the future, openings onto the future that have arisen out of this
man’s reinvention of the past.
‘We dreamt of another world . . . We were cast aside by history’. Such are the
reflections of the characters in Η Σκόνη του Χρόνου (The Dust of Time, 2008)
who have been reunited at the end of the millennium. The characters had lived
and fought through the Civil War before being cast far and wide (to Siberia, to
Austria, to Italy, to the United States and so on). Via the journey undertaken
by the film director (Willem Dafoe) in which he tries to piece together the
history of his mother and father as well as his own past, we enter precisely into
that conflict between ‘objective history’ and ‘personal memory’ that becomes
the mark of Angelopoulos’ films. Against the backdrop of moments of ‘monu-
mental history’ – the end of the Civil War, the death of Stalin, the resignation
of US President Nixon, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the celebration of the turn
of the millennium in 1999 – are the conflicts, dreams and disappointments of
a range of characters. And it is not the ‘monumental’ aspects of history that
are foregrounded. Rather, the crucial moments are ones of personal memory:
the separation of Spyros (Michel Piccoli) and Eleni (Irène Jacob) at the end
of the Civil War; the 1974 departure of Jacob (Bruno Ganz) and Eleni to the
USA (Jacob had wanted to go to Israel); Eleni’s search for Spyros and her son
against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and Nixon, and the lamentations of
a lost future in 1989 and 1999 (‘We dreamt of another world’). Alongside this
is the filmmaker’s own estrangement from his daughter, or the fact that the
matter of objective histories always implicates the personal. The film ends with
the hope of the creation of a ‘people to come’: the young daughter, also called
Eleni, refuses the strictures and impositions of her father to instead embrace a
new sense of the human offered to her by her grandparents.
‘To the world that hasn’t changed despite our dreams’: such is the toast
A. (Harvey Keitel) presents to his friend (Yorgos Mihalakopoulos) mid-way
through Ulysses’ Gaze. A.’s travels throughout the film have been geographi-
cal – from Florina, Plovdov, Bucharest, Belgrade, and on to Sarajevo – but
at the same time they have been temporal, as his trajectory through these
territories is littered with his own flashes of memory: again, the emphasis is
ange lo po ulo s and the time-image  247

on the tension or coalescence of ‘objective history’ and ‘personal memory’.

In the  end, A.’s friend, Ivor Levy (Erland Josephson), will die, as will
his daughter Naomi (Maia Morgenstern). Such are the tragedies history
bequeaths to the present, for they are both casualties of the Balkan conflict
that constitutes the ‘present’ of Ulysses’ Gaze. But the past is bequeathed to
A. by way of the three missing reels of the Manakis brothers that had been
developed by Levy – he discovered the chemical combination necessary to
develop the reels. In this way, history – a ‘piece’ of history, the reels of film –
is resuscitated for the present. And this is nothing less than the rediscovery
of a people: ‘a captured gaze from the beginning of the century set free at
last at the end of the century’. And no doubt we see the drama of Odysseus
itself played out, wherein the ‘return’ of Odysseus to his beloved homeland
is akin to the discovery of the ‘first gaze’ that A. himself watches at the end
of Ulysses’ Gaze: it is in the flicker of the film that A. discovers himself and
his future. The same had occurred for Odysseus himself: ‘it is in the mirror
of Penelope’s eyes, as they reflect back to him his own image intact that
Odysseus fully recovers his heroic identity and finds himself again in the
place that is his’ (Vernant 1999: 24). For Angelopoulos, it is by way of the
cinema that a return to the self will be discovered – ‘you make a film in order
to perceive with greater clarity what it is that is not clear in your conscious-
ness’ (cited in Bachmann [1997] 2001: 109) – as much as a hope for the future:
‘I would like to believe the world will be saved by the cinema’ (cited in Strauss
and Toubiana [1988] 2001: 64).
And finally, for Landscape in the Mist: ‘During their journey the two chil-
dren undergo a deep initiation, and they learn to believe in their own world’
(Angelopoulos 2011: 120). How can one fail to read in Angelopoulos’ reflec-
tions here the echo of Deleuze’s own call for cinema to restore our ‘belief in
this world’ (Deleuze 1989: 188)? What Deleuze means with this claim is that
it is the task of cinema to dismantle the world as it is currently conceived, in
order that it can be reborn in such a way that humanity will have its belief
in this world restored. And what else can be the trajectory of the two children
in Landscape in the Mist other than this? To leave behind the world they have
known – the ‘real’ world, the crumbling world of contemporary Greece – in
order to create for themselves a new world, a world in which their belief will
be restored – a world that looks from the point of view of the current world as
though it were an ‘imaginary’ world: an imaginary father in Germany, a land-
scape in the mist. And of course, we can see the ‘landscape in the mist’ at the
end of the film as the coming-into-being of the small strip of film discovered
by the motorcycle rider, Orestes – ‘look, beyond the mist, there is a tree’ – then
given by him to the young boy. The fantasy or dream set in place by the strip of
film comes ‘true’ by the film’s end, as though it is this piece of film that allows
the children to discover a ‘belief in this world’.
248  r i c h a r d rus hto n

These children show us the future and its hope, even as they weave their
way through the despair of the past. And this time the past – objective
history – is the past of Angelopoulos’ own films: the travelling players who
are now ‘used up’, not to mention the wedding party that occurs halfway
through the film which is surely an evocation of the extraordinary scene from
The Travelling Players (they sing ‘In the Mood’, a melody that emerges in
Travelling Players and Cythera); and the woman from Reconstruction whom the
children come across at a police station (‘He’s the one who tied the rope,’ she
declares); the truck driver (Vassilis Kolovos) who rapes the young girl is surely
also reminiscent of characters from The Hunters, as much as the living-dead
horse which is splayed in front of the children evokes the living-dead partisan
of the earlier film. And yet, the children free themselves from these pasts, they
turn their backs on objective history as much as they forge their own pasts,
pasts that they invent by way of personal memory (the ‘memory’ of their father
in Germany). This ability allows them to hope for a different kind of future.
And so Landscape in the Mist ends, and the future begins: ‘In the beginning
there was chaos, and then there was light . . .’ That light, of course, is the light
cast by the cinema.

1. Jameson has recently reconsidered these arguments in the Chapter published in this
2. Angelopoulos claimed elsewhere: ‘If this scene was shot by Ken Loach, the hand would
point to a specific direction. If it was shot by Tarkovsky, again he would point to a
particular direction. I cannot point somewhere specifically. I cut the index finger. I have
the feeling that the finger is cut’ (Cited in Torrell 2000: 63).
3. Deleuze’s key point of reference is Nietzsche’s ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History
for Life’ (Nietzsche 1997).

Memory Under Siege:

Archive Fever in Theo
Angelopoulos’ Ulysses’ Gaze
Smaro Kamboureli

[I]t is impossible to have peace and normality not because the Balkan
peoples could not in principle have much better relations with one
another, but because the interests at stake in the Balkans are too great to
permit such a development. The way I see it, the roots of the problem
go way back in time and all the various conflicts were encouraged, at one
time or another. There is a joke I often tell which I heard on my first
trip. Before the war a foreign journalist went to Bosnia and was walking
about in a town which had a mixed population – i.e. Muslims, Serbs and
Croats – and at some point he went where we all go. There was a large
public urinal in the centre of the square and he headed towards it, but
just as he reached it someone passed him and made the sign of the cross.
He stood surprised for a moment, then someone else went by, cross-
ing himself in the Catholic manner but with the same degree of respect
before the urinal – and then a Muslim passed, making the analogous
Muslim gesture. The journalist asked someone and was told that in the
twelfth century there used to be an Orthodox church on this spot. In the
fourteenth century it became a mosque and when the Austro-Hungarians
arrived it became a Catholic church. Tito, to erase all that, demolished it
and built a public urinal.
Theo Angelopoulos (1995: 17)


T he joke that Theo Angelopoulos relates in the epigraph above offers a

quick gloss on the symbolic economy of cultural memory in Bosnia,
the context within which Το Bλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’ Gaze, 1995), the
second film in his ‘Trilogy of Borders’, unfolds. Cultural memory in some
250  s m a r o k am bo ure li

regions is an officially authorised imperative, but in former Yugoslavia, as the

joke suggests, remembering the past is curtailed by a contrary imperative, a
state-sanctioned policy to forget the cultural particularities of the ethnic com-
munities cohabiting in the area. The conversion of a sacred space located in
the middle of the public square into a urinal points to a dialectical relation-
ship between cultural memory and the state. Yet while the urinal appears to
a foreign onlooker to be a secular site in the present, it paradoxically elicits
religious veneration. It thus operates as a monument embedded in a zone
where time seems to have stopped, such that the different temporalities it
condenses are experienced simultaneously. It may offer physical relief to
the men visiting it, but as a secular site that also serves the state apparatus’
attempt to eliminate memory by de-sanctifying the original structure, it does
not abate the impulse to memorialise what stood in that location. With secu-
larism disrupted by the manifestation of the sacred, the urinal’s public, albeit
ironic, monumentalism speaks to the recalcitrance of different and competing
kinds of cultural memory. That here cultural memory asserts itself by means
of both repetition and difference further disturbs the homogeneous image of
the building that Tito’s political machine has c­ onstructed, thus rescinding the
linearity and singularity of history.
This double trope of repetition and difference provides evidence of the
‘Balkan recidivism’ that Vangelis Calotychos critiques, ‘a collective neurosis’
manifested in the compulsion ‘to repeat [history’s] errors time and time again’
(Calotychos 2013: 60). The ethnically and religiously diverse Bosnians’ resist-
ance to state-endorsed cultural amnesia in Angelopoulos’ joke exemplifies that,
even when there is an indictment against it, cultural remembering persists, and
does so in a fashion that stresses the hybrid and conflicting content embed-
ded in it. While the Muslim, Orthodox and Catholic Bosnians pay obeisance
to their respective religions when they walk by the urinal, surely they also
remember their cultural groups’ losses and gains over the course of history.
This twin mode of cultural memory – at once repressed and in circulation –
points to its function as a living archive and, consequently, to the historical and
political vagaries that contribute to its cumulative and palimpsestic structure.
It is precisely this fluid nature of archives, their simultaneous persistence
and variability, which Ulysses’ Gaze invites the viewer to consider. Through
the aesthetic tropes and complex ideological vision that have become the trade-
marks of Angelopoulos’ cinematography, Ulysses’ Gaze dramatises not only
that the history embodied in cultural archives must be heard in the plural but
also that the imperative to remember and who, as well as how one, remembers,
must be seen as the result of complex discursive forces. Far from attempt-
ing to resolve the contradictions of what is being remembered, a common
impulse that would inevitably result in homogenising and therefore further
mystifying the past, Angelopoulos sets out to represent in this film at once the
m e mory un der siege  251

arduousness cultural memory inspires, the ambivalence it comprises, and the

paradoxical capacity it exhibits to both attest and resist the enduring power of
the originary narratives it summons. The obsession with the archive of cultural
memories in Ulysses’ Gaze thus operates in the Derridean mode of ‘archive
fever’: a ‘passion’ for archives akin to ‘sickness,’ a ‘compulsive, repetitive, and
nostalgic desire . . . to return to the origin’ (Derrida 1995: 91). Yet this impulse
remains unfulfilled, for at the same time that the archive becomes open, it
shows itself to be ‘unavailable for translation . . . shielded from technical
iteration and reproduction’ (1995: 90). It is this double function of the archive
that constitutes the obsession with it as an incurable malady, what Derrida
calls both the trouble de l’archive and the mal d’archive, the former condition
stemming from the latter. Because we are, as he says, ‘en mal d’archive: in need
of archives’ (1995: 91), we cannot run away from the troubling knowledge that
the archive never fully yields its secrets, hence the trouble it causes. It is in
this sense that the archive is not just a thing of the past; the feverish search for
it ‘opens out of the future’ (1995: 68), thus both activating and serving as the
antecedent of the kind of journey the Ulysses’ Gaze protagonist undertakes.


Ulysses’ Gaze traces the return journey of a nameless Greek-American film-
maker, listed in the film’s credits as A. (Harvey Keitel), to Greece through the
war-torn Balkans in the early 1990s. Flooded with memories – some from his
own past, others from the repository of the region’s cultural memories – A.
traverses the Balkans with a single goal in mind: commissioned by the Film
Archives in Athens to make a documentary on the historical filmmaker broth-
ers Yannakis and Milton Manakis, he seeks to locate their archive in the hope
that it contains three reels of a film they never developed. Considered to be the
Lumière brothers in the Balkans, they were the first to document the region
in photographs and film at the start of the twentieth century. It is not a coinci-
dence that Angelopoulos has A. undertake this journey at a time in the Balkans
when one’s neighbours and relatives turn into one’s worst enemies. Early in
the film, A. intimates that the Manakis brothers’ practice as photographers and
filmmakers captured cultural memory in a manner that disputes the atavistic
logic of ‘ethnic absolutisms’ (Gilroy 1993: 3).
Ulysses’ Gaze begins with a series of cinematic quotations from the Manakis
oeuvre before the credits start rolling. Black and white, and in the jerky move-
ment of a hand-held camera typical of the early period of silent films, this
opening footage of old and young peasant women weaving is from the Manakis
brothers’ film, Οι Υφάντριες (The Weavers), their first, t­wo-minute-long
252  s m a r o k am bo ure li

documentary that features their 114-year-old grandmother, Despina.1 In

voice-over, the dominant mode through which he speaks in Ulysses’ Gaze, A.
situates the documentary: ‘Weavers in Avthela, a Greek village, 1905. The
first film made by brothers Milton and Yannakis Manakis. The first film ever
made in Greece and the Balkans. But is this a fact? Is it the first film? The first
gaze?’ A cinematic gesture that both pays homage to the first filmmakers in
the region and announces the self-reflective mode of Ulysses’ Gaze, it intro-
duces Angelopoulos’ film as a cinema of history and a history of cinema in the
Balkans. Through the trope of a film-within-a-film cinema becomes the privi-
leged discourse and medium through which the limits of identity are tested.
This concern with cinema, history and self-reflection is further reinforced by
A.’s emphasis, albeit introduced in an interrogative mode, on the concept of
origins. That cultural memory and origins work in tandem yet can also fail
to intersect at times because they are not necessarily reducible to each other
becomes apparent in the placement of The Weavers: appearing before the film
proper starts, the Manakis’ documentary is cast as the ur-moment of cinema
in the Balkans, a literal archive of the past but also the beginning of cinematic
language in the region. Yet, with A. throwing into question The Weavers’ claim
to be inaugurating Balkan cinema, the notion of origins lies open, becoming
the temporal wound that marks his journey.
The second cinematic quotation that appears at the beginning of Ulysses’
Gaze helps re-situate this wound by recasting origins. This time the concept
is rendered in terms of a subject’s diasporic homecoming, specifically through
the double trope of departures and arrivals, as well as its requisite crossing
of borders. Non-visual but verbal, the quotation is in the voice of the char-
acter playing the missing politician (Marcello Mastroianni) in Angelopoulos’
Το Μετέωρο Βήμα του Πελαργού (The Suspended Step of the Stork, 1991),
presented in Ulysses’ Gaze as A.’s own film: ‘Lost your way again . . . How
many borders must we cross to reach home?’ The scene when the voice-over
is heard marks A.’s arrival in Florina, a town in the northern Greek province
of Macedonia. Florina is the place where A.’s family was forced to relocate
from Constanza after the Second World War, when the communist regime in
Romania turned against the bourgeoisie. Although A. recognises his family’s
now abandoned and dilapidated house, Ulysses’ Gaze obfuscates his origins.
When he takes a woman walking past him (Maia Morgenstern) for a woman
with whom he had been in love, the line he addresses to this spectre from his
past, ‘I wish I could tell you I returned, but something is holding me back’,
separates homecoming from origins. As his father (Yorgos Kontsas) says, in
a fifteen-minute flashback sequence shot, one of the longest in the film that
enacts A.’s family history, the family has been in the diaspora for ‘generations.’
Their origin is an imagined nation that survives through cultural practices and
language, as is evidenced, for example, in the code-switching of A.’s speech
m e mory un der siege  253

from English to Greek. Indeed, assuming A.’s family had settled in what is
now Romania during the period of the Ottoman Empire, there was no Greek
state as such then. Greece, as Stathis Gourgouris puts it, was a ‘dream nation’
(1996: 41) at the time, a state to be born, in part, as a result of the financial and
political endeavours of Greeks who belonged to the long-established ‘trade’
and ‘victim’ diasporas in Europe and the Black Sea region, two of the cat-
egories of diaspora that Robin Cohen identifies (2008: 7). In keeping with the
ethnic warfare that plagues the Balkans in the present tense of Ulysses’ Gaze,
homeland figures as a dispersed space. It remains the ‘subtext’ that ‘diaspora
embodies’ (Brah 1996: 190), but it is also ‘decouple[d]’ from diaspora, so that
‘homeland . . . become[s] a homing desire’ (Cohen 2008: 9).
By querying the destination, that place of return to which the diasporic trope
points, Angelopoulos deconstructs the singularity that is traditionally attrib-
uted to origins. Ulysses’ Gaze suggests that home and nation are not always
aligned: that they are, in fact, often at odds with each other. Showing that the
Balkans have long been a region where people of different ethnic backgrounds
moved and settled in the midst of other ethnic groups, Ulysses’ Gaze exposes
the ‘insanity’ of trying to establish new national borders against the fluidity
of diasporic movements and memory. Angelopoulos thus demonstrates that
a diasporic subject’s return to the homeland does not necessarily involve a re-
entry into an unambiguously delineated space, or into a history that can appease
the diasporic subject’s abjection or need for belonging. When A.’s family is
forced to relocate in 1950, neither A. nor his parents answer the question posed
by a relative: ‘Are you glad to be going to Greece?’ It remains rhetorical, belying
the nostalgia purportedly characterising diasporic subjects. Instead of seeing its
relocation to Greece as a homecoming, A.’s family laments its loss of the only
home it has known – a home in the diaspora, diaspora as home – and grieves for
the fact that Constanza will be evacuated of its diverse population that includes,
among others, Jews and Armenians. The dozens of refugees and illegal immi-
grants stranded in a snow-covered desolate landscape that A. sees later in the
film while crossing the Greek-Albanian border, offer yet another image of this
kind of dispersion, one, however, that further problematises diaspora. If A.’s
middle-class family’s forced relocation is marked by trauma, the trauma evoked
by these economic migrants is of a different scale and order.
Lest the viewer thinks that it is simply a ‘homing desire’ that brings A. back
to Florina after an absence of twenty-five years, it becomes clear at the start
of Ulysses’ Gaze that what has occasioned his homecoming is an invitation to
attend the screening of one of his films. That Florina’s religious authorities
have declared this film to be blasphemous further unsettles A.’s relation-
ship with Florina as a place in which he may feel at home. Bearing candles
and chanting, the local religious community is holding a procession under
the watchful eyes of the police to protest the screening.2 When A. enters this
254  s m a r o k am bo ure li

scene, he and his hosts find themselves under siege; they keep retracing their
steps, for every time they turn a corner they come across the protesting crowd,
a forewarning of the staggered trajectory A.’s journey will follow. By placing
this scene early in the film, Angelopoulos contests the essentialist assumption
that the pull the mother country exerts on its diasporic subjects relies on a filia-
tive bond that remains intact. Instead, the film’s opening avers that A.’s return
is motivated by the discursive network of relations that link his diasporic sub-
jectivity with that of a cinematographer.
As he keeps repeating, returning to Florina is only a ‘pretext’: ‘Florina is
the first stop’. It is later in Ulysses’ Gaze that A., on a train that takes him from
Monastiri, through Skopje, to Bucharest, discloses what has compelled him to
return. He has come back as a filmmaker in the hope of overcoming the artis-
tic and personal crisis he has been going through after an experience he had
two years earlier on the island of Delos. Looking for appropriate locations to
shoot a film, he witnessed an ‘ancient olive tree toppling over’, and a bust of
Apollo emerging from that rip in the earth. But when he repeatedly employed
a Polaroid camera to photograph the scene, he was shocked to discover that it
‘hadn’t registered a thing’. The photographs were ‘black negative pictures . . .
as if my glance wasn’t working, same empty squares, holes’. It is after this
‘disturb[ing]’ experience that he identifies the Manakis brothers’ first gaze
with his ‘own first glance, lost long ago’, an experience that prompts him to
accept the Athens Film Archive’s proposal to direct a documentary on their
The revelation of what launches A.’s journey accounts for the reasons why
Ulysses’ Gaze begins with the Manakis brothers’ film. The complex visuality
representing the Manakis’ lives and work in Angelopoulos’ film reinforces
this.3 The black-and-white footage of The Weavers that opens Ulysses’ Gaze
dissolves into a monochromatic grey screen that, in turn, becomes a hazy blue,
the blue of the Thessaloniki port and sky, but also of oneiric memory-time, a
scene that continues the Manakis cinematic motif. The action that takes place
on the promenade unfolds in double time both visually and temporally: it is
set in the past, winter 1954, when Yannakis Manakis (Thanos Grammenos) is
trying, with a camera on a tripod, to capture a blue boat sailing away; but it also
unfolds in A.’s present time in Thessaloniki where he has come to gather infor-
mation from Yannakis’ apprentice. The overlap of the past and the present is
mediated through this (nameless) apprentice who relates to A. what happened
on that winter day. The result is what Gérard Genette calls ‘simultaneous
narrative’ (1980: 217), a narrative that ‘condenses’ (1980: 157n) two different
events, one from the past and one from the present, in effect what monumen-
talises the urinal in the epigraph’s joke. The apprentice’s recollection of the
past is, then, endowed with a performative function, for his act of narration in
the present instantaneously dramatises what he narrates about the past. The
m e mory un der siege  255

apprentice and A. wear contemporary clothing, in contrast to Yannakis, who

is dressed in the style of the 1950s. When the camera shifts to focus on A., the
condensed narration and its visual elements are maintained, for we continue to
see the blue boat sailing away.
It is during this visually and technically stunning scene that we hear
Yannakis’ apprentice sharing with A. information that is going to determine
the course of the latter’s journey:

It was the winter of 1954. Yannakis saw a blue ship moored over there in
the harbour of Thessaloniki . . . He had set his heart on photographing
the boat as it left the harbour. One morning the ship sailed away . . . He
died that same evening. As I wrote to you, he kept rambling on about
three undeveloped reels, a film which for some reason was never devel-
oped since then, since the beginning of the century. I didn’t think much
of it at the time.

As the apprentice nears the end of his narrative, we hear for the first time
what will become the film’s musical leitmotif, composed by Eleni Karaindrou,
and this, together with A.’s words, ‘The three reels, the three reels . . . the
journey’, signals the beginning of his quest.
This moment constitutes a juncture that marks A.’s shift from the homoge-
neous time that the condensed narrative creates to a moment when he realises
that the missing reels hold within them what Walter Benjamin calls ‘a messianic
zero-hour of events, or put differently, a revolutionary chance in the strug-
gle for the suppressed past’ (Benjamin [1940] 1969: 262–3). Hoping that this
original footage may represent ‘a lost innocence’ about ‘the new era, the new
century’ the Manakis brothers ‘attempted to record’, A. sets out on his journey
practising a research imagination that juxtaposes archival memory with how
cultural memory is embodied and performed in the present. The emphasis on
what has already been ‘lost’ – the ‘lost’ reels and A.’s own ‘first glance, lost long
ago’ – may appear to forestall the outcome of his search before it has barely
begun, but it is the first gaze itself, that which generates memory, that A. is
interested in retrieving. Because A. positions himself at once as a member of
the Greek diaspora and as a cinematographer, this gaze shares the condensed
structure of the blue boat scene, thus reflecting some of Angelopoulos’ recur-
ring concerns, such as diaspora and nostalgia (Grodent [1985] 2001: 43), a
‘search for lost things’ (O’Grady [1990] 2001: 69), and cinema as ‘a form of
life’ (Bachmann [1997] 2001: 35), and echoes one of his earlier films, Ταξίδι
στα Κύθηρα (Voyage to Cythera, 1984). More specifically, it signifies the ‘self-
regard’ displayed by diasporic subjectivity, ‘the complicated result of the self’s
negotiations with the observing collective conscience’ (Chow 1998: 64), but also
the primacy of the image and the instrumental role of the gaze for a filmmaker.
256  s m a r o k am bo ure li

The first gaze may draw A. back to the past contained in the Manakis archive
but, significantly, this past is not equivalent to the diasporic subject’s return to
origins. Devoid of the kind of ‘fascist’ idealism that often accompanies one’s
attachment to origins (Chow 1998: 16–17), it sets A. off on a journey towards a
hybrid and fluid destination, represented by, among other things, the Danube
river he sails on and the different figures he impersonates.


Some background about the lives of Yannakis (1878–1954) and Milton (1882–
1964) Manakis4 is required here in order to understand the historical impor-
tance of their oeuvre and its relevance to Ulysses’ Gaze. Not only did they
produce 12,500 photographs, about 70 films, and a large number of postcards
which document the peasant and urban life of an area that included what is
now Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Former Yugoslav
Republic of Macedonia, as well as Istanbul, but they also recorded turning
points in the Balkan region’s political history. Their lives overlapped with the
dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, and so they became inadvertent witnesses
of the various insurgent movements and wars in the Balkans at a time when
national borders and ethnic and national identities were being reconfigured.
As sources show, and as Milton Manakis explains in the documentary shot by
the Yugoslavian government in 1956 – parts of which are shown in Ulysses’
Gaze – the subjects they documented ranged from folkloric events, weddings
and local fairs to official appearances of Romanian and Greek kings and riots
of prisoners; from key figures of the Greek and Bulgarian revolutions against
the Turks to Mehmet V’s arrival as the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire
in Thessaloniki, to the Neo-Turks of Kemal Ataturk’s movement and, later,
Tito. Their film that documented the discovery of the body of Metropolitan
Emilianos of Grevena, assassinated by the Neo-Turks, and his funeral (1911)
was distributed and shown widely in Europe, as well as among the diasporic
Greeks in the United States.
Obviously, it is the historical value of the Manakis photo and film archive
that lies behind Angelopoulos’ interest in the two brothers, but their life
trajectories, which encompass the political exigencies of the late-nineteenth
and early-twentieth centuries in the Balkans, bolster the significance, as well
as the ambivalence, characterising their work as an act of witnessing. Greek
Vlachs, born in Avthella, a mountainous village in the prefecture of Grevena,
Greece, they were sponsored by educational grants provided by the Romanian
government to attend Romanian schools. Despite the turmoil in that period,
Milton remained relatively politically neutral throughout his life: he got along
m e mory un der siege  257

as much with his fellow Greek Vlachs as with the Turks, Serbs, Bulgarians,
Albanians, Romanians, Germans and Slavic Macedonians, and belonged to
such associations as the Jewish Humanistic Brotherhood, the French-Serbian
League and the Yugoslavian Union. The older brother’s life path, however,
does not reflect what we might call Milton’s cosmopolitanism. Trained as
an arts teacher in Romanian schools, Yannakis was susceptible to Romanian
propaganda, perhaps because of the financial benefits it afforded him. He thus
found himself embroiled in various compromising roles, especially after he
got onto the payroll of the Romanian educational system and began participat-
ing more directly in the propagandist endeavours of Romanian consuls and
school superintendents in the years 1904–6.5 Though it was Yannakis who,
upon seeing their first movie camera in Bucharest in 1905, did not rest until
he acquired one, it was Milton who is credited as the creator of most of the
photographs and films comprising the brothers’ archive. Following the 1939
fire that destroyed their movie theatre, the first one in Monastiri, a site that
A. visits, the two brothers declared bankruptcy (Chistodoulou 1989: 126–7).
Milton, who had stopped making films in 1927 (Christodoulou 1989: 115),
kept their photo studio in Monastiri operating until 1961 (Chistodoulou 1989:
137), while Yannakis, who remained a Greek citizen his entire life, returned
to Thessaloniki in 1939 to teach in the Romanian School of Commerce
(Chistodoulou 1989: 136). It is their house, turned into a museum after
Milton’s death, which A. goes to visit in Monastiri.
Although Ulysses’ Gaze resists divulging details about their background, it
still represents the brothers’ life trajectories as emblematic of the vicissitudes
of cultural memory in the region. A. may not be interested in determining
their national identities – as he says to the archivist (Maia Morgenstern)
whom he encounters at the Manakis Skopje museum, ‘I’m not trying to prove
anything’ – but the Manakis brothers’ hybrid, and thus highly contested,
identities are a haunting presence in the film. This becomes apparent when A.
reaches the Bulgarian border where he, taking on Yannakis Manakis’ identity,
is arrested. Once again, the action unravels in double time. Blindfolded, he is
led to an interrogation room where an official recites the charges – conspiracy
and terrorism against Bulgaria and its German ally – and sentences both
brothers, Milton in absentia, to death. This 1915 scene (the date provided in
Angelopoulos’ script) dramatises a historical incident that echoes the circum-
stances that led the Bulgarian authorities to charge Yannakis with espionage
as a result of finding ‘three guns and 100 grams of explosives’ in their photog-
raphy studio (Christodoulou 1989: 62; my translation). Just when he is about
to be executed, Yannakis’ death sentence is converted to exile in Plovdin/
Philopoupolis until the end of the war.
The shift to World War I in this scene, along with A.’s impending arrival
in Sarajevo where this war started, is a reminder that the spectres of the past
258  s m a r o k am bo ure li

have already been haunting the present. While this historical episode in the
Manakis brothers’ life serves to recollect the past in Ulysses’ Gaze, the simulta-
neity encapsulated in the scene depicts it as an instance that reproduces the old
nationalist and ethnic ideologies in the 1990s. Yet another example of a con-
densed cinematic narrative in Ulysses’ Gaze, what transpires during this scene
submits to the viewer cultural memory as a living archive, an archive that is
inscribed in the present tense. ‘I don’t understand’, is A.’s reply to the lengthy
indictment he is delivered, his blindfold further evoking his affective response
to his experience of how history is replayed around him. Conjuring his own
lost gaze, as well as that of the Manakis brothers, and thus what is also buried
in the archives of the past, the blindfold both conceals and gestures towards
the effect produced by the dialectical structure of cultural memories. It is the
effect engendered by the cultural archive that endows embodied history with
the power to re-emerge as a spectre that can either wield violence or, as seems
to be A.’s hope, exorcise the ferocity of nationalist passions. As an incarna-
tion of archival history in this scene, A. reminds us of the violence Derrida
identifies in the ‘archive itself’: ‘it keeps, it puts in reserve, it saves, but in an
unnatural fashion’ (Derrida 1995: 7). What constitutes this unnaturalness is
the archive’s inherent contradiction, namely, that its ‘conservation drive’, what
characterises ‘archive fever’, is accompanied by a ‘radical finitude, . . . a forget-
fulness which does not limit itself to repression’ (1995: 19). In this context, A.’s
lack of understanding at once bemoans the abiding force with which national
doxa and ethnic passions are archived in cultural memory, how history repeats
itself, and declares an interest in recuperating what history’s unravelling has
mislaid, repressed, or rendered vanished. The Manakis’ visual archive, then,
documents the complex and traumatic record of the Balkan past, but also has
a proleptic function in that it stores the future of the violence in the present.


If A.’s search for the Manakis brothers’ undeveloped reels follows a circuitous
route, it is not only due to the Homeric aspects with which A. is endowed.
Rather, it is also because developing these reels has proven to be a challenge,
a process that requires discovering the old chemical formula the Manakis
brothers employed. This entails a technological leap to the past: to see the first
gaze one has to devise first a new, yet paradoxically old, way of seeing. A.’s
recuperative project involves continuity and rupture at the same time that it
is inflected by a materiality that draws attention to the various technologies
that shape both origins and the gaze. If the first gaze is the medium that both
preserves and brings to light cultural memory, it is not a coincidence that A.
locates the reels in Sarajevo while the city is under siege. The remediation that
m e mory un der siege  259

Figure 16.1 Ulysses’ Gaze

first gaze necessitates not only resists easy consumption but also involves a
movement through ruins and remains.
What A. sees when he arrives in Sarajevo – empty streets, bombed build-
ings, abandoned vehicles, smouldering ruins, a person here and there huddled
in fear of the snipers and carrying cans of precious water or fuel – bring him
face to face with the ashes of the present, thus validating his desire to recover
a vision that may reveal a way out of the impasse competing cultural memories
have reached in the present. Although the loss of memory that the undevel-
oped reels represent may be seen as a release from the ruins of history that
cultural memory embodies and triggers, Sarajevo under siege conveys a some-
what different message. Ulysses’ Gaze does not attempt to offer any utopian
solutions about the bloodbath and traumas of the Bosnian War; instead, it
draws attention to the dangers of fetishising cultural memory, and lays bare
that what memory discloses is not ineluctably emancipatory.
Distinguishing between ‘immediate memory which is readily accessible’
and ‘anti-memory’ which ‘is imagined as buried or even repressed remem-
brance’, Richard Werbner states that ‘anti-memory may serve the ends of the
nation-building regime, of the state in the making, or it may become the defen-
sive or subversive drive of subalterns asserting themselves against the  state
or its dominant elites’ (1998: 74). Sarajevo under siege materialises the crisis
that occurs when these two kinds of memory collapse into each other; it per-
forms the affective dissonance that emerges from memory when it becomes
fossilised and fetishised, a metaphorical as well as literal ‘burial-place where
lost identities are mourned, in a desperate attempt to keep their atrophied
representations alive’ (Werbner 1998: 30). The three different funeral proces-
sions – Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim – that reach, under A.’s distressed
gaze, a Sarajevo cemetery at the same time epitomise this: three different
congregations, but all three mourning similar losses, losses that have been
260  s m a r o k am bo ure li

caused at once by the virus of amnesia and mnemonic fever. Resonating with
Angelopoulos’ joke, this scene anticipates the carnage A. is about to witness.
The Sarajevo Cinémathèque is the final destination of the undeveloped
reels’ own odyssey. Ivo Levi (Erland Josephson), the archivist and technician
at the Cinémathèque, has applied himself to the task of discovering the chemi-
cal formula required to develop the reels with great fervour: ‘I spent endless
nights in the old lab listening to the fluids, the sound of their flow . . . I had to
concentrate on saving the archive. It was our memory. I had to save it’. Trying
to persuade Levi to resume the project, which he has abandoned because of
the war, A. tells him that he does not ‘have the right’ to preserve these films
as valuable, yet undeciphered, archives: ‘It’s the war, insanity, all the more
reason . . . you’ve got no right’. Levi’s reply, ‘What am I if not a collector of
vanished gazes?’ shows him to be a kindred spirit, someone who suffers from
the same archive fever that has propelled A. to seek the missing reels in the
middle of a war that caused yet another genocide in the twentieth century.
Being Jewish, Levi hardly needs to be told of the imperative to remember. But
archive fever, as has already been mentioned, is at once malady and zeal – it
‘can mean something else than to suffer from a sickness, from a trouble . . . It is
never to rest, interminably, from searching for the archive right where it slips
away’ (Derrida 1995: 91) – and so it holds a threat of violence.
That the pivotal moment of A.’s quest takes place in the lab of a semi-
destroyed Cinémathèque, that the first glance demands intensive mediation
before it yields its meaning, and that, above all, Levi, who finally releases what
he calls the Manakis’ ‘captive gaze’, is killed soon after – all of this suggests the
aporetic nature of the archive’s meaning. A relic of another era, the Manakis
brothers’ first gaze may represent at a certain level a symbolic guarantee of
the region’s transcultural character, but it offers no wager for a better tomor-
row. While the archive as a vanished gaze resists consumption, it threatens to
consume those whose gazes it captivates. It seems that in order for the archive
to manifest itself, someone has first to vanish.
While Levi is waiting for the developed film to dry, he invites A. to take a
stroll with him and his family. Obscured by fog, and thus offering the snipers
no visible targets, Sarajevo appears to be temporarily a safe place again. When
the city comes alive, so do the remains of Western culture. Actors perform
Romeo and Juliet, the city’s youth symphony – consisting of Serbs, Croats and
Muslims (Angelopoulos 1995a: 102) – plays Vivaldi, and the citizens under
siege recover their bourgeois habits – strolling leisurely, greeting each other,
pausing to watch or listen to the free performances. But this semblance of
normality is brutally interrupted. The cover of fog this time fails to protect
the Levi family; they are killed one by one in cold blood by a group of men,
their identities concealed by the thick fog. The ironic interplay in this scene
between visibility and invisibility turns A. into a witness of atrocity but one
m e mory un der siege  261

who, blindfolded, as it were, by the fog, is denied a view of what transpires.

He may be on the brink of encountering the first gaze, becoming an eyewitness
of what the Manakis brothers recorded, but his own act of bearing witness is
invariably skewed by a kind of blindness. Evoking his experience in Delos, his
gaze is rendered blank. The same belatedness that keeps the Manakis brothers’
drying film unseen in the Cinémathèque deprives him of vision yet still grants
him insight.
This penultimate sequence of scenes ends with A. wailing in despair, thus
eradicating any illusions the viewer might have that A.’s journey is one of
recuperation. If, in Ulysses’ Gaze, oppressors and oppressed, killers and killed,
malefactors and their casualties are represented in a manner that resists easy
identification, it is not because Angelopoulos lapses into cultural or historical
relativism. Rather, he suggests that the villains in the present tense of the film
might have been victims once. If there are no immaculate subjects in history,
what possible value can the Manakis brothers’ first gaze hold? Perhaps this is
the reason why, when A. returns to the lab to watch their released film, the
viewers of Ulysses’ Gaze do not get to see it. No longer a lost archive, it figures
as yet another film within the film, but its gaze is held in abeyance. Whatever
the meaning it holds, it lies in its belatedness that professes a reluctance to keep
up with time. It may have revealed the need to devise a new method of dealing
with historical materiality and ethnic differences, but since it is deprived of
an afterlife as an archive there is no clear answer as to what this new method
entails. What is certain is that if the future to come is to be different from the
present, it cannot come in the name of the already established order of knowl-
edge. This is not to be taken as a refutation of the power of cultural memory.
Rather, A.’s expectation to encounter the dawn of a new episteme in an old
film can only occur in dialogue with what has come to pass; forgetting is no
option. Yet because the complicity that links cultural memory and history’s
wrongs avows the errant condition shared by both, forgetting the old ways
becomes an essential part of moving forward.
This complicity, the viewer of Ulysses’ Gaze is invited to surmise, holds the
seed of a promise that may usher in a new beginning in the name of love. Ulysses’
Gaze ends with what appears to be another quotation, a soliloquy A. delivers
that echoes Odysseus’ declaration of love made to Penelope. Gazing straight
at the camera, A. promises to a beloved that he ‘will’ return but ‘with another
man’s name’. But A.’s beloved, like the Manakis brothers’ first gaze, is present
only by virtue of her encoded absence; she exists only as a figure of apostrophe.
Given that A. has already admitted his inability to love – ‘I’m crying because I
cannot love you,’ he says to the Skopje archivist after they become lovers – love
can hardly be seen as the antidote to the violence he has witnessed. Moreover,
promising to come back as ‘another man’ yet one still recognisable because of
their shared memories, he remains caught between difference and sameness.
262  s m a r o k am bo ure li

Casting the figure of the beloved exclusively into the passive role of a listener –
‘between lovers’ calls, I will tell you about the journey all night long . . . the
story that never ends’ not only exposes Angelopoulos’ blind spot about gender
roles that permeates virtually his entire oeuvre but also translates the future
tense of A.’s speech into a future past. What is different in his rendering of
Odysseus’ character is that, unlike Odysseus who returns to his housebound
wife only to leave again, A. vouches to stay for ‘all the nights to come’. It is his
bearing gifts of stories that assures his homecoming will last for more than one
night. As long as there are stories to tell about ‘the whole human adventure’,
gazes to share, he will stay at home. Nevertheless, his assumption that the
beloved will have no stories to share with him points, once again, to the blin-
ders that have obscured his gaze: an instance of forgetting and a kind of malady
that curtail the hope inscribed in his telling. Consequently, his homecoming,
far from suggesting a ‘“new humanism”’ (Horton 1997a: 197), repeats some
old (and not so old) ways.
Still, the homecoming A. envisions does not necessarily cancel out the way
in which Ulysses’ Gaze radically questions origins. Instead, looking as he does
at the camera while delivering his lines, A. addresses not so much the figure of
the beloved as cinema itself. As his final words attest, he averts his gaze from
the theatre of war to recollect the familiar terrain of his home – what can only
be a home in diaspora – and a beloved figure, but since that figure conjures
only absence and silence, it is to the camera’s own gaze that he truly returns.
Indeed, his declaration of love is disassembled by the Manakis’ film whose
message is decoded but not shared, ultimately alluding that, perhaps, the only
place where A. is at home is the cinema.
The last image, as well as gaze, in the film is that of A. brooding. The
brooder, as Benjamin suggests, is someone who ‘not only meditates a thing
but also meditates his meditation of the thing. The case of the brooder is that
of a man who has arrived at the solution of a great problem but then has for-
gotten it. And now he broods – not so much over the matter itself as over his
past reflections on it. The brooder’s thinking, therefore, bears the imprint of
memory’ (Benjamin [1940] 1999: 367). Ulysses’ Gaze suggests that cinema, as
a particular form of telling, serves as a form of public witnessing that relies
on the witness’s gaze being at once engaged with and detached from what the
camera captures. Having at last watched the Manakis brothers’ first gaze, A.’s
archive fever may have passed but his act of seeing offers no immediate remedy
either for the repression or for the dissemination of cultural memory. The fact
that Ulysses’ Gaze refrains from showing that first gaze to the viewer mirrors
A.’s own forgetting of it. The distance between what A. has witnessed and his
project to share it with the figure of the beloved can only be bridged by a reme-
dial discourse, his cinematic gaze, a gaze that will push further away the silent
and absent beloved, in effect replacing her by the viewer.
m e mory un der siege  263

1. Although I have consulted various sources and websites that refer to the Manakis brothers,
for this detail, as well as other references to their work and lives, I am primarily indebted to
Christos Christodoulou’s book on the two brothers. I am grateful to John Papargyris who
located and sent me this book.
2. This is a direct allusion to similar problems Angelopoulos encountered when shooting The
Suspended Step of the Stork in Florina. During the film’s shooting, as Angelopoulos says,
‘the Bishop of the town had excommunicated us because he thought we were an envoy of
Satan, the Devil . . . I decided to shoot [Ulysses’ Gaze] there . . . with the people of the
town . . . & this time the Bishop didn’t intervene, he let us shoot & so it was our first small
victory’ (cited in Bielskyte 2011). It should also be noted that the reactionarism of the
protesters’ group in Ulysses’ Gaze has nothing in common with the portrayal of collective
responses in Angelopoulos’ films in the 1970s in which protest is usually motivated by
Marxist concerns that seek to undo the status quo in order to effect change.
3. ‘In surimpression over The Weavers, other films by the same Manakis brothers are shown in
succession . . . the last one being Thessaloniki’s Fire, 1917. The Weavers dissolves over the
last scene of Thessaloniki’s Fire, 1917 that shows part of the city’s promenade and the sea’
(Angelopoulos 1995b, 17–18, my translation).
4. The Manakis brothers’ last name appears in different variants in official documents and the
media of the time – Maniaki, Manakia, or Manaka – but Manakis, the variant employed by
Angelopoulos, is the most frequently used and the one recorded in death certificates.
5. Predictably, given the history of the region, the two brothers’ oeuvre has itself become an
instrument of national politics. While Greek historians and filmographers consider them to
be Greek Vlachs, in the FYROM they are claimed as ‘promoters of the Macedonian
identity’ (, while Marian Tutui, of the
Romanian Film Archive, sees them exclusively as Romanian (

I would like to thank Phoebe Economopoulos for her help with tracing some sources, and
acknowledge the Canada Research Chair program in Critical Studies in Canadian
Literature for making it possible to research and write this chapter.

‘Nothing Ever Ends’:

Angelopoulos and the Image of
Asbjørn Grønstad

In my film, time is the central theme1

Theo Angelopoulos

The dust of time into which all our works eventually disappear
Jonas Mekas

I n February 2005, Theo Angelopoulos came to the Cinémathèque in Bergen,

which screened a retrospective of his work. During an interview session
before Ο Μελισσοκόμος (The Beekeeper, 1986) he said something that has
stayed with me: ‘Everything that has existed will always exist. Nothing fades
away, nothing dies’. Everything that has existed will always exist. Experiences.
Actions. Feelings. Suffering. Love. Ideas. Thoughts. People. The discursive
tenor of the director’s statement is philosophical, or perhaps poetic, but it
seems that it is also embodied by his film aesthetic, which functions to bracket
temporality itself. There is the impossible spatial coexistence of objects that
belong to different pockets of history, as in Το Bλέμμα του Οδυσσέα (Ulysses’
Gaze, 1995), and there is the strange sense – in many of his illustrious long
takes – of the weight of a never-ending present growing so substantial that lin-
earity collapses entirely, time stepping away from itself. If Andrei Tarkovsky
is the sculptor of time, Angelopoulos is the sculptor of presence. Originally
Angelopoulos conceived what turned out to be his last work as just one film,
but he was later – due to the scope of the raw material – persuaded to restruc-
ture it as a trilogy. Its third and final instalment, Η Άλλη Θάλασσα (The Other
Sea), remained in production when Angelopoulos, crossing a busy road, was
hit by a motorcycle near Piraeus in January 2012. The premature death of the
auteur is steeped in dark irony, given the fact that it was a speedy vehicle that
ended the life of this prominent exponent of slow cinema.
a ng e lo po ulo s and the im age of duration   265

This cinema, it has often been remarked, is also one that is steeped in
history. His entire oeuvre seems committed to a deep exploration of the
poetics of memory. In Το Λιβάδι που Δακρύζει (The Weeping Meadow, 2004)
and Η Σκόνη του Χρόνου (The Dust of Time, 2008), he continues this engage-
ment with the question of the lingering presence of the past, only now this
project is reframed in terms of his own statement that ‘what used to be History
becomes an echo of history’ (Horton 1997b: 109). The first two chapters of this
aborted trilogy concern a Greek woman whose life spans most of the twentieth
century. These films give us history on a smaller scale, something that might
be called interstitial or decentred history. Several of the defining features of
the director’s work resurface in these films; both thematically – the journey
motif, the state of being in exile, the concern with Greek national identity, the
enigma of spirituality, the significance of borders, the homecoming, culture
in a state of decay; and stylistically – the use of the temps morts, the long take,
tableaux compositions, narrative ellipsis, dedramatisation, location shooting,
the foregrounding of landscape, the accentuation of off-screen space, dorsality,
inexpressiveness, the empty shot, recessional staging, the planimetric, camera
movement, and depth of space (Bordwell 1997).
Films like Το Λιβάδι που Δακρύζει (The Weeping Meadow, 2004) and Η
Σκόνη του Χρόνου (The Dust of Time, 2008) are like pictorial fugues that
render the historical through figuration, not narration. The director’s main
interest seemingly lies in capturing history in the interstices, between the
tiny cracks in the architecture of narration. The films thus allegorise a pro-
foundly singular and subjective memory of historical experience, and the
films’ tableaux images become tropes of mourning that envelop the viewer

Figure 17.1 The Dust of Time

266  A s b j ør n grø ns tad

in stillness and melancholy. Duration itself, as the passing of time, is made

tangible through the work performed by the temps morts. Annette Kuhn has
suggested that what she calls memory texts constitute a genre unto themselves,
and all of Angelopoulos’ cinema can be understood as memory labour in this
sense. Memory work, Kuhn writes, ‘makes it possible to explore connections
between “public” historical events, structures of feeling, family dramas, rela-
tions of class, national identity and gender, and “personal” memory’ (Kuhn
2002: 5).
The remarks Angelopoulos made before that screening at the Cinémathèque
in Bergen must have been more than just casual chatter, because the first
words we hear in what would be his last feature, The Dust of Time, are quite
palpably an iteration of those remarks. As the camera pans unhurriedly
toward the ‘Cinecittà’ entrance gate in the film’s opening shot, a voice-over
that almost certainly belongs to Willem Dafoe declares that ‘[n]othing ended.
Nothing ever ends. I returned to where I let the story slip into the past. Losing
its clarity under the dust of time, and then, unexpectedly, at some moment, it
returns, like a dream. Nothing ever ends.’ The dust of time is the oblivious-
ness of history. It would seem that the temporality of history is couched in
opacity, whereas the work of memory struggles to bring a sense of lucidity to
the past, to past experience and, finally, to the experience of the past in the
present. Images play a pivotal role in this memory work; as Paul Ricoeur has
pointed out, ‘[t]he presence in which the representation of the past seems to
consist does indeed appear to be that of an image’ (Ricoeur 2004: 5). But the
relation between memory and visual experience is reciprocal, for, as one theo-
rist so succinctly puts it, ‘sight without memory is blind’ (Iampolski 1998: 2).
The machines of visibility are thus inextricably entwined with memory as
a particular form of epistemological labour. It is not just coincidental, then,
that the first image we see in The Dust of Time is of Cinecittà Studios, a site so
emblematic of the vitality of the visual imagination.
The link between film and memory has also been suggested by Henri
Bergson, apparently himself not a great fan of the cinema, who emphasised the
mnemonic potential of the new medium:

As a witness to its beginnings, I realised [the cinema] could suggest

new things to a philosopher. It might be able to assist in the synthesis
of memory, or even of the thinking process. If the circumference [of a
circle] is composed of a series of points, memory is, like the cinema, com-
posed of a series of images. Immobile, it is in neutral state; in movement
it is life itself. (Abel 1988: 22)

Freeing the images from this immobility, what cinema achieves is not just
temporal progression, flowing images, but also, more importantly, the quality
a ng e lo po ulo s and the im age of duration   267

of duration. In its consistent foregrounding of duration as both aesthetic

effect and experiential mode, Angelopoulos’ films encapsulate both these
senses of temporal duration: that is, as a phenomenon intimately connected
with the nature of the moving image and, secondly, as the more thematic and
philosophical notion that ‘nothing ever ends’. While the former has long been
associated with Angelopoulos’ cinema, the latter still remains largely unex-
plored, perhaps because it plunges us into an area that feels more recondite
and mystical. But, as I will try to show below, the two senses of duration – the
technological/mediational, and the philosophical – are evidently interrelated.
What Andrew Horton referred to (in one of the pioneer English-language
studies of Angelopoulos) as ‘the continuous image’ postulates in effect a con-
ceptual division between the content of an image and our experience of its
duration. Angelopoulos’ ‘deliberate effort both to stretch out a shot and to
leave it uninterrupted means’, Horton writes, ‘that he calls on the audience not
only to follow what is going on but to be aware of the process of the unfolding of a
moment or moments as they occur in time and space’ [sic] (Horton 1997a: 8). His
is a cinema that – ambitiously yet impossibly – endeavours to visualise a rather
abstract state, which is that of duration. That effort, furthermore, is bound up
with another attempt at materialising the immaterial in the director’s work,
which is the persistent predilection in his films for what Susan Sontag once
called ‘a resonating or eloquent silence’ (Sontag 1966: 11). For silence to work
as an aesthetic device, Sontag is quick to point out, it must be dialectical, not
absolute, as its existence must be a catalyst for some kind of phenomenological
change. In Angelopoulos, silence accompanies and accentuates this sense of
But what particular effects do these inscriptions of silence and duration
engender in the context of the underlying philosophy of this form of slow
cinema? I would like to return for a moment to Ricoeur’s formulation above,
particularly his suggestion that the image in which the representation of the
past is enfolded constitutes a ‘presence’ (Ricoeur 2004: 5). While a general
notion of presence has become prevalent in some areas of visual theory –
­consider for instance Keith Moxey’s assessment that it has ‘entered the
precinct of the humanities and made itself at home’ (Moxey 2008: 131) – its
passage from the conceptual to the material has perhaps been less discussed.
In the domain of slow cinema, however, and that of Angelopoulos specifically,
this idea of presence (as markedly different from both representation and
meaning) at least comes close to acquiring a formal embodiment to comple-
ment its more theoretical dimension. Silence and duration are vital elements
in this regard, as are all the stylistic trademarks that inform Angelopoulos’
inimitable approach. Key among these are the long take and the temp morts,
concepts that I will return to in a little more detail below. But first I want to
propose that we may deepen our awareness of the way in which Angelopoulos’
268  A s b j ør n grø ns tad

cinema works by considering the theoretical insights from some of the critics
that have been drawn, each in their own distinct ways, to what one might call a
philosophy of presentism. As we recall, the notion of presence fell on hard times
with the emergence of poststructuralism in the wake of Jacques Derrida’s
Of Grammatology; yet, in recent years, and after successive visual and affec-
tive turns, the term presence has been revitalised and reconceptualised by
thinkers as diverse as Hans Gumbrecht, Jean-Luc Nancy and, perhaps more
implicitly, Martin Seel and Giorgio Agamben, to name some of them. In his
book Aesthetics of Appearing, Seel, for instance, regards aesthetic perception
as a special case of attentiveness to the transitory, a fastidious alertness which
makes the subject capable of sensing an object ‘in the palpable repleteness of its
aspects’ and ‘in its unreduced presence’ (Seel 2005: 25). Such a rarefied form
of perception, however, cannot work without duration, which in a way comes
to constitute the condition of possibility for perceptual acts of this kind – that
is, perceptions enabled by the durational qualities of the work and thus capable
of absorbing both its ‘presence’ and its ‘repleteness.’ According to Gumbrecht,
the information surplus of the digital age has created a desire for being, for
actual presence (as opposed to the restless search for meaning on our tablets
and devices, which is always a continuously deferred presence):

the more we approach the fulfilment of our dreams of omnipresence and

the more definite the subsequent loss of our bodies and of the spatial
dimension in our existence seems to be, the greater the possibility
becomes of reigniting the desire that attracts us to the things of the world
and wraps us into their space. (Gumbrecht 2004: 139)

Gumbrecht’s remark is redolent of the economies of attention that Elissa

Marder problematises in her work on temporal disorders. On this account,
the pressures of modern life instigated in part by temporal technologies
produce symptoms of disorientation, a fraught and increasingly anxious rela-
tion to time. Marder, in fact, considers that modernity ‘has lost touch with
other ways of keeping time’ and that it thus may not be so much a historical
period as ‘a way of experiencing time’ (Marder 2001: 4). The argument is
of course Benjaminian; it reminds us of his book on Baudelaire in which he
reflects upon the ways in which the increase of external stimuli in the modern
period may lead to a kind of existential atrophy by narration being displaced
by information, information in turn by sensation (Benjamin [1935] 1983:
113). For Marder, while modern technologies facilitate new ways of record-
ing events, it has nevertheless, or perhaps precisely because of this, become
more difficult to incorporate these events into life as it is lived. Literature,
then, is seen as the medium that might be able to reinstate a sense of temporal
continuity from which the modern subject gradually has become estranged.
a ng e lo po ulo s and the im age of duration   269

Whether construed in terms of a traumatic temporality (Marder) or as an

excess of information and meaning (Gumbrecht), the fragility of duration and
the threat which that fragility poses to a deeper experience of presence seems
to be implicit in both these accounts. Angelopoulos’ cinema, I would suggest,
inspires the kind of intensified perception and attention Seel talks about,
predominantly although not exclusively through the deployment of the long
take and the temp morts. While always themselves unfailingly modern – and
this is no insignificant point – his films emphatically depart from the frenetic
rhythms of modernity and supermodernity.2 Offering up slow images, they
correspondingly promote a poetics of slow seeing. As these signature tableaux
compositions invite a contemplative mode of viewing, they also, uncannily,
appear to contemplate us, the viewers. It is through this particular dialectic
that they generate their profound sense of presence, a phenomenological effect
encoded into the unconventionally aestheticised forms of duration of the late
modernist, a type of artist described by Fredric Jameson as ‘one who manages
to invent a new style after stylistic innovation has been pronounced exhausted’
(Jameson 1997: 78). In Angelopoulos’ case, this style finds its fullest realisation
in his two last films.
The Weeping Meadow, which has been seen as a ‘pure distillation’ of the
filmmaker’s concerns (Anon. 2005: 28), begins in 1919 as the Lavdakides
family – refugees from the Red Terror in Odessa – arrive near Thessaloniki.
The weather is cold and damp, and the exiles slowly emerge as if out of
the starkness of the land itself, in a scene that has the aura of an originary
moment, a proclamatory whisper, and an act of creation ex nihilo. A film
about grief and mourning, among other things, The Weeping Meadow chroni-
cles the hardships of Eleni (Alexandra Aidini), an orphan girl, and her rela-
tionship with the members of her adopted family over almost half a century.
She becomes the lover of Alexis (Nikos Poursanidis), an accordionist and her
stepfather Spyros’s son, gives birth to twins that are subsequently taken away
from her, and marries Spyros (Vassilis Kolovos) when his wife dies. But Eleni
and Alexis elope. They join a band of travelling musicians led by a violinist,
Nikos (Yorgos Armenis), and go searching for their lost twins, whom Spyros
had given away. As is usually the case with this filmmaker, however, narra-
tive is secondary to the graphic qualities of the films’ monumental, almost
living and breathing image compositions, a notion appositely condensed by
a film blogger’s observation that ‘[t]he still image posted above [the stately
funeral procession of small vessels sporting black flags to mourn the passing
of Spyros] is just one of thirty or forty that could be stripped from its context
and hung on a gallery wall’ (Anon 2005). One of the most spectacular of
those images is that of the slaughtered sheep hanging from a tree, intended
as a chilling message to Alexis and Eleni for violating the norms of their
270  A s b j ør n grø ns tad

It might be argued that The Weeping Meadow is not so much a movie in

the conventional sense as a kind of portfolio of mesmerising tableaux, con-
figurations suggestive of animated paintings, still images to which has been
added one crucial property: duration. While often nothing much happens,
the sombre shots go on for quite a long time. But it is precisely this relative
inactivity within the frame – what critics have referred to as the director’s
dedramatised style (sometimes attributed to the influence of Jancsó’s cinema)
(Bordwell 1997: 13) – which allows presence as a phenomenological effect
to materialise in the image, or rather, as image. But the concept of presence
acquires a further meaning within this aesthetic, because Angelopoulos’ images
do not merely capture presence. Through the way in which they unfold, they
also enact a presentation, of a world, of memory, of time and history. In this,
films like The Weeping Meadow and The Dust of Time appear close in spirit
to the musings of Jean-Luc Nancy in his book with Abbas Kiarostami. Here
Nancy puts a new spin on the loss of meaning in modernity, a theme demon-
strably related to Marder’s reflections about the crisis of temporality, which
he sees not as disastrous but on the contrary as a promising possibility. With
reference to Heidegger’s phenomenology, Nancy suggests that the loss of a
sensible world is actually an enhancement, as a world deprived of signification
and meaning is what facilitates the appearance, the opening up, of the real to
us. Cinema, for Nancy, should not aspire to reflect back to us a preconceived
world, nor should it struggle to represent the loss of a meaningful world (a task
often attributed to modernist art, literature and film); rather, cinema should
just present the world itself:

The evidence of cinema is that of the existence of a look through which a

world can give back to itself its own real and the truth of its enigma (which
is admittedly not its solution), a world moving of its own motion, without
a heaven or a wrapping, without fixed moorings or suspension, a world
shaken, trembling, as the winds blow through it. (Nancy 2001: 44)

Nancy’s statement is vaguely reminiscent of André Bazin’s argument concern-

ing ‘the mummification of change’. It is temporality, which is to say duration,
that enables presence and makes its effects possible. In turn, it is presence as a
phenomenological quality that makes possible the unfolding (and unlocking)
of the world with all its enigmas. Thus, the temps morts of slow cinema desig-
nates something in excess of just empty shots or empty time. As Leo Charney
says, film ‘puts the empty moment to work’ (Charney 1998: 34). What the long
take and the temps morts attempt is no less than a visualisation of that which
cannot be visualised: presence.
The reason I emphasise this notion of presence – and in the context of
the work of thinkers such as Gumbrecht and Nancy specifically – is that it
a ng e lo po ulo s and the im age of duration   271

may lend itself productively to understanding Angelopoulos’ enigmatic and

perhaps ultimately unfeasible contention that ‘nothing ever ends.’ Events are
ephemeral and finite; they do come to an end. Yet might they somehow still
retain their presence, a lingering afterlife? Is Angelopoulos’ maxim just his
way of invoking memory? And if so, does memory mean something different to
him, something akin to aeronautical engineer J. W. Dunne’s concept of ‘time
states’ wherein past, present and future time blend into one another to create a
new dimension? (Dunne 1927). Or does the filmmaker’s insistence on intransi-
ence and durability entail something altogether beyond the sphere of memory?
There might be clues to an aporia such as this in Angelopoulos’ thirteenth
and final feature, The Dust of Time, which, like its precursor, revisits several of
the themes and preoccupations that have animated and to some extent defined
the director’s entire corpus of films: the weight of (Greek) history, European
identity in politically tumultuous times, the meaning of belonging and of home,
migration, borders, the experience of deracination, and the persistence of love
as an ineffaceable human quality. The film also displays the imbrication of
individual (or interstitial) history and macro-history, as the multi-generational
conflicts at the heart of the work take place against the backdrop of key events
of the mid-to-late twentieth century such as the Gulag, the death of Stalin in
1953, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. At the centre
of this swansong is the American filmmaker, A. (Willem Dafoe), who is shoot-
ing a movie about the eventful and onerous lives of his parents Eleni (Irène
Jacob) and Spyros (Michel Piccoli), while also dealing with the disappear-
ance of his daughter as well as his failed marriage to Helga (Christiane Paul).
Fleeing Greece after the Civil War in the 1940s, in which the royalist army,
backed by Britain and the United States, defeated the communists, Spyros
ends up in America, Eleni in the Soviet Union. Like in The Weeping Meadow
Angelopoulos concentrates on her story, in particular her complicated relation-
ships with the two men in her life, Spyros and Jacob (Bruno Ganz). When the
former tries to get her out of the Soviet Union, he is thrown into jail and she
gets sent to Siberia. After being apart for decades, they subsequently reunite in
the United States. The film’s diegetic content drifts between different layers of
history, and its spatio-temporal continuity is continually challenged by sudden
shifts that fragment its narrative structure, inviting criticism from viewers that
assume – perhaps correctly – that the director seems uninterested in narrative
or character (Micklethwaite 2009).
That The Dust of Time is very much part of an ongoing work, never to be
completed, is evident not only in the reappearance of a familiar subject matter
and a remarkably consistent aesthetic, but also in the enduring emphasis on
the process of filmmaking. Working with an ensemble of frequent collabora-
tors – scriptwriter Petros Markaris, cinematographer Andreas Sinanos (who
also shot his previous film), composer Eleni Karaindrou and actor Bruno
272  A s b j ør n grø ns tad

Ganz, to name a few – Angelopoulos makes one of his principal protagonists

a director in search of something tantalisingly elusive, as he also did in Ταξίδι
στα Κύθηρα (Voyage to Cythera, 1984), the first part of his ‘trilogy of silence’)
and Ulysses’ Gaze (where the filmmaker is also American and called A.).
Based at Cinecittà studios, the façade of which is also the first thing we see in
the film, Dafoe’s A. is first seen dodging messages from an assistant (‘I don’t
want to hear anymore’) and then, as the credit sequence unfolds, he kneels
down to scrutinise frames from his footage. These scenes set in the narrative
present are intercut with shots from inside a train and from a movie theatre in
Kazakhstan showing a newsreel of Stalin. It is in the latter scene that we see
Eleni being approached by Spyros, who has returned for her. Overwhelmed by
his surprise appearance, she leaves the theatre hastily, only to be pursued by
Spyros, who catches up with her on a tram headed for the city square. There,
the news that Stalin has died is announced to a gathering throng of people, in
what is one of the film’s main set pieces. Panning luxuriously towards the right
as the multitudes draw nearer to the square, Angelopoulos then interposes a
shot of the reunified couple inside the tram, before the camera reverts back
to the crowd and, in a characteristic long take, very slowly withdraws from
the scene as it records the subdued spectacle of its dispersal. There is then
an abrupt cut back to Dafoe, again trailed by his aide, as he walks in on an
­orchestra rehearsal.
A little earlier, in the shot from the train, we can hear one of the passen-
gers telling his fellow traveller ‘[r]emember, from now on you’re playing with
time,’ an intradiegetic remark that doubles as a kind of meta-commentary on
the substance and method of the film itself. Duration is its very texture, tem-
porality its basic, irresolvable problem. The spaces of the action span many
locations and cities, from Rome to Cologne, Athens, Berlin and Temirtau,
but in a certain sense the prevailing landscapes in the film are those of time
and memory. By now it might become clear that the aphorism of Dafoe the
fictional director and of Angelopoulos the real director, ‘nothing ever ends’,
can also be read as a declaration regarding the continuous and seamless recir-
culation of the filmmaker’s own films and filmic obsessions, motifs and tropes.
Art never ends. Or, more to the point, the aesthetic re-imagining of time and
experience never stops. In this process, which evidently is not unique to this
filmmaker but which nonetheless finds a peculiarly salient expression through-
out his work, the images may be said to cause their own time, something
similar, perhaps, to what Keith Moxey sees as the ‘anachronic’ or ‘aesthetic’
time of works of art (Moxey 2013: 3). The eternal present that is an effect of
Angelopoulos’ dialectics of duration – his deliberate conflation of the sheets
of time – evokes the work of another post-representational thinker alongside
Nancy and Gumbrecht. This is the continental philosopher Giorgio Agamben.
In an article on the films of Guy Debord, and especially in a passage that deals
a ng e lo po ulo s and the im age of duration   273

with the concepts of repetition and stoppage, the Italian scholar discusses the
powers of potentiality that he finds intrinsic to cinema as a temporal apparatus:

Repetition restores the possibility of what was, renders it possible anew;

it’s almost a paradox. To repeat something is to make it possible anew.
Here lies the proximity of repetition and memory. Memory cannot give
us back what was, as such: that would be hell. Instead, memory restores
possibility to the past. This is the meaning of the theological experi-
ence that Benjamin saw in memory, when he said that memory makes
the unfulfilled into the fulfilled, and the fulfilled into the unfulfilled.
Memory is, so to speak, the organ of reality’s modalization; it is that
which can transform the real into the possible and the possible into the
real. If you think about it, that’s also the definition of cinema. (2002: 316)

Angelopoulos’ redistribution of content from his previous work performs

just such an act of repetition, a restoration of possibility to the past. It is this
movement of ceaselessly circling back to that which once was that imbues his
cinema with its elegiac tenor, for the memory that renders ‘the real into the
possible and the possible into the real’ in Angelopoulos is swathed in layers of
cultural debris: shattered television sets in a hotel in Rome; a room in Siberia
crammed with busts and statues of Stalin; an apartment wall in Berlin covered
by pale posters of pop culture icons like Jim Morrison and Lou Reed. The
wreckage of the memory of the twentieth century as it gives itself to be seen in
The Dust of Time suggests Agamben’s notion of stoppage. ‘To bring the word
to a stop,’ he writes, ‘is to pull it out of the flux of meaning, to exhibit it as
such’ (Agamben 2002: 317). Here we come close to Nancy’s idea of presence
as an absence of any preconceived meaning. Is it too far-fetched to imply that
The Dust of Time, like Angelopoulos’ other films, resembles what Agamben
calls a ‘pure means’ and ‘a medium, that does not disappear in what it makes
visible?’ (2002: 318). This would appear to chime neatly with the director’s
own refutation of the suggestion that his images contain symbols of any kind
(Angelopoulos 2005). No symbols, no objects, but an image of presence stirred
by duration.
A whole book could be written about what I propose to call Angelopoulos’
meteorological aesthetics (after all, this is a filmmaker who was known to cease
shooting if the weather got too nice)