Monday, June 26, 2006

'Mythological' Filmmaking: Writer-Director Theo Angelopoulos, Cinematographer Andreas Sinanos, And Composer Eleni Karaindrou's "The Weeping Meadow"

"The first in a proposed trilogy of films from veteran Greek writer-director Theo Angelopoulos, "The Weeping Meadow" tells the story of orphaned girl Eleni (Alexandra Aidini), adopted by a Greek family returning to their homeland in 1919 after the Russian Revolution [and the outbread of a cholera epidemic in Odessa]. We follow Eleni through adolescence, marriage to her musician half-brother Alexis (Nikos Poursanidis), and motherhood, and see how her life and those of her husband and twin children are ripped apart by World War II and the ensuing Greek Civil War.

Angelopoulos draws on all manner of Greek myths surrounding wandering, passion and exile in "The Weeping Meadow" - in interviews he has described his female protagonist as 'the Eleni of myth, the Eleni of all the myths who is pursued... but who also pursues absolute love'. The film though is no arid exercise in historical recreation, and those without any prior knowledge of Hellenism shouldn't be dissuaded.

Favouring his trademark lengthy travelling shots, Angelopoulos and cinematographer Andreas Sinanos conjure up a range of mesmerising images created without reliance on digital effects: hundreds of white sheets billowing on washing lines, the interior of an opera house converted into a makeshift refugee settlement, a vast floating funeral procession with black flags attached to the rowing boats, and the waters practically closing over a flooded village.

Water is a crucial motif in "The Weeping Meadow", where history itself resembles a force of nature, shattering societies and arbitrarily sweeping away the lives of human beings: Angelopoulos keeps off-screen the most harrowing events, such as Alexis's experiences in the Pacific campaign, concentrating his focus on an increasingly grief-stricken Eleni." ...

Thomas Dawson January 14, 2005


BERLIN -- "Greek master Theo Angelopoulos' new film is the first in an intended trilogy, which he hopes will stand as the summation of all his work. It's a typically poetic film, rich in powerful imagery, which sees a bitter personal tragedy unfold against the major events of 20th century Greece. Although the director doesn't mine any new ground here, either in terms of style or content, it's still a pleasure to sit through nearly three hours of perfectly controlled, visually evocative filmmaking.

"Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow" unspooled in competition at Berlin, where it was a critical favorite. More festival appearances should be assured, while its weighty themes and name director could lead to art house distribution in Europe and the States. Although the film is 170 minutes long, this probably won't hamper its performance at the boxoffice as viewers familiar with Angelopoulos' work will know what to expect.

"Trilogy" features an interesting narrative split between big history and personal drama. It centers on Eleni (Alexandra Aidini), a Greek immigrant from Russia who elopes with the unnamed Young Man (Nikos Poursanidis) -- the son of her much older fiance Spyros (Vassilis Kolovos). The two arrive in Thessaloniki, where he continues his career as a musician and she brings up their two sons. The Young Man then departs to America in search of a better life for his family. But Eleni cannot join him, and she is left in Greece to suffer the ravages of World War II and the Greek Civil War.

Eleni's story is submerged in the film's historical events -- Angelopoulos purposely avoids allowing viewers to build up a strong identification with its main character. Whereas a more conventional historical drama would have used Eleni's story as the engine of the plot, she's just one element of the director's vast historical tableau. Sometimes he focuses on her, sometimes he focuses on events elsewhere. This approach succeeds in depicting the broad sweep of events in 20th century Greece but occasionally leaves the film lacking an identifiable core.

Acting is similarly intriguing, mixing Angelopoulos' usual stylization with techniques drawn from the classical Greek stage. Eleni's final tragic pose is something that's not usually seen onscreen, a deep expression of pathos which has more in common with classical theater than contemporary acting. The director's desire to merge ancient and modern styles -- and themes -- also surfaces in an innovative scene in which the father delivers a soliloquy to refugees sheltering in an abandoned theater.

Angelopoulos' imagery will hold no surprises for his devotees, and it's none the worse for that. His crowd formations are meticulously composed, and a standout scene uses a funereal procession of boats to express the grief of his characters -- something which, again, resonates fully with the Greek classics. Sometimes, however, his imagery runs the risk of appearing obscure. A scene of dead sheep strung up on a tree left many confused, though specialists in Greek literature may know what he's getting at.

Funding for the next two installments of the trilogy is reportedly in place, though scripts have yet to be finalized."

Richard James Havis "Trilogy: Weeping Meadow" February 26, 2006

The film won the European Film Academy Critics Award in 2004.

The second film of the 20th Century Trilogy, The Dust of Time [2007], is in pre-production.


"The three evocative words received by Alexander [in Eternity and a Day, 1998] from the Albanian [orphan] boy during the course of their journey capture the film's nostalgic and contemplative tone. The first is korfulamu, a delicate word for the heart of a flower, a literal 'word of comfort' for his physical suffering. The second is xenitis, the feeling of being a stranger everywhere that reflects his occupational distraction and estrangement from his family. The third is argathini, meaning 'very late at night', a word akin to the metaphoric 'twilight' of one's existence. Inevitably, the words express the poetic essence of Angelopoulos' indelible cinema as well: the soul of the Greek village, the sentiment of perpetual exile, and the dying of a culture."

From Aquarello "Senses of Cinema"

Related Reading: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos: A Cinema of Contemplation by Andrew Horton and The Last Modernist: The Films of Theo Angelopoulos edited by Andrew Horton.

Tree with hanging dead sheep, from a riverbank town in the far northeast of Greece, near the borders of Turkey and Bulgaria.

Image credit: "The Weeping Meadow" film still. With thanks.


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