R.I.P. Theo Angelopoulos

I was sad to read this morning that Theo Angelopoulos died.

I first heard of the Greek filmmaker when his 1995 film Ulysses' Gaze which starred Harvey Keitel won the Grand Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival that year. It's not the easiest film in the world. For many it's too slow. Angelopoulos films his tales with long takes, slow pans and it's fascinating to watch the way his gaze lingers on events, the way the past and memory interacts with the present. Films like Landscape in the Mist, Eternity and a Day, The Weeping Meadow are beautiful and haunted.

There's a line from Ulysses Gaze: The first thing god created was the journey. Then came doubt and nostalgia. The film was important for me as a viewer. It was that rare work where it was the story of an individual, the story of a region, the story of an artform and in another sense a very universal tale. It was strange and chilling, the metaphors and imagery perhaps lessening some of the pain that the lessons delivered.

His work was considered poetic and dream-like but it was that way for a reason. The fog of memory and uncertainty hangs over our lives and on history as a whole. We are all exiles, if not from our homelands, then from the past. There is no real ending to our journeys. The past always looks better than the present, but we can't get a good look at it. The future is uncertain.

Ulysses' Gaze was about in part about a filmmaker returning to Greece after years away traveling across the Balkans hunting for three reels of film from the Manakis Brothers who were filmmakers and photographers in the early 20th Century. In that sense, there's something poetic about Angelopoulos leaving behind reels of film, unfinished.

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