7.16.2011

Conversations in Angelopoulos vol. 1: Taxidi sta Kythira, 1984

"Conversations in Angelopoulos" is a series of discussions between myself and kiddo in space as part of The Corrierino's Welcome to the Abyss II thread run by Philosophe rouge and Shieldmaiden (view the original "Voyage to Cythera" post hereand a follow-up on "Conversations in Rohmer" from that thread's predecessor. We have selected Theodoros Angelopoulos as this round's director with whose work we are both unversed and three films with which to explore him for a mutual first time.

vol. 2: O melissokomos (The Beekeeper) / vol. 3: Topio stin omichli (Landscape in the Mist)

tom: This initial correspondence has been much delayed as we determine how to attack it, and even after all the time to ponder I'm still not quite sure how to go about my side of our discussion regarding our mutual first look at Theodoros Angelopoulos, so I'm afraid I'm doomed to come across rather rudimentarily. "Voyage to Cythera" opens strong, with what can most obviously be compared to a sequence from "2001: A Space Odyssey". These quiet and instantly enrapturing shots don't seem to directly serve what is to follow, but they set an ethereal mood and could possibly be construed as reminders of the insignificance of our lives and the policies and possessions within and without them. Then, as if such an opening was not enough, our could-be lead awakens to a Soviet march, music I consider so closely tied with the essence of film that its mere inclusion enthralls me, particularly considering it's implication here that we may be dealing with ex-Soviets finding their way outside the structure of the CCCP.

Sure enough, ex-Soviets are what we have, though I don't believe this is said outright for some time, or at all, so I had to slowly put the pieces together as the film went on and my expectations gathered from its opening act faded. That opening act, though... that opening act! There is a dream-like sense of being lost... fitting, I suppose, since it could be said that the post-credits flashback is the awakening man's dream. In this flashback/dream, I got the impression he was playing, as boys do, before being found out by a guard (perhaps a Soviet?) and running, in a tricky fashion that makes for a very interesting sequence, to find his father... whom he never finds. Anyhow, his cyclical wanderings through the auditions and to the dock are just gorgeous to the point that if they had comprised the entire film I would have been enamored throughout. That's not to entirely discredit what becomes his father's post-Soviet story as I do greatly like the graveyard sequence and the film's heart-shattering finale. I do not, however, find much of interest in all that lay between - the spat over land clearly signifies the father's stalwart cherishing of the life he knew before his time fighting for another nation but does little for me in any other regard, and the rest - until that finale - just makes me glaze over. I wish I wasn't admitting as much, what with how much I found myself loving what preceded, but such is the case.


kiddo: The film turned out to be a great reward and, overall, I really liked it. It managed to capture me inside its little universe for the most part of its duration, although I find myself agreeing with you in, the first part of the film engaged me more than the rest. At first I thought it was because of the duration, just to realize it was because of the changes it went through, it was around the part when the police appeared that it took the turn I'm referring to. I'm not saying that the second part was a drastic descent in quality or bad, not at all. There's also this part you mention about the kid looking for his father but never finding him in the opening sequence, that's a search he goes through in the whole film and just as you say, one he never accomplishes.

Now, after talking about it in separate parts, lets see it as a whole. Because as a whole, is an excellent film. Basically, the film deals with loneliness, the feeling of being lost, trying to fit in and accomplishes this prefectly. The protagonist is trying to go back to his home, searching for it in the place he left years ago, but he can't find it, he's just there, wandering alone, searching for his past. The graveyard scene you mention was a favorite too, it just shows a lot of what's going on with the character. It's both sad and joyful, him dancing over the graves, remembering happier times made me smile, then took that feeling and turned it over itself. The wide shots (which are great even for the ratio the film was shot in) just make the feeling of loneliness even greater, the characters tend to look so small in their surroundings, and totally alone.

Most of this is treated in the first part of the film, which is why I found it so fascinating, just as you did. It's beautiful even during the saddest moments.


tom: It's interesting you mention the search the would-be main character goes through as taking place throughout the entire film. My disenchantment seemed to occur when the shift in focus to his father became more apparent (as opposed to when it seemed like a temporary diversion, if you will... so probably around the same juncture you mention) and when we did finally seem to be focusing on him again my enthusiasm had dissipated enough that I don't think I really even registered what he was up to at that point. With the reunion going unexpectedly for both the son and the audience, stemming into a story about repatriation in a homeland that has become alien, there is a sense of negligence. We are always led to respect and admire the father, but from the son's perspective he seems just as much a ghost as he was when he was away.

You mention the happier times and in this case those happier times aren't as one might presume, pre-Soviet times with family, but as part of the Soviet Union. In a way, though we sympathize with both sides, it almost seems as if what could be argued to be the father's selfishness is in fact honorable in the somewhat grander scheme implied by those opening credits where the son's endeavors to re-associate with the man are antagonistic and impeding of the greater human cause in place (making the finale all the more intriguing). Of course, the fact that this was the Soviet Union could imply that these "happier times" weren't exactly "happy", but they became so engrained that readjustment is next to impossible. We see as much all the time in America with Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans who may have only served four years, so I can only imagine what half a lifetime of service for a much more regimented army could do to alter one's mind. Whether the father's internal conflict between his two lives is more one of ideals or more one of nostalgia I am not sure, but ultimately it seems he is forced to make a dramatic choice to avoid as much regret as possible while learning that no matter what the idealism, policy and procedure will always get in the way. Then, this is all coming from the guy who had trouble focusing during two run-throughs of act three, and therefore may well have missed a key thematic component. Whatever the case, when considering "Voyage to Cythera" as a whole instead of a collection of very differently-engaging segments, I readily concede to its excellence as you do.


kiddo: Going back to the search subject, to me the central characters are all performing their own very personal searches. The son looking for his absent father who, even in his absence, has been present in his son's adult life; the mother looking for his husband who abandoned her, which is related to his son's search, they are both looking for the same man, but each for something different about him; then the man himself, looking for his old country, the one he left behind. This feels so hopeless, everyone is trying to find something they can't get anymore, things change and in this way, the film is very nostalgic.

The "happier times" could as well be described as "better times", not for the country, but for the old man. He was living in a country that believed in his ideals, he was with his family and friends, then he had all that taken away from him, even his land. His actions back in his old country can be described as selfish and in many moments they are, but they are also acts of a desperate man. Of course this is impossible and once again his own country rejects him, because it can't go back, just forward and the man's ideals are a thing of the past, they slow down the progress. The final shot made me realize this, the old man and his wife can't let go of their past, so they drift away into the unknown.

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