Theo Angelopoulos Collection Volume 1
Theo(doros) Angelopoulos died in January 2012 depriving us of one of the greatest contemporary voices in cinema. In the last 20 years no other director except for Abbas Kiarostami, Michael Haneke, Bela Tarr and Hou Hsiao Hsien has been quite so uncompromising both in his approach to cinema and to the demands he makes on audiences. He leaves a legacy of 13 incredibly rewarding feature films which we are very lucky to have in 3 cheap box sets coming from Artificial Eye. Volume 1 is comprised of his first 4 features, The Reconstruction, Days of '36, The Travelling Players and The Hunters. For the uninitiated Angelopoulos's cinema can seem formidable. His subject (especially in these films) is 20th century Greek history and politics, about which audiences are assumed to know in detail. He also assumes audiences have a thorough knowledge of Greek antiquity, especially Homer's Odyssey, Aeschylus's The Oresteia and the Sophocles Oedipus cycle. His films are autobiographical to an extent and it helps to know that Angelopoulos was born in 1935 a year before the onset of the Metaxas dictatorship, that he grew up through World War II with bombs falling around him, that his sister Voula died early at the age of 11, that his father disappeared in Red December 1944 only to reappear suddenly 5 years later when all his family had assumed him dead, that he is a left-wing socialist (just like his father), and that he studied law and worked for the socialist film magazine Demokratiki Allaghi before turning film-maker. All these things find their way into his films in various guises as re-occuring tropes. His directing style is famously ellusive. He rejects traditional notions of narrative story telling and character psychology, adopting instead Brechtian alienation which distances us from his stories and protagonists. He deliberately uses narrative ellipses, forcing audiences to work hard to interact with his films by withholding simple information. His mise-en-scene is worked out very carefully with his ever-present cameraman Giorgos Arvanitis in which close-ups are ignored in favor of long shots and in which takes tend to be lengthy, slow and incredibly detailed affairs lasting upwards of 5 minutes each. These takes often skip time periods and involve complex tracking shots across meticulously arranged landscapes. He invented this 'sequence shot' technique and in The Travelling Players it reaches perfection.

The Theo Angelopoulos Collection Volume 1

DVD5 + 3 x DVD9 | PAL 4:3 | 3.77 Gb + 6.28 Gb + 6.65 Gb + 5.49 Gb + 3% rec
Language: Greek
Subtitles: English
Genre: Crime, Drama, History, War

Reconstruction (Anaparastasi) (running time 01:37:16)

Angelopoulos' first and shortest feature, his only one in black and white, was inspired by a true story. Costas (Mihalis Fotopoulos), a Greek who has been a migrant worker in Germany is murdered by his wife Eleni (Toula Stathopoulou) and her lover Christos (Yannis Totsikas). However, they are suspected and arrested. A magistrate reconstructs the crime, which we see in flashback (though not the murder itself). This is interspersed with a documentary that a TV unit are making about the village. Reconstruction shows Angelopoulos' style still in development, though the theatricality – playing off the documentary realism of the settings and photography – is already in place. More than just a crime story, Reconstruction is in part an elegy for the dying of the traditional Greek village.

Days of '36 (Meres tou '36) (running time 01:44:31)

With his second feature, Angelopoulos began his Trilogy of History, which continued with his third and fifth features, The Travelling Players (see below) and Alexander the Great (which will be on the second box set of the Collection). It's worth pointing out that when Angelopoulos began his directing career, Greece was under the control of the Colonels, who had staged a coup d'etat in 1967 and who would remain in power until 1974. Therefore, Angelopoulos had to be subtle in order to get his criticisms of the state past the censors – here, the direct suggestion that the State can only resort to murder to restore order. 1936 is a significant year in modern Greek history, as on 4 August, General Metaxas led an earlier military coup and seized power. Days of '36 is set shortly before then, and begins with the assassination of a trade unionist. Sofianos (Kostas Pavlou), a former drug smuggler and police informant, is suspected of the crime and arrested. When a conservative politician visits Sofianos in jail, Sofianos with the aid of a smuggled gun takes him prisoner., throwing the authorities into turmoil.. As mentioned above, Angelopoulos and Arvanitis achieve some striking sequence shots here, in their first film in colour, using a more vibrant colour scheme than the pastel shades they would later favour.

The Travelling Players (O thiassos) (running time 03:42:01)

The Travelling Players competed at Cannes, winning the FIPRESCI Prize and establishing Angelopoulos' reputation overseas. It marks a big advance, taking the themes and techniques of the previous films and taking them about as far as he possibly could. At not far short of four hours, it has an undeniably epic feel, and (unlike Bela Tarr for example) that length is a milestone he would not approach again. (Alexander the Great is some twenty minutes shorter, but is the only other Angelopoulos film to break three hours.) The plot is on the surface quite simple: a group of itinerant actors travel through Greece perfoming the popular drama Golfo the Shepherdess. However, Angelopoulos uses this as a framework to explore recent Greek history and its impact on the players and the villagers they meet. It begins in 1939, the final year of the Metaxas dictatorship, and covers the war against Italy, World War II and the German occupation, civil war and British and American intervention.

The Hunters (Oi kynighi) (running time 02:23:21)

The Hunters is usually thought of as a pendant to, and an interlude in, Angelopoulos's Trilogy of History, but it certainly shares many of its themes. In the present day, a group of hunters find preserved in the snow the perfectly-preserved body of a partisan fighter killed during the civil war in 1949. They carry it back to a lodge where an inquest takes place. The Hunters is an exploration of guilt, particularly that of the Greek Right after World War II, as each member of the hunting party is confronted with his or her own wrongdoings, with the exhumed corpse of the partisan being a silent accusation. This culminates in an extraordinary sequence (just three shots, the first two taking up some twenty minutes with a disguised cut between them) which is either dream/nightmare or anticipation, or both. The Hunters marks an advance in Arvanatis's lighting from the documentary-like camerawork of the early features, and away from the somewhat vibrant colours of parts of Days of '36 and The Travelling Players to the more pastel shades that are characteristic of his and Angelopoulos' later collaborations.

Days of '36 (Meres tou '36) (New Star edition)

DVD9 | PAL 4:3 | 01:44:34 | 5.90 Gb + 3% rec
Language: Greek
Subtitles: English, Francais, Greek

The Travelling Players (O thiassos) (New Star edition)

DVD9 | PAL 4:3 | 03:42:03 | 7.68 Gb + 3% rec
Language: Greek
Subtitles: English, Francais

Related posts:

  1. O Megalexandros / Alexander the Great (1980), Taxidi sta Kythira / Voyage to Cythera (1984), O melissokomos / The Beekeeper (1986), Topio stin omichli / Landscape in the Mist (1988), To meteoro vima tou pelargou / The Suspended Step of the Stork (1991) – The Theo Angelopoulos Collection Volume 2 and other editions
  2. Mia aioniotita kai mia mera / Eternity and a Day (1998) DVD9 The Theo Angelopoulos Collection Volume III and Greek Release
  3. The Wim Wenders Collection (Volume 2): The Scarlet Letter (1972), Wrong Move (1975), The American Friend (1978), Lightning Over Water (1980), Room 666 (1982), Tokyo-GA (1985), Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989), A Trick of the Light (1995) 8 x DVD
  4. The Complete Humphrey Jennings Volume One: The First Days (1934 – 1940) DVD9
  5. Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance (1972), Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972), Baby Cart to Hades (1972), Baby Cart in Peril (1972), Baby Cart in the Land of Demons (1973), White Heaven in Hell (1974), Shogun Assassin (1980) 5 x DVD9 and 3 x Blu-Ray Criterion Collection