This morning I awoke to the sad news that Greek director Theo Angelopoulos had succumbed to a head injury sustained in a collision with a motorcyclist in Athens, near the port of Pyraeus. He was in the middle of shooting his latest feature, The Other Sea—was is to be shown at the next Cannes Festival? I’m waiting to hear back from them.
This biker, an off-duty police officer, should have a lot on his conscience: he’s just offed one of cinema’s most enduring lyricists (he’s been making movies for forty years) and one of Greek’s most visible and adored artists internationally. The biker was also injured and hospitalized during the accident.
Angelopoulos’s movies were usually reserved for the arthouse fans, due to their distribution schemes, and the long, grandly (almost ethereal) pace along which actions, beats and characters traveled. I myself saw a couple of his films and was never won over because of their utmost existentialist signature (meaning of life, etc) and their slowness but this morning I will take a trip to the Cinemathèque Française and fill in the blanks in my own personal Angelopoulos library.
In 1998 Angelopoulos won the prestigious Palme D’Or for Eternity and a Day and the Cannes Grand Jury Prize for Ulysse’s Gaze in 1995. And while winning in Cannes only rarely secures commercial success for a film, for more than forty years Angelopoulos has enjoyed world-class filmmaker status on a par with Bergman, Nanni Moretti, Michael Haneke or David Cronenberg. He enjoyed favorite-son status on every European festival dais, from Berlin to Venice and Cannes.
The issues that he concerned himself with the most in his cinematic output were his own country’s standing, in the world, and in the heart of other Greeks. Other films have been about the passage into a new century and the loss of reference points that ensues. In 1998’s Eternity And a Day, an elderly writer who learns that he’s contracted an illness takes in a young homeless Albanian boy and through him attempts to find love and the meaning of life.
It remains to be seen what will happen to the film that Angelopoulos was working when the accident occurred. How far along were they with the shooting? To be determined.
Below, a clip from Angelopoulos’s 2004 The Weeping Meadow.