Theodore Angelopoulos: Film director whose work was suffused with Homeric intensity

 

Theo Angelopoulos, acclaimed as one of the greatest film-makers in his lifetime, was fatally injured on a desolate urban landscape under an overcast, drizzly sky, hit by a motorcyclist while trying to cross a highway.

He was shooting his 14th feature film and the scenery had most of the elements associated with his work. It even overlooked a port, namely Piraeus, symbol of journeys, of the ebb and flow of many of his characters as they leave in exile only to return as strangers, before moving on.

His ambiguous relation to cinematography was illustrated one evening after the hugely oversubscribed screening of his film Ulysses' Gaze at the 1995 London Film Festival. During the reception, he pulled away from the networks of Greek embassy glitterati and admiring LFF film buffs.

He asked, who are they all? Then he muttered that the film had received no funding from Greeks and far more press coverage in Turkey. He noted, "something is disappearing, I don't know if it's Europe that has aged, lost its balance, its dream, its ability to see into the future." He was an unglamorous, driven, difficult director.

The film followed an American Greek, identified as "A" and played by Harvey Keitel, in search of a three old film reels and journeying from the port of Thessaloniki, through Albania to, literally, the mists of wartorn Sarajevo; to film, Angelopoulos had to negotiate with Serb militia. The sombre Keitel character is driven by a Greek taxi driver over the snowbound Greek-Albanian Pindus Alps, where Greece had won the first victory against the Axis in 1940.

The driver's part was played by the comedy actor Thanassis Vengos, a sacred cow of Greece's no-worries attitude. But Angelopoulos transforms him into a tragic figure who blurts across the desolate peaks, "Greece is dying, we are dying as a people, we have come full circle". The film won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, while his next, Eternity and a Day, received the 1998 Palme d'Or at Cannes. That was in a long line of prizes, critical acclaims and honorary titles.

Theodore Angelopoulos was born in Athens in 1935 and grew up through the Nazi occupation and the 1946-49 Civil War that signalled the division of the world between East and West. These Homeric upheavals provided key themes for his films. He eventually studied film in Paris at the IDHEC film school, but had to leave for being "too unconventional". He was a socialist and in 1965 returned to Greece. He began making films just after the military coup in 1967.

With friends in prison and others in self-imposed exile, he remained, and defied the censor. He outwitted the Junta with his first film, Anaparastassi [Reconstruction] by showing it to the critics before the censors and by having it illegally taken abroad. Since international acclaim came before the censor's veto, it was allowed to run. Its theme about the depopulation of the countryside and emigration to escape a corrupt state, stands its ground today.

His third film, O Thiasos [The Travelling Players], was finished in 1975 and still enjoys the highest ratings. It follows a troupe of travelling players through Greece, between 1935-1950 as they act and react to events. It is over three hours long and consists of only 80 shots, a world apart from the Hollywood standard of fast edits. However, his masterly slow pans across landscapes and interiors allowed the audience to absorb the scene. They were meticulously mounted with references to real events and often drifted between past and present without clues as to what to expect. He acknowledges no ethnicities or borders; just journeys in space and time. Arts cinemas loved him.

Angelopoulos's influences included Brecht, Renoir, Visconti, and especially Antonioni, with his lengthy panoramas of contemporary alienation. And Angelopoulos sought the Greece beyond the sun and the white marbles of antiquity, a land whose memories owe far more to the cosmopolitanism of Hellenistic Byzantium than the Parthenon.

Like Byzantine iconographers he shunned the surface image. However, instead of gold, there is mist, instead of the Icon's gateway to a higher world, his scenes search for reconciliation with a lost world. In effect, he offers a melancholy Byzantine purgatory, punctuated by wonderfully atmospheric music and populated by characters at a loss as to how to make it safely with their memories through the new world. But his wider vision will gain growing appeal as it transcends the monoliths of fleeting nationalisms and the acceptance that people consist of overlapping narratives, rather than dogmas.

Theodore Angelopoulos, film director: born Athens 27 April 1935; married Foebe (three daughters); died Athens 24 January 2012.

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
scotland decidesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping First Minister up at night?
Arts and Entertainment
Rosalind Buckland, the inspiration for Cider with Rosie died this week
booksBut what is it like to be the person who inspires a classic work of art?
Life and Style
techApple has just launched its latest mobile operating software – so what should you do first?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Messi in action for Barcelona
filmSo what makes the little man tick?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: An undercooked end (spoiler alert)
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
Sport
Cesc Fabregas celebrates his first Chelsea goal
footballChelsea vs Schalke match report
Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Maths Teacher

£90 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Science Teacher (mater...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for an ...

Maths Teacher

£22000 - £37000 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: A West Yorkshire School i...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week