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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Grad / Trainee / Experienced Recruitment Consultant - Oil & Gas

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000. : SThree: Progressive Global Energy a...

Commercial Property

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices