Scholars' Association News
Issue 22
May 2012

05/10


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THE CINEMA FILE
For Theo Angelopoulos
BY CHRISTOS GODAS

1997. Thessaloniki is the cultural capital of Europe. The old warehouses near the port - the best perhaps place that could be found- host the major set design exhibition of three of the most eminent European set designers.

Late October. The fog tore through the city by the first daylight and now, just before 10 am, an almost inaudible drizzle sweeps the flat open areas of the port between the warehouses. A young man splashes his way vigorously through the shallow puddles already formed on the ground. While unlocking the big padlock of the warehouse 10, a car came into view at a distance near the entrance of the port and, apparently, came closer and closer. The rain, which has obviously discouraged visitors from coming to the set design exhibition that morning, couldn’t get round the person closing the car door. Before the sound of the car leaving is even heard, a man’s figure wearing a blue coat and a dark blue cap appeared at the large sliding door of the warehouse 10.

“May I come in?”
“Yes, of course.”

There is rather a tinge of awkwardness in the young man’s voice, trying simultaneously to respond to the question as well as to realize the identity of the man who has already taken the first steps inside the exhibition’s venue. Three years only after his graduation from film school, the young man has unexpectedly welcomed in the very place where he was earning his living the man who is considered to be the greatest Greek director. And there, in the warehouse, they would be alone for at least the next half an hour. Theo Angelopoulos was walking around the exhibition.

The initial desire to talk to a person whose course of life evidently proves that he is possessed with the same passion sketching your own dreams gives way to discretion.

The young man calmly approaches.

“If you need any information, please don’t hesitate to ask me…”

“Thank you, thank you very much.”

The young man returns to his office next to the big door of the warehouse. When, after a while, Theo Angelopoulos passes in front of the reception area to continue his visit to the exhibition, he finds the young man standing in front of a big table. An imperceptible yet warm smile towards the young man raises doubts about the director’s tough, determined, inflexible and rather emotionally detached aura, ensuing from his public appearances that, up to this very moment, the young man has borne in mind.

Fifteen minutes later, standing at the big sliding door and fixing the eyes on the western view of the port, the faint, lonely breathing out of the tall young man’s figure finds its match just one step to its left, in the pensive, middle-aged man’s one who is silently standing by him, his stare filling with the wide shot of the port. They remain silent for two, three minutes.

“This is very beautiful”.

A faint smile appeared in the tip of the director’s lips before he spoke.

“This image is indeed sensational. In most of my films, I have at least one scene of the port of Thessaloniki... I envy you.

“Why do you say that?”

“How long have you been here?”

“Nearly two months."

“And how much longer will you stay?”

“Another two probably.”

“Always in the morning?”

“Always in the morning.”

“That is why I envy you”. You can sit at the same place every morning and watch the same image changing day after day. This small change occurring everyday as the light changes, as the months, the seasons veer round…”

“You know, when I was young – by young, I mean when I was a teenager – whenever there was a problem or something I had to face, I used to go down to another port and sit there for hours; the port of Piraeus. I’m from Piraeus. That’s where I grew up and used to spend numerous evenings sitting on the bollards of the boats on the edge of the jetty”.

Later, when he got older, a greater need for solitude would lead him to wander around the port of Drapetsona.

“I have felt exactly the same thing. The same scene changing day after day, as the time goes by.”

Without prior information, the director scrutinizes the young man’s face for the first time ever since they have been standing in the rain.

“What have you studied?”

“Filmmaking.”

“And what else?”

“Social theology.”

“May I have a cigarette?”

The young man makes his way to the so-called office and brings his cigarettes. The last two cigarettes still in the pack, they smoke them together, as they are both staring at the same point on the horizon where the cranes of the port bend towards the sea while the fog and the rain are both stamping the landscape slowly and unhurriedly, with a sense of inevitability.

“If I were you, I would take a picture of this scene everyday”.

“Everyday at the same time! ...”

“Naturally, at the same time.”

“And the same size!”

“Yes, yes, the same size”.

“From the same point.”

“From the same point.”

The sun made as if to appear for a moment. Their silence did not let it. Just before finishing their cigarettes, the drizzle stopped.

“I would like to make films at the jetty of Piraeus”.

He took two steps forward. With his left hand, he lifted his cap and passed his right palm over his exposed head.

“You could be my son.” − “Just think, I have never seen my father”: these are two phrases it still remains unknown if they were closed upon in silence by the damp of that morning or if they were uttered in a whisper.

“In Piraeus, then.”

“Yes, in Piraeus.”

“Do you still go down to the port?”

“Quite often.”

He turned abruptly and extended his hand to the young man.

“Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.”

He walked away with a stoop and the hands in his pockets. A quarter of an hour later, the sound of a car that stopped outside the warehouse made the young man get up from behind the desk. When he went outside, Theo Angelopoulos, from the front passenger’s seat extended his hand to him holding a pack of cigarettes. The young man waved that he would not take it.

“… No, you couldn’t be. I would not have let you be so hurt. But do make the films you have in mind… exactly as you have imagined them, don’t listen to anyone. From the wounds of history, however, you still carry the scars; the wounds must heal. Only then will the sea surrounding Piraeus and Drapetsona be a different sea.’’

Theo Angelopoulos carried in his work the scars of the history of Greece, healing the wounds without, however, erasing the memory and dishonouring the dreams. He did it his way, with complete faith and dedication, and this has given him an identity and an authenticity.

With his film, The Travelling Players, to be considered as one of the ten best films ever made in the history of cinema and having won some of the most prestigious awards in the international film community, Theo Angelopoulos refreshed the seal of modern Greek culture on the concrete wall of the worldwide cultural Babel.

A few years after the incident described above before the landscape of the port of Thessaloniki and the perseverance on the wide shot changing very slowly day after day, Ingmar Bergman, in his eighties, rediscovers the world of cinema and makes a reference to Angelopoulos. This virtuoso of the language of images, who used close-ups as a scalpel to explore and reveal the depths of the human psyche, admits about Angelopoulos: “Even though he seems to have dispensed with one of the most powerful cinema tools, the close-up, when I see The Beekeeper again, which I consider to be a good film, I see in it now a masterpiece and an incredibly sensational experience”.

To conclude, even if someone disagrees with Angelopoulos’s narrative mode, topics, rhythms or even his visual aesthetics –Greece from time to time drowns in the saliva of the kitsch while eating its own children–, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he is the tenderest explorer of the extremely wounded flesh of Greece and of its history. And it is this tenderness of his that arouses us from our sleep and −fortunately–hurts our feelings in his films. And it is this tenderness that leads him to the other sea in which he is sailing then.

Christos Godas is director (Β.Α. in Social Theology, M.F.A. in Film Direction and Image Communication).


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