The Macedonian Tendency: For a Great Greek Director, Who Lives in Florina, Macedonians Don't Exist

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

For a Great Greek Director, Who Lives in Florina, Macedonians Don't Exist

The Facts:

1. Fiachra Gibbons interviews Greek director Theo Angelopoulos.

2. He knows he lives in Florina where 50% of the residents are ethnic Macedonians.

3. He does not ask him how he can live with people, yet ignore their existence in his movies.

The Assumption:

I don't know Fiachra, but I can only assume that he likes Greece and he does not want to do anything that would make it difficult for him to work or vacation there.(Greek Islands Ya Know) He has no problem discussing Turkish problems with the Armenian genocide.

The Prediction:

Apparently Fiachra Gibbons is writing a book on the Ottoman legacy in Europe. I predict that he will ignore the treatment of ethnic Macedonians in Greece and he certainly won't criticise Theo Angelopoulos for aiding and abetting cultural genocide in Florina. We really need someone who can review his films and life

Tale of the century

Greece's greatest living film-maker has embarked on his most ambitious
project yet. Theo Angelopoulos talks to Fiachra Gibbons

Wednesday January 19, 2005
The Guardian

It is easy to joke about Theo Angelopoulos, maker of such exceeding long and
exceedingly slow intellectual epics as Eternity and a Day, a film that felt
only marginally shorter than its title. It's even harder to resist parody
now the great master is making a trilogy of films that modestly set out to
define the past century.

On the evidence of The Weeping Meadow, however, we may have to find a new
butt for our jokes. No one is saying the famously stern Greek auteur has
gone mainstream, but this is his most accessible film in decades and
contains such nakedly bourgeois fripperies as emotions and characters that
might almost be real.

When I tell him how many people cried when they saw his first instalment,
the story of Greek refugees from the Russian revolution adrift in their
ancient homeland, he jolts back in his chair, momentarily horror-struck. Yet
The Weeping Meadow, which contains several close-ups and other barefaced
sops to populism, clearly shows Angelopoulos is going soft in his old age -
or what he prefers to term his "Aristotelian period". But then, even
arthouse legends have occasionally to consider the audience, particularly
when they are in danger of not having one any more.

I meet him in Thessaloniki, the northern Greek city where the new film is
centred, on one of these bright clear winter days Angelopoulos hates. Living
in Europe's sunniest country is a constant trial for a man who only shoots
in fog or rain. It is so clear, in fact, you can see Mount Olympus across
the gulf, on whose lofty heights Angelopoulos has all but dwelt since The
Travelling Players made him an art-cinema immortal a quarter of a century
ago. It's easy to sympathise with young Greek film-makers frustrated by the
way he has hogged the top of the heap, and the country's limited resources,
for so long.

Which is why he takes me by surprise the next day by revealing how even gods
feel vulnerable when they are staring 70 in the face. Listen, he says,
gesturing with the ghost of the cigarette he is no longer allowed to smoke,
I have only really made one film, and I've made it again and again. "Of all
the thousands of scenes I've shot, there have only been one or two images I
can honestly say were original - that were from my own gaze, my own
experience. The first one was in December 1944. I was nine and Athens was in
the turmoil of civil war - there were dead bodies everywhere and I remember
my mother holding me by the hand as we walked through the city looking for
my father's corpse. I remember looking for him on a plot of land full of
dead bodies. We didn't find him. Fortunately, he had not been executed.

"Then I remember as I was playing in the street one afternoon when my father
returned. He was dressed in rags and I shouted to my mother, and she came
out to meet him. There was a very deep and absolute emotion in this. There
was nothing for supper, we had some thin soup, and we couldn't talk. That is
the first sequence in Reconstruction, my first film.

"In all these years, they are the only images I can say that are truly

He stops himself, looking for a suitably philosophical rationale for this
uncharacteristic confession. "My earlier films were emotional in the second
degree; now they are in the first degree," he says.

You can see that even in the way this film looks. The usual motifs are
there: the fogs; the tiny figures lost in a huge canvas like matchstick men;
the spectacular, lingering set-piece shots; the eternal refugees with their
suitcases. But there is an intensity now that says we are nothing in the
face of history, and those who try to change its course risk being destroyed
by it. Like Odysseus, his favourite mythological character, we are in the
lap of unfeeling gods.

As is Angelopoulos himself. Taking on the story of the 20th century might
seem like megalomania, but that is not how the small, edgy man appears
without entourage, fuss and cameras.

Though his films divide Greeks, they are undeniably national events. His
shoots are like circuses, with thousands of tourists and rubberneckers
descending on the remote lakes and mountains of Greek Macedonia, where he
likes to assemble his huge painterly tableaux. At weekends there are traffic
jams, fast-food vans and Gypsy bands to entertain the crowds, which stay at
a reverent, un-Greek-like distance as he waits for the weather to close in
so he can shoot. Many of these people will not go to the films; they come
simply because he is great and Greek.

But there is more than national pride at stake now. Angelopoulos's
motivation for so huge and risky a project so late in his career could not
be more personal. He came up with the idea of the trilogy while watching his
mother die.

"By the time I got to her bedside she couldn't speak, and I thought, this
woman has experienced the whole century - she was born at the beginning and
is dying at its end. She has seen its hopes and disasters and now it is too
late for her to pass those on to me. I had just returned from Cannes with
the Palme d'Or for Eternity and a Day, and it was not what I was expecting.
I thought it might be a good idea to tell this story through a woman. Women
more than men are tragic figures. My mother, for example, was Antigone at
times or Hecuba other times. In her life she played different roles."

The second part of the trilogy - for which he has not yet found funding,
despite winning a European Film award last month for The Weeping Meadow -
starts in the Soviet Union in 1953, on the day Stalin died, with a train
taking home an international brigade of disillusioned activists who have
lost faith with socialism.

The resonances for Greece, where a popular leftwing government was
overthrown by the British and Americans after the second world war and
150,000 refugees were sent into exile in the eastern bloc, could not be
stronger. Angelopoulos himself had to carve out his career under the beady
eyes of the military dictatorship of the early 1970s, which was again
supported by Washington. In some ways, his distinctive cinematic style grew
from the mists of symbolism in which he had to cloak his early films to stay
out of jail.

"My last film will be about the future, and our visionary relations with
it," he says. But he refuses to elaborate. He has a flight to Rome to catch.
He is receiving another award, this time the Vittorio de Sica prize from the
Italian government. I congratulate him but he looks at me as if I'm mocking
him, suddenly pained. "Prizes are prizes, but I still need to tell that
story. And being simple is the hardest thing."

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