Underseen Masterpiece Establishes Cinematic Theocracy


The best European film of the 1980s? The greatest Balkan film ever made? The most eagerly awaited and long overdue DVD release of 2005? Yes, yes, and yes: Theo Angelopoulos’s 1988 underseen, underworshipped epiphany nevertheless redefined the art film, hijacking the Antonioni/ Tarkovsky long-take syntax and winnowing away its metaphysics, emerging with a heart-stopping odyssey of wintery orphanhood and breathless images. A young sister and brother launch out into the industrial Greek hinterlands to find a rumored father that doesn’t exist, and the passage of their journey is, for us, an ordeal by sympathy, monolithic visions, adult monstrosity, and effortless metaphoric torque.

Most of Angelopoulos’s incredible films are epochal translations of history into visual experience—time grows gargantuan, landscapes change, masses of people engage in social surge—but here, in a film alone in a filmography of epic trilogies, the movements, images, and symbology begin and end with children, lost in the war field of grown-ups. From the giant statue’s hand rising from the sea to the catatonia on a snow-shrouded highway, any single scene could change your life, or at least what you expect from cinema; a single, lengthy shot of a parked truck, while catastrophically upsetting, might also be the sharpest critique of viewer omnipotence ever created. A master of apocalyptic orchestrations, Angelopoulos never married his ambitious pyramid-making to human experience this perfectly before or after; but then, nobody else has come very close, either. You’re either on this DVD—which comes, typically for New Yorker, supp-free—like a hungry lizard, or you don’t like movies much.

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